From any other politician, it would be ridiculous drivel. From a black candidate, it was inspiring. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn’t talk like that -- they spoke the language of division. Because Obama spoke the language of unity, he had to be a moderate. So went our logic.
Barack Obama had us from the moment he said, “Hope.” In that moment, Obama accomplished two simultaneous transformations. First, he transformed himself into a moderate. Second, he transformed himself into a messianic figure, the object of our longing: the physical embodiment of America’s progression beyond racial conflict. If America wanted to move beyond conflict, what better way than to embrace a candidate who could end all racial conflict?
And the Obama campaign subtly played on this theme. They implied that if we voted against him, we were engaging in racial hatred; some supporters even implied America would undergo a race war if he lost. That’s the last thing we wanted.
We wanted to feel good again. That is what the Great Election of 2008 was about. It was about Americans’ desire to feel a part of Something Larger. To do something together, as Americans. In today’s day and age, that Something Larger cannot be the America Ronald Reagan preached about -- the left has attacked that America as racist, sexist, and selfish. That Something Larger had to be an individual who could provide us with the feeling of unity.
Barack Obama told us that we could do Something Larger simply by voting for him. When he said, “Yes We Can,” and we followed by screaming it, chanting it, shouting his name in unison, we were Doing Something Larger. We were uniting.
America has always recognized that unity for its own sake is useless at best and dangerous at worst. Unifying behind a mysterious charismatic figure promising transformational change may make us feel good, but it is a betrayal of the open and honest governmental debate our Founding Fathers sought and so many Americans have fought and died to preserve.
Americans think they grew up during Election 2008. They think they moved beyond the past. In one way they did. In another, more important way, they regressed dramatically -- to a time before politics mattered. In the next four years, there will be plenty of growing up to do.