We are experiencing very stressful times. Many are losing their job or at least facing severely reduced income, difficulties in meeting expenses or paying insurance premiums, or meeting sudden medical expenses. Hundreds of thousands are in danger of losing their home, or have already lost it.
However most of us are rejoicing.
The dramatic election of Sen. Barack Obama to be the next President gives us hope of change for the better. The disastrous ten years of divisive, far right Republican congressional majorities and eight years of the George Bush administration are finally ending.
This administration used false information to lead us into a ruinous war with the loss of thousands of American lives (as well as tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis) and a cost of 10 billion dollars a month, took us from a balanced budget and economic well-being to a trillion dollar annual deficit, abolished controls and looked the other way while greedy entrepreneurs and financiers drove us into financial disaster with failing banks, sky-rocketing unemployment and millions of homes vacant. By renouncing international agreements and pursuing a "do it our way or else" foreign policy, the Bush administration demoted the United States from a respected world leader to one disliked, if not hated. The invasion of Iraq actually increased the ranks of terrorist organizations
There is second reason to rejoice.
This election made history - a monumental divide was crossed - for the first time ever an African-American has run for President of the United States and was elected.
At 11:15 on Tuesday evening John McCain, in a gracious speech, conceded victory to Barack Obama and recognized the momentous importance of this event with the following words:
"....This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.
I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too.
But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.
America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.
I especially understand the enormous significance of this event because of personal experiences. Just 57 years ago, a recently arrived immigrant, I listened enraptured one day to the gorgeous, velvety voice of Marian Anderson singing on the radio. A few days later I was flabbergasted to learn that this great operatic star, renowned in Europe, was unable to stay in most of the better hotels in the southern states because of her color. For a recently arrived European this was shocking, in Europe it could not happen.
A few years later, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I had publicly castigated an engineer in my section, who had complained that he would have to sell his house. His only reason - a black person had bought a house a couple of blocks away!
A sea change in the attitudes of the American electorate has made the election of Barack Obama possible. But it would not have happened if he were not so tremendously talented. When he was at Harvard Law School, he was selected to work on the staff of the prestigious "Harvard Law Review". The following year, 1990, he was elected by his peers to serve as the President of the Law Review, the first ever black American to achieve this post.
In the words of his class-mate Bradford Berenson (recently Associate White House Counsel): "He had a first-class legal mind and, in my view, was selected to be president of the Review entirely on his merits." It is notable that Michael W. McConnell, a very conservative lawyer and judge (short listed for appointment to the Supreme Court by President George Bush), was so impressed by Obama's editing of his contribution to the Law Review, that he recommended his appointment on a fellowship to the University of Chicago Law School.
He first came to national attention with his eloquent Keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.
But in addition, he is a superb orator, equal to Ronald Reagan or Abraham Lincoln (both of whom he acknowledged in his acceptance speech).
Furthermore, he has learned to be a great organizer and delegater. In the primary campaign against Sen. Hillary Clinton his superior organization enabled him to win all state caucuses and many of the direct state primary elections.
I admit that, originally, I was a Hillary supporter, believing that she had a better chance of winning a presidential election against Sen. John McCain. I admired McCain but was disappointed that he had abandoned his earlier opposition to Bush policies, and to gain the support of the demagogic Christian Right which controlled the Republican Party platform, had embraced all of their divisive policies. The final blow was his selection of the far-right disciple of the Church of God, Gov. Sarah Palin, as his running mate. I had voted Republican ever since I became an American citizen in 1956, until George Bush became the party's candidate in 2000. But I had always believed in the principles of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. These had been abandoned by George Bush, who catered to the extreme right neo-conservative elements of the party. They are the ones that have lead America to the present economc catastrophe.
However as the primary campaign progressed, I recognized the talent of Obama, steadfastly holding to his primary objective4: Change.
Regardless of attacks, he maintained his cool, never allowed himself to be provoked to anger. Throughout the final presidential campaign, through all the debates, all the campaign speeches to ever increasing crowds, he never wavered from his basic message - Change from the bottom up to the divisive politics of Washington - to unite all Americans against the policies of recent years.
He hammered away at the main goals of change:
- eliminate corruption at the highest levels,
- eliminate obscene benefits for a few top executives,
- save jobs for working Americans,
- provide affordable health benefits for all Americans, at least equal to those enjoyed by the citizens of all other industrial nations (and American congressmen),
- get us out of the quagmire of Iraq while eliminating terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
His message fired the enthusiasm of the younger generation, many of whom had never voted before. Millions registered to vote for the first time, then stood in long lines, for hours, to cast their votes. In the end his victory was assured by the largest turnout of voters in American history - 130 million (including some 5 million absentee ballots), or 62% of those eligible to vote, 69.5% of those actually registered.
At 11 pm election night, November 4, it became clear that he had achieved more than the required 270 electoral votes, with a safe margin. After all votes were counted many hours later (and in some states recounted} it became clear that 52% supported Obama, 46% McCain (2% numerous other independent contenders) - giving Obama 364 electoral votes, against 174 for his opponent.
In an eloquent, but short, speech, Barack Obama thanked his supporters at midnight, November 4, before an exuberant crowd of about 1/4 million people in Chicago Grant Park. Specifically he recognized a 106 year old black woman who had gone to the polls in Atlanta, Georgia and reviewed the great changes that had occurred in her lifetime.
There is no question that the financial meltdown during October had significantly contributed to the swaying of many undecided voters towards Obama, particularly in face of McCain's uncertain response to the crisis. This crisis also puts a different emphasis on Barack Obama and Joe Biden's goals, which are laid out in their "Blueprint for Change".
It seems to me that the most urgent problems to be attacked are:
- Provide immediate government assistance to jump start the economy and halt further decline.
- Provide assistance to states and municipalities to prevent cutbacks in education funding, and to jump start immediate building projects for the repair of the decaying infrastructure (utilities, bridges, levees, etc.) thus providing new employment.
- Provide incentives to all ventures that reduce America's dependency on imported oil and decrease the emission of greenhouse gases. This includes incentives for development of renewable energy sources and modernize and expand public transportation./li
- Start the process of enabling universal health care. The United States are the only industrial nation without it while spending more than double the share of G.D.P. on it than any other country.
- Restore international respect for America and gain diplomatic support to reduce worldwide tensions and terrorist threats, by restoring treaties abrogated by the Bush administration, speeding up the withdrawal from Iraq.
Regarding Point 1, Congress has already voted to provide 700 billion dollars for this purpose, little of which has yet been spent, except for rescuing some banks and other financial institutions that where a step away from imploding.
However, all investments of taxpayers money in private companies must be tied to restrictions on executive salaries and bonuses and dividends until the government loans are repaid.
Finally, We must do our part to recover from the present crisis. That means that you and I, and all Americans, including labor unions, need to tighten our belts and improve discipline, at home and in school. Many of our present problems result from baby boomers believing that they need the best and newest, regardless of ability to pay.
Many foreclosures are of homes that should not have been bought in the first place because they were too large and too expensive. Banks mail out credit cards at random, encouraging many to use them to buy things they don't really need.
Credit card debt is running close to $10,000 per family and the delinquency rate is presently 4.5%. Of course, many of us use credit cards for convenience and pay them off at the end of the month. But some use them indiscriminately and run up debts into the thousands of dollars at a 14% (or higher) interest rate.
It does a union member no good if his union leaders drive up his wages, eventually depriving him, or her, of a job.
Obama at Harvard Law School
2008 election turnout
Obama keynote speech at 2004 Convention
Obama victory speech transcript and video
full text of "Blueprint for Change"