I am proud of and excited by the fact that we have inaugurated the first black president of the United States. He wasn't my first choice, but he is nonetheless my president. And if ever there were a wonderful consolation prize in politics, shattering the race barrier in the White House is surely it.
Conservatives who try too hard to belittle the importance of this milestone are mistaken on several fronts. First, this is simply a wonderful -- and wonderfully American -- story. Any political movement that is joyless about what this represents risks succumbing to bitter political crankery.
For instance, you will not soon see a German chancellor of Turkish descent. Nor will a child of North African immigrants soon take the reins of power in France. It will be a long time before a Pakistani or Indian last name appears on the mailbox at 10 Downing St. And yet these countries bubble over with haughty finger-waggers eager to lecture backward and provincial America about race and tolerance. Why not enjoy rubbing Barack Obama in their faces?
Of course, there's a partisan angle to Obama's presidency -- he is the head of the Democratic Party, after all -- but his success comes on the heels of a bipartisan racial success story. For instance, President Bush appointed the first African American secretaries of state.
As Obama loves to observe, America is more indivisible and united than many would have us think. "We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America," he proclaimed in his career-making keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.
It only follows that George Bush's America is also Barack Obama's America, and vice versa. That's an important lesson not only for foreign observers but for domestic partisans.
More important, opponents of racial quotas and other champions of colorblindness on the right should be popping champagne nearly as much as racial liberals are. Yes, yes, Obama's a passionate defender of affirmative action and the like, but the symbolism of his presidency cannot be contained within narrow liberal agendas.
"There is an entire generation that will grow up taking for granted that the highest office in the land is filled by an African American," he told the Washington Post last week. "I mean, that's a radical thing. It changes how black children look at themselves. It also changes how white children look at black children. And I wouldn't underestimate the force of that."