Dancing in the streets and frustrated in the Palace

You can watch the pre-election episode of The Explainer, November 4, 2008 over at YouTube.

Magnificent as Obama’s victory speech (which you can read or watch here and here) was, and much as there was general approbation over John McCain’s concession speech as a “class act,” (and many Filipinos, I noticed, wistfully commented they wish our own politicians could learn how to concede gracefully when they lose) there were other scenes that I touched me more. In particular, and perhaps this is more due to my own personal, deep affection for the place, the scenes of rejoicing in Washington, DC, moved me most.

Take this video, for example:

Or this one:

People cheering, dancing, singing, fireworks, and finally, converging on the White House!

These scenes were repeated throughout the United States, see the videos from East to West, from New York to Brooklyn to Philadelphia to Wisconsin, San Francisco and Seattle, among many more online. And I don’t think anyone’s heard of, much less seen, such spontaneous and large manifestations of happiness over an election in modern times (you really have to watch the videos).

And for one particular group, there was a sudden, tangible reconnection with the past. See In Our Lifetime by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

We have all heard stories about those few magical transformative moments in African-American history, extraordinary ritual occasions through which the geographically and socially diverse black community–a nation within a nation, really–molds itself into one united body, determined to achieve one great social purpose and to bear witness to the process by which this grand achievement occurs.

The first time was New Year’s Day in 1863, when tens of thousands of black people huddled together all over the North waiting to see if Abraham Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The second was the night of June 22, 1938, the storied rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, when black families and friends crowded around radios to listen and cheer as the Brown Bomber knocked out Schmeling in the first round. The third, of course, was Aug. 28, 1963, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed to the world that he had a dream, in the shadow of a brooding Lincoln, peering down on the assembled throng, while those of us who couldn’t be with him in Washington sat around our black-and-white television sets, bound together by King’s melodious voice through our tears and with quickened-flesh.

But we have never seen anything like this. Nothing could have prepared any of us for the eruption (and, yes, that is the word) of spontaneous celebration that manifested itself in black homes, gathering places and the streets of our communities when Sen. Barack Obama was declared President-elect Obama…

How many of our ancestors have given their lives–how many millions of slaves toiled in the fields in endlessly thankless and mindless labor–before this generation could live to see a black person become president? “How long, Lord?” the spiritual goes; “not long!” is the resounding response. What would Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois say if they could know what our people had at long last achieved? What would Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman say? What would Dr. King himself say? Would they say that all those lost hours of brutalizing toil and labor leading to spent, half-fulfilled lives, all those humiliations that our ancestors had to suffer through each and every day, all those slights and rebuffs and recriminations, all those rapes and murders, lynchings and assassinations, all those Jim Crow laws and protest marches, those snarling dogs and bone-breaking water hoses, all of those beatings and all of those killings, all of those black collective dreams deferred–that the unbearable pain of all of those tragedies had, in the end, been assuaged at least somewhat through Barack Obama’s election? This certainly doesn’t wipe that bloody slate clean. His victory is not redemption for all of this suffering; rather, it is the symbolic culmination of the black freedom struggle, the grand achievement of a great, collective dream. Would they say that surviving these horrors, hope against hope, was the price we had to pay to become truly free, to live to see–exactly 389 years after the first African slaves landed on these shores–that “great gettin’ up morning” in 2008 when a black man–Barack Hussein Obama–was elected the first African-American president of the United States?

Anne Applebaum says the spontaneous celebrations were a kind of national self-affirmation for the entire citizenry:

Because all Americans, white and black, liberal and conservative, are brought up to believe that their country is different, special, the “greatest nation on earth,” a “city on a hill.” We are all taught that our system is just, our laws are fair, our Constitution is something to be proud of. Lately, though, this self-image has taken a battering. We are fighting two wars, neither with remarkable success. We have just experienced a cataclysmic financial crisis. We are about to enter a recession. We are unloved around the world, and we know it. Electing our first black president won’t by itself solve any of these problems, but–to use the pop-psychological language for which Americans are justly famous–it sure makes us feel good about ourselves. That hysteria you saw on television in Chicago was, yes, partly about the return of the Democrats and partly about the passing of George Bush. As the rain-on-the-parade dispensers of sour grapes are already writing, it was absolutely about ideology, too. But it was also about relief: We really are a land of opportunity!

Speaking of the dispensers of sour grapes. Of course the Republican and conservative sourpusses were already a-curdlin’ even before election day: and insisted that something was fishy in the votin’ (see hummers & cigarettes). Surely such bloggers were the grist for sites like Vote Fraud Squad (much as it declares itself “non-partisan”), and post-election, angry Republicans (back to verging on being a lunatic fringe party, if they aren’t careful, as they were poised to be in 1964) are off to a rip-roarin’ start: ‘Impeach Obama’ groups pop up on Facebook. Though it’s noteworthy that some took a cue from John McCain and have rolled up their partisan banners.

