I'm not someone who is much inspired by political rallies. I watched the Obama rallies of 2008 in something like stone silence - expecting that nearly everyone who fell in love with Obama so quickly would fall out of love just as quickly. In 90% of the cases, I think I was right.
But what I did not expect was that I would fall in love, and that my devotion to Obama would be more fervent than any I've experienced for a political figure in my lifetime - and perhaps any I will experience again. When Obama took office, I think I had a more than 50% expectation that his administration would fold under the weight of the expectations, opposition, and irredeemable partisan hatred. And yet, here he is, four years later - dragging America by the scruff of its collective neck into the first world that we created then fell so far behind.
Imagine, for a moment, that the Great Recession had occurred a few years earlier. George W. Bush would have used it as an opportunity to lower taxes yet again, increase funding on his pet programs and cut social programs to next to nothing. Even after cutting social programs, the debt may have spiraled out of control still more, with no more money to pay for an economic stimulus. We may well have completely defaulted on our credit, driven away all foreign investment, and sent unemployment to levels unseen since the Great Depression, or still worse.
Yet still there would have lurked Karl Rove from the sidelines, finding ways to blame Democrats yet again for something only conservative Republicans would be stupid enough to get us into. America would have had the Tea Party a few years earlier, only it would have been more virulent, with more occasion to be stirred into anger, and with the power of a president in tow. God knows what might have happened next.
Without a figure like Obama to rise when he did, I believe there is very nearly a certain chance that America would have fallen into permanent, irreversible decline. Even with an Obama presidency it may yet happen. But Barack Obama has turned out to be that last, best hope we have for stemming the tidal waves brought on by the Bush years.
This election has been far, far harder for me to watch impartially than 2008 or any election beforehand. It is the first election of my lifetime in which I truly, truly believe in a candidate. I do not expect to be this inspired by a political convention again for half a century (if I make it that far), and I feel a little ridiculous that I'm inspired at all. Still, this was last, best evidence that the America's wounds from the sixties have healed. The Democratic party is no longer the party of special interests and narcissistic rebellion. As it was in its heyday, it again is the party of concern for actual people.
In four years, Obama has accomplished more than Bill Clinton would have in sixteen. He staved off a second great depression and kept America's most important industry (auto) afloat when it could so easily have collapsed. He passed something approaching the universal healthcare law that eluded every president for over a hundred years. He inspired hundreds of millions in the Arab world to rebel against their dictators, and has played diplomacy so deftly that the region has not blown up into total war in spite of its explosive instability. He achieved the objectives of the Afghanistan War, and ended the Iraq War, for which there were no objectives. When it came time to prevent a mass democide in Libya, he formed exactly the sort of cooperative multi-national coalition which the Bush administration should have formed for Afghanistan, but didn't. By preventing an attack on Iran in such an unstable climate, he's done far more for Israeli security than Bush ever did. Nuclear stockpiles have been reduced, hate crimes are easier to prosecute, women are paid more, gays can serve openly in the military and it's only a matter of time before they will be allowed to marry freely.
It's not enough, but it's much more than we had four years ago. He did all this at a time when so many backward thinking people pined for his failure. Now more than ever, it is clear that we're living in extraordinary times. Most of us in America will eventually wake up to the fact that we were fortunate enough to be protected by a great man at the very moment we most need protection. And thanks to Obama, he may well be the last great man before great women take the stage to do the same (Elizabeth Warren?).
Duke Ellington/Mahalia Jackson: Come Sunday
Sam Cooke: A Change is Gonna Come
Martha & the Vandellas: Dancing in the Street
Kern/Hart: Old Man River - Sung by William Warfield
James Weldon Johnson: Lift Every Voice and Sing - Sung by Aretha Franklin
Mavis Staples: Eyes on the Prize
Marian Anderson: Deep River
Antonin Dvorak/William Arms Fischer: Going Home - Sung by Paul Robeson
John Coltrane: Psalm