There's a lot of caution up ahead. The country really is in worse shape than I have ever seen it, on many levels, and Obama has a lot of hard work to do; he must apply himself, think carefully and swiftly, and have a rare combination of skill and good fortune if he is to be anything more than a man who spends four to eight years cleaning up the Augean messes of the last administration. So this election, miraculous as it is, is only the beginning -- it's the culmination of nothing.
And, of course, this is about so much more than race. America, in almost staggering numbers, has said 'no' to things she rarely says no to: pandering, prejudice, slander, negative campaigning, fear, and maintaining even a broken status quo. And she has said 'yes' to things she rarely says yes to: thoughtfulness, caution, progressiveness, intellect, articulacy, and nuance. This country has, to a degree I have never seen before, embraced intelligent liberalism (albeit of a very centrist variety) and halted a rightward drift I thought might go on forever. In doing so, it has accomplished the minor miracle of making me less cynical about politics in my country. So there is certainly much, much more going on than the election of a black man to the presidency.
But I cannot forget this: somewhere, spider-venomous and unkillable, clinging to the base of my brain, is the specter of what has happened to a lot of progressive leaders in this country, especially ones who have been strong champions of civil rights: King, X, JFK, RFK, Evers. But last night, I watched Jesse Jackson -- a public figure with whom, let it be known, I have had a lifetime of difficulties and disagreements -- weeping in Grant Park. Regardless of the details of what exactly happened on April 4 forty years ago, Jackson was right there when Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down by a two-bit racist hood and half the nation celebrated. And here he was, watching a black man telling the city, the country, the world what he will do when he becomes President of the United States. Anyone who thinks that Jackson wept because it wasn't him preparing to take the throne is far more cynical than I could ever imagine. He wept because, in his own lifetime, he had traveled a path that took him from not being able to raise his eyes when a white woman walked past, to seeing his friends and comrades shot down in the street for the crime of asking to be treated like human beings, to seeing Barack Hussein Obama chosen by a great majority of Americans of all races to lead the country into the future. He wept because, damn it, that means something.
And that's when I wept, too.
There is very much to do, and history has a way of confounding us. But today is a good day, for so many reasons.