This age of instant news, images flowed from my TV, of celebrations around the world: Barack Obama had just been elected President of the United States.
One of the news reporters said that fireworks had been scheduled as part of the victory celebration at Grant Park in Chicago, but Obama had canceled them, himself. America is at war, the economy is crashing about our heads. Fireworks could come later.
Around the world, millions didn’t care. They rushed into the streets celebrating. From every continent, rejoicing that this very multi-continental man blended of race but utterly American would become the Leader of the Free World. Despite what reservations they had harbored just a day ago, now there flowed an exhilarating rush of new hope from America and for themselves as well. No government or regime compelled them to take to the streets, but they just couldn’t seem to restrain themselves. And I thought if I awoke tomorrow and Kenya had applied for statehood, I would not be surprised.
Barack Obama. He has not served a second in the office to which he has been elected. But the world didn’t care. As he stepped onto that Chicago stage, the world saw America stepping back onto the global stage with him. The America they feared they could no longer trust; the America they feared had lost its way with belligerent disregard for the world itself behaving as a feral child lashing out in abject fear; the America they had relied on for hope even in the darkest hours of devastation wrought by tyrants or the earth’s unstoppable natural forces. They feared that this fertile land of opportunity now suffocating under a glacier of paranoia and greed had been lost forever.
And perhaps we, too, shared those same fears. With one exception. For we know the power of one vote. That is our heritage and our legacy, the flame of liberty lighting our path, each step we take as “We the People.”
I wondered. I wondered what would those millions have been doing if John McCain, as honorable a Patriot as he is, had won the presidency? Would the streets around the world been flooded with those exuberant crowds? No, in all honesty, I believe the streets would have been empty.
I wondered. I wondered what the most private thoughts of President George W. Bush were, watching on television the adulation for America’s decision bursting with joy and wild abandon from around the world? Crowds cheering for the United States, jockeying for a moment in front of the cameras to praise America, waving our flag with pride as if it were their own. What did he ponder, knowing that his name, indeed his presidency in those same places brought not celebrating crowds but angry hordes, wreaking havoc, tearing his effigy to pieces, calling America the worst terrorist in the world, and, burning the Stars and Stripes, words unable to express their outrage?
I know that the challenges Barack Obama faces when he takes office will be daunting. As will they be to every citizen of the United States. But for this moment, it’s good just to know the World still has hope in us.