Politics is as much about logistics as it is about inspiration, and Words: Who, What, When gives an interesting glimpse of how finely-tuned, not to mention well-oiled, the Obama machine was, locally . John Dickerson in Slate, summarizes the achievements of the campaign and its strategists:

It was not only Barack Obama who made history–so did his strategists. They designed a plan and executed it relentlessly through a brutal primary and general election. Twice they upended the idea that no plan survives engagement with the enemy. Obama won by driving up his vote in traditional Democratic areas, and he shrunk the margins in conservative areas. They also out-hustled the competition. According to exit polls, 27 percent of voters said they were contacted by the Obama camp. Only 19 percent say they were contacted by the McCain camp.

Exit polls also indicated that race was not a factor. Where voters said race was important, they voted for Obama. Those who said race wasn’t important also voted for him–in relatively the same percentages. In Ohio, Obama won among whites making less than $50,000, a group that was once supposed to be a big problem for him. In Pennsylvania cities like Scranton, Reading, and Allentown, where he was supposed to have the same problem, he won by healthy margins. “I always thought that there was a prejudice factor in the state,” said Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “I hope we’ve now washed that away.”

In the end, the voters favored change over experience 37 percent to 20 percent. People also seemed to vote against their economic self-interest, something liberal critics said only witless Republican voters did. Fully 70 percent said Obama would raise their taxes, while 60 percent said McCain would. They voted for Obama, anyway.

Seeing the writing on the wall, one Republican senator even tried to campaign as a Democrat (see Campaign Diaries).

The speculation (fueled by what must have been calculated leaks from the Obama camp) on the President-elect’s forthcoming cabinet started prior to election day on Politico.com. On the same site, Mike Allen and then Sam Stein over at The Huffington Post has the latest.

Some bloggers have offered up reflections on what the Democratic victory means, either for the world (see The Coffee) or for the Philippines, see The Marocharim Experiment and Patricio Mangubat.

My editors at the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked me to write a commentary addressing the same question. See New era of intervention, which came out in today’s paper. In the short term, the President’s window of political opportunity has narrowed to the changing of the guard in Washington January 20. Mid- to long-term, the Intengan-Gonzales liquidate the enemy plan is going to face even tougher going abroad.

As for the concerns over the incoming administration’s economic policies and how they might affect Filipinos, Jeffrey Sach’s What Obama Needs To Do: It’s time for a new macroeconomics will make for interesting and informative reading.

As for the President, well, things are off to an unpromising start: Obama too busy to take Arroyo’s call. She could’ve just said she’d sent a congratulatory telegram.

For a regional perspective, see Asian Views of America’s Role in Asia 2008 as well as The view from the Pacific (and its environs) and What lies behind Beijing’s reservations about an Obama Presidency.

My own reaction to the Obama victory is in my column for today, Out with the old, in with the new . You may have noticed the discussions that went on in Howie Severino’s entry Obama and Filipino racism earlier this year.

Aside from racism, something else intrigued me about the reasons given by some (not all, of course) Filipinos and Filipino-Americans for going conservative. Faith. And so I quoted from Archbishop Burke talks to Inside the Vatican Magazine on Eve of Election.

The Religious Right might have failed in mobilizing against Obama, but they scored some morale-boosting victories in California, Florida, and Arizona. Here’s an intriguing article: Props to Obama: Did he help push California’s gay-marriage ban over the top? Not least because of how time, it seems, is not on the Religious Right’s side:

But if the anti-gay-marriage side was boosted by a one-time event–the first major-party African-American presidential candidate on the ballot–might supporters of gay marriage win in the future? McCuan says that’s plausible. “In the abstract, there’s a high level of support for equal rights, particularly among the younger generation.” And support is growing fast. In 2000, 61 percent of voters approved of a ban on same-sex marriage; this year, it was down to a bare majority. The “Yes on 8” campaign was particularly well-funded and savvy, blanketing the airwaves with ads suggesting that gay marriage would be taught in schools. If supporters of same-sex marriage wait a few years, and if they can muster as effective a campaign as the one mounted this year by the other side, they could well change the law.

You can take a look at the website of the proponents of the American ban on gay marriage at Protect Marriage.

This brings me back to my views on the Reproductive Health bill, and how the actual merits and demerits of the bill as a piece of legislation are now irrelevant, because it’s a showdown between conservative Christians and secularists. It is a fight the secularists will lose and will only serve not only to delay the inevitable, but to make it so much harder to achieve liberalizing things on many other fronts. In which case it has to be asked whether it was the right fight, in the right place, and at the right time.

My next entries will focus less on the scheduled resumption of the Bolante investigation in the Senate (see the Inquirer editorials Defending Bolante and Saved by technicalities ), and more on the truly big fight to come: on the same day the Senate reconvenes to tackle Bolante, the House of Representatives will kick off the do-or-die effort to finally amend the Constitution. That’s on November 10.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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