The results are in at last. McCain has made the traditional congratulatory phone call and, I hear, a gracious concession speech.
It has been a long haul. Even from Israel, the exhaustion of Americans with the election hype has been palpable for months. (Reminds me of Christmas, for which the hype seems to begin earlier and earlier, and go out with an exhausted sigh on December 26.) And yet it seems that this race showed presidential campaigning at its most interesting and, in my opinion, its best.
Rumors of Obama’s secret affiliation with Islam flickered here and there, but the bald-faced racism that one might have expected to surface just didn’t. (I think here of the reception Cleavon Little’s Black mayor had in Rock Ridge in "Blazing Saddles.")
McCain sought to court the woman vote by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, and yet I believe few women were taken in by this ploy. (And Tina Fey’s impressions certainly didn’t help.) Thanks to Katie Couric and others, she was subjected to the same rigorous questioning and analysis that any candidate serious about running for high office should expect.
Questions about Obama’s and Palin’s church affiliations came up but unlike the anti-Catholic hysteria that surrounded JFK, I think the questions centering on the candidates’ attitudes toward America, abortion, and the right of people to practice their religion unmolested seemed valid questions.
In past elections, the issues that seemed to dominate the discussions were frivolous, centering on politicians’ physical appearance, family connections, extra-marital peccadilloes, and offhand comments taken out of context. This time, it seemed that attempts to distract the voting public from the real issues (the economy, fossil fuel dependency, America’s crumbled alliances, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan) failed.
However one may feel about the outcome of the election, there are several reasons for Americans to pat themselves on the back:
1) They’ve just survived another major election.
2) They have just elected the first non-white President in U.S. history (long before I expected it would be ready to). Is he the first President in U.S. history whose last name comes from somewhere other than Great Britain or Ireland? (Van Buren and Eisenhower are the only other ones I can think of, and they were hardly stand-outs in any other way.)
3) Their choice seems to me to reflect an ability to see the big picture. While Obama may not talk as tough as McCain and may be more hesitant to involve the country in international conflicts where it has an interest, he may also be more likely to view many of the concerns Americans have on domestic issues with fresh eyes and address them with a more novel approach. While both McCain and Obama seem very smart, I think Americans are attracted to Obama as a leader for what they see as his willingness to steer the country in a different direction, and perhaps solve some of its problems (I think mostly here of oil dependency) in the process.
As for Israel, I didn’t see anyone walking around in sackcloth and ashes today. I think some Israelis may be disappointed, but I also hasten to add that Jonathan and I met an Israeli woman in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem earlier this week who said that she preferred Obama. When we asked her why, she said it was because when he came to Israel, he visited Sderot (a blue-collar city in southern Israel that has received the heaviest rocket fire since Hamas’s takeover of Gaza a year and a half ago). No other American diplomat or candidate has done so, and most Israeli politicians don’t go there either. To notice what others would prefer to ignore, and to remember the beleaguered and forgotten is to win the hearts and minds of many. May Obama do that in America too.