Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States a year ago yesterday and I wasn’t there to see it. Oh, I have a pretty good idea about how everyone felt that night, my Democratic friends were cheering and crying and high-fiving all over the country. My friends from abroad were sending e-mails of shock that Americans weren’t crazy cowboys after all and maybe there was hope for the planet. I could see my Republican friends that night, too, even though most everybody predicted that McCain was going to lose the electoral vote, they were still bummed. They were collectively like a 20-something-year-old guy who loses a game of one-on-one to a woman on a public basketball court. Yes, everybody knows that women can ball, and that theoretically any woman can beat any man on the basketball court, he just didn’t think it’d happen to him.
That’s how McCain and most Republicans felt, losing to the first Black candidate for president of the United States. What’re the chances that that would ever happen? Interestingly enough, I missed all of this revelry and self-reflection that night, which allows me to have a more detached view of Obama’s election one year later. I was, as I often am politically, traveling through the middle.
Election night is like the Super Bowl for political analysts, pundits and academics like myself. You are constantly rushing from location to location, giving commentary, being interviewed and writing on every nuance of the campaign. On election night I finished up doing a county by county analysis of the race in Ohio and literally minutes after Obama was announced the winner I was in a limousine being driven six hours across country to do post-election coverage in Washington, D.C. the next day so I didn’t see any dancing in the streets or gnashing of teeth. After a fitful night of trying to catch some sleep on a bumpy and rainy drive, I awoke in Washington, D.C., to see that the party of the night before had been transformed into beaming smiles during the day.
Looking back on that night, I’m rather happy that I was away from everything for the first six hours after the election. It gives me a bit of detachment today when I look back on what has transpired since Obama was elected. Comedian George Carlin once said, “Inside every cynic is a disappointed idealist.” I was never all that idealistic about Obama, I don’t know if I would have been celebrating that night or not, or if I would’ve just been in scholarly awe at what happened. What struck me the most was that I didn’t feel much of anything when the final tally was announced. Whether you voted for Barack or not you’re supposed to have felt something. Right? In the last year I’ve noticed that at least symbolically his election has done something, but I still don’t really feel anything positively or negatively one way or another.
The most obvious thing I’ve noticed since President Obama’s election a year ago, is that for the first time in decades there has been a legitimate resurgence of the left. From roughly the late 1970s until Obama’s election, liberals have been getting sand kicked in their faces by the conservatives on the beach of politics. On issue after issue after issue the left would just cave in, which did not benefit this country at all, since policy outcomes work best when there’s a strong right and left battling it out in Congress.
Liberals were so demoralized that, like a spineless ex-girlfriend, they kept putting up with Bill Clinton’s ideological philandering in the 1990s because they “just didn’t think they could do any better.” Clinton was never held accountable to the left for his failings but it seems at long last as if the progressive movement has decided to hold this president’s feet to the fire. Obama ran as a moderate not a liberal, but with a Democratic president and Congress, the left has forced his hand for health care reform, gay marriage and soon, climate control.
In the last 365 days, the world has changed, and a lot of that change is due to President Barack Obama. As the left charges forward and the right screams in agony, the nation is a strange place for those who remain somewhat ambivalent about the current presidency despite its historic significance. Either way, it’s worthy to note the passing of the most important election in American history, and I’ll never forget how I didn’t feel that day.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)