Getting It Right

November 5th, 2008

He won.

He won by a substantial margin, both in the Electoral College and the popular vote. (Not since LBJ has a president won by such a broad margin.)  He won with grace and style.  He won without resorting to negative campaigning.  He won on the 100th anniversary of formation of the NAACP, which was founded on November 4, 1908 in Springfield, Illinois, the town in which he announced his candidacy all those long months ago.

He ran the greatest campaign I’ve ever seen — in tone, in content, in focus, in attention to detail.  He cruised over slurs from the opposite side as though they were speed bumps.  He resolutely refused to take a single potshot at the bewildered but venomous Stepford Wife nominated by the Republicans for the vice presidency.  Instead, he behaved as though McCain’s running mate was George W. Bush.

He got it right from start to finish — and I mean finish.  It was pitch-perfect to begin his victory speech with the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, the next First Family of the United States.”

And there they were.

Four black people.

And when Biden’s family came out at the end and I saw the mingling of those two families, I was in tears.  All I could think is that there was a new meaning to the phrase, the promise of America.

Watching the reaction from around the world, it seemed to me that I was looking at 9/11 turned inside out.  It was exhilarating to see the level of sheer joy everywhere.  Only this time, it was our friends who were happy.

This was part of the celebration in Obama City, Japan.  Seriously, how cool is this?

Or that ancient television that people were watching in Kenya?  A cathode-ray tube as long as a Lincoln Continental, but it brought the pictures people wanted to see.  There were tears, laughter, and dancing.

When you think of all the tasks that face him, all the wreckage that’s been left by the executive train crash that preceded him, it’s almost overwhelming.  But let’s say he can do it: he can heal the economy, he can find a way to conduct (or end) these wars, he can restore the Constitutional rights the Shrub so blithely suspended, he can return this country to the world’s affections.  Those accomplishments alone would make him a great president.

But suppose he can also inspire black kids, especially urban black kids, to take education seriously?  Suppose he can dispose of the notion that working for good grades is “acting white?”  Suppose he can, by personal example, pull the rug out from under the vampires who call themselves the black leadership and who preach white injustice and black powerlessness to keep themselves in cashmere?   What then?

Then he’ll have transformed the nation.  No, he won’t have ended white bigotry, but look at what happened last night — it’s on the fade, anyway.  What we need now is someone who can bring together the black world and the white world.  Someone who can make them into one world.  And I think we just elected him.

18 Responses to “Getting It Right”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    There are plenty who have warned that he can do nothing but alienate and disappoint those who have placed so much faith and hope in him, but I don’t think we are as naive as his opponents would like to think. Can he do everything he said he’d like to do? I doubt anyone could, given the state we’re currently in, but overnight “we” have felt like a “we” again, and the world seems to be looking at us in a way that I’ve never seen before. Every time I see a foreign newspaper headline about this, I feel like America is like Sally Field at the Oscars — they like us, they really like us! How do you quantify the power of taking a demoralized nation and suddenly making it feel proud again — or maybe proud for the first time?

  2. adrienne Philp Says:

    Hi Tim,

    LIke you and so many others I am thrilled with the election results. To me the win in the Iowa Primary indicated a shift in attitudes, but it was very tenuous and there remained so many hurdles for Obama to overcome, all of which he did, including the Wright fiasco, with dignity, intelligence, strength and grace.
    Raleigh and I spent most of our morning walks talking politics and hoping against hope for change. Now perhaps we have a chance for it.

    On a familial note, today Heather took a photograph of her children holding up the headlines proclaiming Obama’s win, an event she deemed will be one of the most important events in their life times.

    Take care.


  3. Stefan Says:


    Once again, you’ve nailed it. You spooled out much of what I’m feeling but couldn’t quite put into words.

    I can’t thank American voters enough. SO much interest, SO much activity. For overseas Americans like me, who haven’t been able to watch or listen to Bush (I am NOT kidding) for years, to have a President whose soundbites we anticipate is a plus. To have someone like Mr Obama is a dream. How did he win the thing? Read Tim’s analysis above: it’s scalpel-sharp and icepick-clear. You’re not getting stuff like this from the hair-heads on that Glowing Fish Tank, folks.

    I’ve been kidded by my Hong Kong co-workers for months about US leadership–my retort was: “Just wait, we’re gonna kick the bums out.” Well, well, well.

