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Michael Winship: Obama Shows Us Where We’re Headed, Where We’ve Been

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

Obama Shows Us Where We’re Headed, Where We’ve Been
By Michael Winship

Whether you’re Democrat, Republican or Mugwump, you look at Tuesday night’s remarkable election results and the nationwide reaction and can’t help but wonder at how far our young country has come – and, at the same time, how long it’s taken.

You probably saw those photos of the big Obama rally in St. Louis, Missouri, a couple of weeks ago – 100,000 people attended. If you looked closer, in the background, you could see an old building with a copper dome turned green with age.

That used to be the courthouse. Slaves were auctioned from its steps, and in 1846, 162 years ago, Dred Scott and his wife, two slaves, went there to appeal to the court for their freedom, arguing that they had lived in states and territories in which slavery had been outlawed and so should be let go.

They were, briefly, but soon were returned to slavery. When their appeal reached the United States Supreme Court in 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney refused to free them. He ruled that slaves did not have the rights of citizens because Dred Scott and his wife were, quote, “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Seventeen years later, January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and in November of that year, 145 years ago this month, he traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the battlefield was still freshly soaked in the blood of North and South, to assure all Americans that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And yet more than a century would pass before we would come anywhere near making his words true. Much more blood would be shed and lives lost toward achieving Lincoln’s aspiration, the one for which he was martyred, too. Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma. In 1964 came the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act the following year.

And still there was violence and still there were words of hate. There’s a certain irony that this year it was in the electorally important state of Pennsylvania and from Lincoln’s own party that so much bitter, often racially-oriented attack came during this campaign. In their hunger to turn their state to the McCain column (unsuccessfully), the Pennsylvania Republican Party in particular pulled out the stops with virulent robocalls, flyers and last-minute TV ads that once again tried to stir ugly emotion and jingoistic reflex by re-conjuring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

As gracious in defeat as John McCain was Tuesday night it cannot be denied that his candidacy and the desperation with which the status quo tried to cling to power created an atmosphere of ugly accusation and insinuation unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes, and not just in the race for the presidency. Take, for example, the unsuccessful campaign in North Carolina of Senate incumbent Elizabeth Dole who, in the ultimate Hail Mary play accused her Democratic opponent Kay Hagan of Godlessness.

Yes, some Democrats did it, too, and in the past, candidates have accused each other of far worse; of traitorous, seditious acts and heinous, imaginative transgressions of the flesh. But this year’s venom was conceived in kneejerk ideology and instantly brought to your home or office by the Internet: cyberspace, 24-hour news and talk radio deliver poison into the body politic’s bloodstream with unparalleled speed and unfiltered ferocity.

This week, the majority of this nation rejected such hate. President-elect Obama ran a campaign in which the color of his skin was not so much an issue but an integral aspect of what has made him the complex and original man he is.

When Harry Truman became President after the unexpected death of FDR, he said he felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on him. Barack Obama must feel a little of that, too, but unlike Truman he has chosen this particular trajectory of his own free will and been given a mandate for change. He will reside in a White House and rule this country with men and women who work in a white marble Capitol, both of which were built by slaves long ago but not so far away.

And so we will hold this moment dear, turn it in the light to savor the beauty of each facet, even though we know there are hard times ahead, difficult decisions and, as Obama said, false steps. Chances are, he and we will be disappointed; sometimes by him, sometimes by each other. From time to time, hearts will break. So it goes.

Yet, as the song goes, the world will be better for this. After 9/11, the French newspaper LE MONDE’s headline read, “We Are All Americans.”

In the years that have followed we denied that proffered hand; we drove wedges, built walls, waged war that isolated us not only from other countries but squandered the solidarity and strength that existed within ourselves.

On Tuesday, as a nation we stood in line, waited our turn to cast our ballots, did what we do best. And when the results were announced we watched a man and his family stand on an outdoor stage in Chicago. He asked for our support, regardless of party or race, and finally, for a moment at least, together we were all Americans once again. It’s a good start.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

I confess that I came to support Senator Obams slowly, but I feel great trust in his ability to become a great president. I wish him well and hold him in my prayers

Your a fine writer and I really enjoyed reading. I do however think your wrong on the root cause of the nations failure.

The root cause is the wars themselves. The American economy does just fine unless the wars happen. The wars themselves hurt the actual people (those living in the country), which in turn disrupts the economy.

The politicians in there perpetual war are out of touch with the reality of what's important. They throw Americans deeper into debt by making it very tough if not impossible for them to be fully employed and healthy.

And yes, you heard me right, war itself removes citizens health and then prospects for employment, then bankrupts them, and even kills some of them.

So what is it about war that causes this? Bombs? Top-secret anti-climate weaponry?? Who knows, but something connected to war does cause it.

And yes, those of us who still have our wits about us, are feverishly trying to solve it.

