Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Long Time Coming and a Long Way to Go

Barack Obama was two years old when Martin Luther King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and dreamt out loud that one day his and everyone else's children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Last night King's dream came true.

It has been a long time coming. And for those of us who remember the police dogs and the fire hoses and the bombings -- if not the signs on restrooms and water fountains that read "Colored" and "White" -- it still seems like a dream.

Last night, as Tom Friedman wrote this morning in The New York Times, the American Civil War ended. "For despite a century of civil rights legislation," Friedman opined, "judicial interventions and social activism -- despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King's I- have-a -dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America's white majority actually elected an African American president."

And now Obama will need that majority to not just fix -- but to remake -- the American government. As he himself acknowledged last night, the job he faces is monumental. With America bogged down in two wars, with a world economy teetering on the abyss, with the fate of the planet in the balance, and with the American Constitution badly bruised, he has his work cut out for him.

However, he has earned a windfall of international good will. The entire world has watched this election -- and most of its inhabitants were clearly rooting for the person Obama called "the skinny kid with the funny name." Last night, in Canada, the radio network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation covered the American election as they covered the recent Canadian election, devoting the entire evening to reporting and analyzing the results as they came in.

And now the hard part begins. As Obama said in his victory speech, "We know that the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime;" and, to meet them, Obama knows that he will need the help and the support of those who didn't vote for him. "The road ahead will be long, " he said, "our climb will be steep." It will require "a new spirit . . . where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and not only look after ourselves but each other."

Tom Friedman understands what Obama was talking about. "There is much work to be done," Friedman wrote. "The Civil War is over. Let reconstruction begin." God speed.

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