As monumental as Barack Obama’s resounding victory in Tuesday’s election were the large, cheering, crying crowds that gathered in cities across the country to celebrate his win. It has been decades since a presidential election elicited such emotion, such expectation. It is doubly historic that the man at the center of the euphoria is the country’s first African-American president.
Sen. Obama’s solid victory – he won both the popular and electoral vote – is testament to the country’s hunger for a new, positive direction. So is the record voter turnout and the wave of new voters.
He inherits difficult circumstances – two wars, collapsed financial markets and dismal public confidence. But his ability to ignite enthusiasm among legions of voters, many of them young, could signal a new, more hopeful era in American politics.
For his part, the president elect was realistic about the challenges he and his administration face.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep,” Sen. Obama said to a cheering crowd of more than 125,000 in Grant Park, site of riots during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. “We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”
He continued: “There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can’t solve every problem.
“But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”
Of course, not all Americans share his view about what needs to be done and how it should be accomplished. In this regard, Republican candidate John McCain, after quieting boos from supporters when he acknowledged Sen. Obama’s victory, set the appropriate tone in an eloquent concession speech.
“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited,” Sen. McCain said in Phoenix.
Turning this bipartisan pledge to work together into reality will take much more than uplifting speeches and public euphoria. This will be one of the first major tests of President-elect Obama and the more strongly Democratic Congress as they begin to work on needed financial sector regulations, health care reform, energy policy and U.S. engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reigniting hope in America and its role as a force for good in the world, however, is an important first step down the difficult road ahead.