The one thing that I must agree with is that - no matter how successful (or unsuccessful) the next administration is, the election of President-elect Obama, as the first African-American President, is a positive step. The only thing is...while it is a great leap forward for all of us in the U.S., if the troubles facing us are not effectively confronted, it is still not enough.

But I, like so many other Americans, are willing to give him and his adminstration a chance.

Mr. Moyers and Mr. Winship what do you think the position of Obama would be on media consolidation that had a profound negative effect on Democracy? Did he express any views i did not hear? What is the possibility under his administration to change the situation . Any clues?

Would people be willing to vote for Michael Jordan for Basketball Phenom? For Oprah for Talkshow-Host-Philanthropist? For Bill Cosby for Comedian? If so, why not for Barack Obama for President of the USA? He is one mentally, socially, and politically gifted individual. I can't imagine anyone on the scene who has more promise for leading this country through the troubled times we face.

The bittersweet realization is that there are many, many people of color or with physical disabilities, perhaps, who are also talented, but have been denied opportunity over the course of U.S. history.

This is a tragedy which I hope will soon be rectified.

Long live Barack Obama and his beautiful family!

Hi I am very disapointed in the press coverage of this election. They was constantly going after Palin and yet wasn't going after Obama. Also all those early votes for both candidates, well they are invalid. Read up on the law on voting for congressial and presidential races. It states: that only on the first tuesday of November shall votes be cast. So did Obama win or was this just another first so we as americans can feel good about ourselves. It is Ironic that all of this is the 40th anniversery of the death of MLK and that of the mess in Chicago with the democratic convention. It also was weird that Obama was always in those historical areas and that all of everything he did was on the steps of some racial event. I have a daughter who is half black and she is like Obama in being mixed. i hope that she understands that she can do anything she wants to be but should only do it by her own accord and not because she is black or white. so this election was fixed from the git-go and i think if you are good journalist you should very much look into this for McCain could have one the election by default. thank you

That's almost all it takes, to keep our eye on the ball, the dream, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It's getting distracted that's most of the problem. We all see the dream, but we get side tracked with daily problems, old "enemies" and you name it. I don't see anything, but that city on the hill and it is glorious. Everything else falls by the wayside. We just have to go directly to what we want. The distractions are irrelevant and I find that they melt away in the light of reason. Follow Hesekiah's lead and don't let anyone get us down from our wall for long, just keep building. I guess Mark Twain had a good idea, you may soon have them paying you to let them whitwash your fence. Which naturaly brings us to the White House. Shouldn't we stain it light blue now?

Dear Mr. Winship,

We cannot change the terrible history of inequities in this country that you so painfully remind us of, but rather we can and must change the inequities that still exist in our lives today. Rather than re-examine the past injustice or crimes of inhumanity, it would be far more beneficial to re-examine the strength and power of the American Revolution to see where we must go and find what we must do again.
It will take a revolution to free ourselves from the bondage of inequity, the imbalance of tyranny, a revolution much like our forefathers so bravely had done before. The Declaration of Independence is about self rule, self reliance, the freedom of governance, the freedom to govern oneself; it’s about the equity and unity of One, of Oneness, of All. That is why we came to this country, to set ourselves free. We need to set ourselves free again. And what comes along with freedom is nature's single truth; the inalienable true right of equality, for it is only that truth that can and will set us free.
What is required is a revolution of thought that leads to truth, an evolution of the thoughts of mankind that will lead us back to One. One nation, One universe, One nature, One god, indivisible, with liberty, and equality or justice for All.
A revolution is what is required, right here and right now. A revolution of thought of not only the equity of mankind, but rather the true equity of nature, the true equity of One, the equality of All!


I did not vote for Obama. I could not in good conscience.

Nothing has changed. At least nothing good.
Obama is black. That's it.

Dr. King asked us to judge a man by his character, not by the color of his skin. When I judge Obama, I find him lacking.

I see more power for corporations. I see more wars. I see more violations of the Constitution. But now I see people actively cheering it, because Obama, the savior, is the one doing it, and not the evil Bush.

There was a woman of color, a woman of conscience, running for President, Cynthia Mckinney, but she had perhaps a bit too much character, too much courage for the American people, certainly too much for the corporations.

I hope that disappointment is the worst that the American people will feel, I fear it will be much worse.

As an enthusiastic Obama voter, I agree that "it's a good start". But it's only a start. Barack Obama comes to the job with magnificent qualities and credentials; the finish line will truly have been reached when we elect a mediocre African-American as willingly as we have elected more than a few mediocre or downright unfit presidents of European descent.

Just yesterday while surfing the internet I read in one of the prestigious American newspapers that the Republicans had grudgingly accepted Obama's historic victory. I did NOT believe that to be true at all, since I had heard McCain's gracious concession speech.

But after reading the captioned article of erudite senior writer Michael Winship, I really had hardly any doubt left NOT to believe that!

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