    Thanks again.


  4. Jen Forbus Says:

    I have been so overwhelmed by the wonderfulness of this event in our country that words have been escaping me. You’ve done an incredible job of putting them to paper…er cyberspace…Tim.

    As I stated on my blog, I have HOPE. It’s a magnificient feeling, HOPE is!

    Obama’s set an example for all Americans…for all PEOPLE. He could have easily passed on the opportunity to run in this election, especially since the biggest attack on him was his lack of experience. But instead he decided to fight the uphill battle to win the position no one would envy at this time in our history. If anyone can lead this country back in the right direction, I believe it is him. So yes, we elected the first African-Amrican, but more than that, we elected the RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB!

    God (whichever yours may be) be with the new FIRST FAMILY!

  5. Thomas Says:

    A few random observations:

    Yesterday, just for kicks, I tuned my radio in to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two of the more vocal supporters of the kind of small town, apple pie conservatism that the “real America” shares. I was dismayed, but not surprised, to find that the two issues they were still harping on – the day after the election, mind you – was Obama’s associations with Wright and Ayers, and the socialist tax burden he will implement to destroy society as we know it. It was more doom and gloom, but at least it gave me peace of mind in knowing it will provide job security for people like them. By the way, if you are ever feeling down in the afternoon, tune into Hannity’s radio show. It is great comedy, especially during call-in when people named Candy and Billy Bob call from the heartland, where judging from the level of their comments, inbreeding is more than a festive pastime. They always call to express their undying support for the unjustly treated Bush, share how tickled they are by the fresh-faced Palin, and in broad licking strokes tell us all what a “great American” Hannity himself is (a point he is never one to deny). Abbott and Costello were never this funny.

    Bush came out yesterday and said he will return to Texas with “fond memories” of his time in D.C. Really? The man’s denial knows no boundaries. Freud would have had a field day with this guy. Can anyone imagine what Bush’s presidential library will look like? For someone who is so utterly lacking in intellectual curiosity and who has reportedly never read anything more advanced than Cliff Notes, what kind of literary legacy could there possibly be? Wiretapping for Dummies? Who Took My Water Board? Cheney, the Big Red Dog?

    Is European news reporting interesting for people who know nothing about life outside their zip code? The media in Europe is already moving from gloom and smirks to hope and anticipations of change (the very foundation of Obama’s campaign). What Bush and his supporters failed to see – among other more obvious things – is that the US president is not just the leader of this country but the leader of most of the free world. We do not live in a bubble. What we do affect people in Belgium, which by the way, is not in between the U.S. and Canada. Swedish papers talk about Obama’s oratory skills as “masterful”, French media report that Obama enjoys the highest popularity ratings (in France!!), and in Britain Obama’s victory is “head spinning stuff.” The honeymoon is probably just getting started and on January 20th he will have to start proving himself. But, one of the greatest victories, along with a man of color in the White House and a democratic majority all around, is that we are starting to see the beginnings of good-will around the world. The U.S. brand is slowly coming back. Hopefully they won’t laugh at us in 2009.

    Did anyone see Palin’s interview on CNN yesterday? The one with her apologizing for possibly costing McCain the election? I was dumbfounded to hear yet another example of how short-sighted this woman’s thinking is. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment (Wal-Mart, not Gucci) and imagine what a great, free ride she has had. Here you are, a gun fetishist “hockey-mom” governor from Alaska that no one has heard of. You get a call from McCain who offers you the job as fellow maverick. You don’t think about it much but rather says, “you betcha”, pack up your kids, husband, and snow machines, and travel to meet McCain for the first time. You hit the road to spread the word, takes sound campaign advice from plumbers, cleverly fields all questions from Couric and Gibson, and despite any missteps along the way, comes out as the shining new star, the beacon of the Republican Party. Election Day is here and no matter how much you hope, pray, and believe you will win, you loose. What do you do next? Do you go out and say, congrats Obama but I you have great hopes for the GOP future, 56 million people voted for my ticket, I feel energized by their support, and I am confident we will come back stronger than ever. No. You get cranky, show yourself as a sore loser, and get on the first flight back to Alaska. … I don’t get that. What a golden Willy Wonka ticket this woman has been handed and all she can do is to say she is sorry if she was the reason McCain lost? Luckily she doesn’t seem to have more smarts. Good riddens, we say. Shoot a moose!

    Ok, back to work.

  6. suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    I really appreciate how eloquently you’ve captured what Obama’s win means to the world as a whole. I agree that it is a beautiful victory for racial equality in America.

    I didn’t know that Obama won on the same day that the NAACP was founded. How wonderfully perfect.

    I think that during Obama’s presidency he has the potential to achieve many great things, and I agree that his victory alone as the first African American to be elected President of the United States is already a monumental accomplishment. Now with a greater majority in the House and Senate he can really effect some important changes. I hope that he remains true to his word and maintains an open and honest dialogue with Americans and the people around the world who look to us for support and leadership. I hope that he remains as intellectually curious and courageous in his decision making process as he has proved himself to be during his remarkable campaign.

    It is a daunting task to address everything that we need to try to remedy, and I think we all have to dig as deeply as we can not only in trying to understand the most pressing issues that we face in the U.S. and around the world but finding ways to personally contribute to resolving those issues. The fact that so many people turned out to vote is a very good sign that things are beginning to shift much more positively in that direction. As Obama says he’s not a perfect man he won’t be a perfect president but he’s the best chance America has to bring a spirit of cooperation and light to the world again. In many ways he already has.

  7. Shadoe Says:

    As always, your observations are perfect. We all felt that transcendental surge wash over us, taking us from out of a decade of cynicism, fear, and doubt, into an overwhelming sense of awe and hope. We all thought it was too late, that greed and evil had seized control of everything, and one man stood up and made a difference and changed everything.

    At a meeting this morning, a close friend of mine who grew up in Scotland shared that he always loved this country. From the time he was seven years old and sent a letter to NASA about the astronauts and actually got a letter back with pictures and posters. All he ever wanted to be was an American.

    He finally got here and got his dream. He became an American and found that he couldn’t even sell his love to those of us who were born here. Everyone had gotten so cynical and angry that he almost started to buy into it himself.

    “And then,” he said, “This guy stood up and gave his acceptance speech and I cried. In one moment one man changed everything. This couldn’t have happened in any other country on Earth. Show me the black man in English Parliament. He revived the one thing that sets this country apart from every other country in the world, its ideals. It really is a place where anything is possible. I cried because everyone saw it at once. God, I love this country.”

    And I think that says it all.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Wow, what an outpouring of eloquent support. I’m older than George Washington would be if he were still alive, and I can’t recall anything like this.

    Lisa, I think you’re dead-on, and I think your reaction (which is also my reaction) has as its flip side the necessity for all of us to reduce our expectations. This isn’t a movie, and he doesn’t have superpowers. I think he’s going to be a great president, and I also think it’ll take him some time to become one. It’s good that the Republicans got their noses rubbed in it, because they’ll be reluctant to be obstructionist at the outset. On the other hand, the Democrats in Congress are hacks, by and large, and they may prove to be his biggest problem.

    Adrienne, I know how thrilled Raleigh would be today. He was always optimistic about the potential of the country, just as he was about the potential of most individuals. (Adrienne’s husband, Raleigh, was an extraordinary educator, but more than that, he was a personal inspiration to literally thousands of people, including me, and I’m dedicating the next Poke book to him.) What a great idea to take a photo of the kids with that headline. They’ll treasure it years from now.

    Stefan, you made me laugh out loud several times, and it’s great to have the view of a permanent expat. (Stefan’s an American who lives in Hong Kong, where he edits a highly-regarded IT publication and generally makes trouble for people.) The Glowing Fish Tank, indeed, although I think CNN should win a special Emmy for their election coverage, hokey holograms notwithstanding. I flipped back and forth between CNN and Fox — CNN for news and Fox to watch the schmucks eat it — and was deeply impressed by the scope and expertise of the CNN reporters (especially John King) and their guest experts — even the ones on the right, such as Bill Bennett and Ed Rollins.

    Jen, your blog entry is beautifully succinct, and I think you’re right to focus on hope, which has been in very short supply for the past eight years. Has anyone noticed that the mouths of every single person on the Bush team turn down sharply at the corners? (Except for Cheney’s, and that’s because he’s too busy baring his teeth to bite the world.) It will be so nice to see faces in the newspaper that don’t look like their idea of moving into the future is slamming their heads repeatedly against the present.

    Thomas, that’s a tremendous piece of writing, spot on and funny as hell. I envy you your ability to be amused by Sean Hannity, whom I personally think (now that most of the major Nazis are dead) is the worst person on earth, an unprincipled media whore without a spark of wit or an ounce of intelligence, just a slavering attack dog with only one gear to his transmission. His continued existence is enough to cause doubt in the religious among us. The Bush Library is, of course, an oxymoron in itself, but I love the titles you’ve suggested. By the way, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Palin, not by a long shot.

    Suzanna, I’m with you start to finish, as I usually am. It’s a shame we can’t get together and celebrate this face to face. Let’s save it up for some future opportunity.

  9. suzanna Says:

    You got it. I’ll see ya in December if you’re not traveling and we will celebrate two things, the end of the Bush Cheney AGE OF DARKNESS, and second, THE GREAT AMERICAN AWAKENING, no wait, too religious sounding. Just for fun, what do you think historians will call this stuff?

  10. Peter Says:

    I’m skeptical about the vagueness of promises for change, though my disgust is more with American politics than with American governing. Still, it’s refreshing to see the ourpourings of goodwill internationally over Obama’s election.

    One can never tell how history will judge a given president and his times. Revisionism is big business, so however Bush is judhed now, you can be sure that someone will right a book with the opposite opinion. Still how about “The Age of Ignorance” for the administration just ending?

    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  11. Peter Says:

    Will WRITE a book, that is.

  12. suzanna Says:

    Hi, Peter

    The Age of Ignorance works much better than the Age of Darkness, after all the Dark Ages is already taken.

  13. suzanna Says:

    Hi, Shadoe

    I really appreciate the story you told about your friend. You’re right it really says it all. The American experience does look very different in the eyes of the global community and it’s just so touching that he could still maintain his love of America even when there was no one in America who shared his feelings.

    I’m reluctant to even say, I love my country for what we did on Tuesday night because a lot of horrible things have been done in the name of patriotism. But here goes, I guess I should try to get used to it: I LOVE MY COUNTRY! That wasn’t so hard.

  14. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Shadoe — I’m with Suzanna, what a great story. How incredible it was to see such an outpouring of PRO-American sentiment all over the globw. Now I can stop telling people I’m Canadian. (Dot’s ein joke.)

    Suzanna and Peter, how about, for the Bush years, “The Snark Ages?” Okay, okay, it’s lame. I’m currently reading “The War Within,” the new Bob Woodward book about what went on in the White House during Iraq, and he’s much kinder to Bush than I would have been. The book makes it clear that the country’s population is divided into two camps, who want, more than anything in the world, to kill each other, and only the sheer terror of Saddam kept them from doing it. So we went in there, spouting slogans rooted in total ignorance, and overthrew Saddam, and then, um, they started killing each other. The book contains one of the most chilling sentences I’ve ever read; an Iraqi minister, talking about two days, on the first of which 51 Sunnis were killed, and on the second of which 38 Shias were. He said, “This isn’t terrorism. This is one politician responding to another.” Do you think we fully appreciated this mindset when we put our young people’s lives on the line for Operation Iraqi Freedom or whatever it was?

    By the way, who names these fucking operations? Operation Enduring Freedom? How about Operation Random Violence or Operation Pointless Slaughter? How about Operation Unfathomable Ignorance?

    Sorry. I have to take my pulse now.

    Hi, Barack.

  15. Stefan Says:

    ah yes, Operation Enduring Freedom, what a magnificent double-entendre. anyone remember Operation Just Cause, or Operation Restore Hope (hint: these were in the 80s and 90s, respectively).

    I’ve lived overseas for over a decade, and at first Clinton was President and conditions were neutral-to-good. Since then, the USA’s image has degraded itself. Can you imagine how you feel when the “images-of-Americans” are those from Abu Ghraib?

    The world rallied to us after 9/11 and the ghastly, morally bankrupt Bush Regime not only squandered that goodwill, but dug deep in the rotting earth to wallow in stink and throw handfuls of bilious mud at Americans across the globe.

    But not only in Europe, but across the world, people were and are fascinated with Obama. He has a charisma that seems transcendent. I’ve seen a Hong Kong eatery packed with office workers at lunch swivel their heads almost as one when he appeared on the TV screen. There’s this atavistic understanding that this man represents an American desire for change. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like Obama is a corollary to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    As for Iraq, the naifs that started Operation Iraqi Freedom seemed to think they’d bomb it, snuff Saddam, install Achmed Chalabi and walk away whistling “Dixie.” Military leaders who’d studied the situation disagreed, and were ignored or dismissed. Perhaps the hundreds of billions of US$ could have been put to better use, and I can’t fathom why this isn’t discussed more in world media.

    I can’t comment on USA media because I seldom consume it.


  16. Larissa Says:

    Wow. That took some reading but all really great comments and a good post as always Tim. The crazy side to all this for me is not just about the change and the race and the potential and the cultural shift-for me it’s that I finally feel like there is a person (emphasis on that word) who really cares and can plug into what motivates me-the “kid” from the 80’s that every other white-haired-black-suit politician has bothered to completely write off, talk down to, blatantly ignore or completely misinterpret. You either get it or you don’t. Obama seems to get it. Part of it is the fact that he’s younger than my dad, the other side of it is that he has that quality that every other politician seems to lack-sincerity. And because of that he’s driven, I think, to understand the real factors that drive America-and to recognize the value of what’s being built now. Because what America is starting to produce now, young entrepreneurs, fledgling, grassroots conservation teams and companies, etc. are going to be a good portion of the backbone of the America of the future. To ignore that, to crush that and to deny people that would the most foolish thing anyone could do in a position of power like the Presidency. I’m not even talking long term here, the short term is scary enough.

    If he can actually make it so that small businesses are supported and not squashed, it’ll mean I can actually get a loan and actually start really producing the eco friendly what have you’s that I’m trying to fund now working a part time job.

    It will mean I can go out and get a job that supports instead of exploits the environment.

    It’ll mean that I can take the Maple Leaf patch off my backpack (c:

    I’m going to quote, of all people, Whoopi Goldberg-’cause she said one day in some snippet being played from The View that she had always considered herself an American but now she feels like she can finally set down her suitcase.

    I don’t know if I’m going to be setting any suitcases down just yet but at least for this moment, I know I’m not leaving to run away.

  17. David Jenkins Says:

    I feel a sense of relief. The world has gone to shit for the past 8 years thanks to Bushkie and Darth Vader and their neo-con cronies, and now we’ve elected, by a rather huge margin, someone who can actually write, and not just read, a book. Make that 3 books. We need a really smart person to manage this country, and he seems to fit the bill. My only trepidation is that some deranged redneck will get a “message from God” and try to pump a bullet into him a la Kennedy in ’63. Let’s hope not, for the sake of the world.

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Stefan — Terrific piece, incisive and impassioned, everything that this country needed in the LAST election when we got John Kerry instead. Absolutely dead-center on Iraq; we went in there without having done one minute’s worth of homework, talking about “winning” when what we were actually doing was sentencing ourselves to a lifetime of trying to arbitrate between tribes and religious sects who had killed each other for centuries whenever the opportunity arose. AND we did it on the strength of a cock-and-bull story about WMD that the misadministration forced its most principled member, Colin Powell, to present to the UN. No wonder people elsewhere think/thought we stink. Like Stefan, I spend large amounts of time outside the US, and he’s spot-on about the disillusionment and disappointment people abroad feel about us. Great to hear that Obama turns people’s heads in a Hong Kong dim-sum outlet.

    Larissa, thanks for hanging in and reading all of it. And I share your optimism about Obama (although I also share some of Peter’s cynicism about American political change when so much is invested in the status quo). I do think he means most of what he said during the campaign, and I think the campaign itself, which was a perfect effort, is evidence that he can coordinate the necessary effort. I KNOW he can hold the vision in a way that not many presidents have been able to do. The question is whether he can implement it, and the campaign is the best indication that he might be able to. And it will certainly be a relief not to have to be embarrassed to be American when we’re out of the country,

    David — that’s what terrifies me, too. The whole time he and Biden and the families were out there after the acceptance speech, I was practically yelling at the screen for them to get the hell off the stage. But now I’ve decided I’m not going to contribute to that particular energy, and I’m going to do my best to banish it from my mind.

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