John McCain's concession speech came first and was notable for three outstanding reasons:
1. His words in concession were as gracious in the end as they were inflammatory, abusive and inauthentic during the campaign. Who is the real McCain? Probably both. In different drive levels. Like the angry drunk at midnight and the repressed tea-totaller at noon.
2. McCain reaped what he had sown. His adoring audience was as boorish in their boos at the mere mention of the name Obama as McCain was graceful in his concession to this same man. He and Governor Palin created the mob mentality that then returned the favor by humiliating him and the GOP in front of the world
3. The vibrations between McCain and Palin at that outdoor stage in Pheonix were Anchorage-cold. Their body language, their touchless touching at the end of the concession, the disjoint between what Sarah Palin had planned to say and the word that she was to say nothing in the end and that she was now used and useless was unmistakable. And oddly sad. The family values of the GOP were in clear relief that evening and for days after. Scapegoat, scapegoat, my kingdom for a scapegoat! Hey, is there any room under that bus? Yeah, well here comes Sarah.
And then came the study in contrasts: Surveying the audience both at Chicago's Grant Park, awaiting President-Elect Obama's acceptance speech, and in cities across the globe on channels like C-SPAN, CNN and others, it was as though Obama was elected President of all the countries of the world, all at once. C-SPAN, for one, aired news reports from countries such as Russia, India, Cuba, Germany, France, England and Latin America, including, notably, Venezuela. The smiling faces, the squeals of happiness, the dancing in the streets, the joyful waving of the American flag.
The visual array of joyful noises acknowleged the promise of change proffered by Obama and a commencement of a new era within America and between American and the rest of the world. It was as though the world had bottled up its affection for America and for its once and future symbolism for 7 years and change and the cork was popped when the call went out across news screens across the globe, seconds after polls closed on the West Coast, OBAMA ELECTED PRESIDENT!
No doubt, front pages of newspapers across the world were at the ready, waiting for official confirmation that what they hoped, expected, wanted, had indeed materialized. In Kenya, one of Obama's ancestral homes, a national holiday was declared and people, as in other nations, danced in the streets.
But their dance was just a little bit more special because one of their own, one who had paternal roots in Kenya, had just been elected President of the United States. An American-Kenyan, President of the United States. Psychic rockets flew into East African skies and a tribal people's imagination and pride were unbridled.
I watched the election returns early in the evening, not long after returning to my home in Illinois from a day of get-out-the-vote canvassing for Obama in Sykeston, Missouri. On block after block and at the regional headquarters I saw the pride of both African-Americans and White Americans as they did the work they felt they needed to do to help Obama and Biden win the election, either by voting or voting and facilitating others' voting. It was clear that they needed to do this work because, in some way, they wanted to be part of an historical event beyond simply voting or sending money to the campaign.
For many, though, this bravura face masked a fragile hope that the polls were actually right this time; It masked the uncertain, question-marked prediction that election stealing will be off the table this year because the votes will be too disparate, too favorable for Obama for ballots to somehow disappear or, through electronic sleight of hand, ballot party colors will change from blue to red behind a curtain, in a box enclosing the black magic known as Diebold, that demonic force we have come to fear, hate, and loathe.
Before Tuesday and after my return from Missouri my wife, Rachel, chided me for fear of confidence in the polls that refused to shy away from spelling out an Obama victory. "That's part of your Jewish angst," she said every time I showed the face of doubt and trotted out superstitions like jinxing the election by predicting a win.
I said I knew many non-Jews who were just as queasy, just as fearful of predicting victory when there were so many uncontrolled variables, such as worry that the youth vote will crash on take-off, or that African-Americans will be intimidated by Republican bully boys at the voting booths. And then there is the dreaded Diebold, the slayer of dreams and the killer of hope.
But maybe her feet and her conviction were a little clay-afflicted for, while I was in Missouri, she was working the phones and emails to get out the vote. So, she must have had at least a frisson of anxiety about the ultimate outcome.
Or, maybe not. Rachel sometimes reveals faint, alien planet markings on her psyche and in her inexplicable strength of belief. One thing is and always has been obvious: Of Jewish angst, she seems to know not.
Election night was a confirmation of my wife's superior psychic(?) or (perhaps) logical skills. She predicted Obama by a landslide almost three months ago? Have I mentioned that before? I've shared that prediction with other doubting Thomases like me and they bathed in it for warmth and comfort in their hours, days, and weeks of anxious uncertainty. They even called and thanked her for her confidence; some even called her Abrahamic. Perhaps a shrine is in our future.
I think two things that I saw on the telly moved me the most after the shot of adrenalin stormed through my body as the networks proclaimed that Obama was elected #44. One was the sight of Jesse Jackson weeping with joy in Grant Park. It was timeless and priceless and one wonders if he will ever be forgiven for his crass sin of pride and resentment when he knew that Obama would make it to at least the road to the promised land while he was left in the hill overlooking that sacred real estate, left there after he had worked so hard to make that road open to Blacks.
The other moving visual was seeing the Fox News anchors and pundits grasp reality and the McCain loss emphatically before other networks dared to be premature (after the gaffes in 2000 and 2004). It was seeing them all bow to the immutable truth, the inevitable truth that Obama had soundly defeated McCain and that, for the foreseeable future (4-8 years), the Republican party, in disarray, will be wandering in the wilderness. I gloated as my left hand high fived my right.
Perhaps in that wilderness the Republicans will wear hair shirts, drink brackish water and curse the bread as they ask for divine wisdom, wisdom to divine a new game plan to wrest power away from liberals and progressives, and bring the country back to good conservative values that somehow got corrupted by...oh, yeah, by good conservatives with good conservative values.
And, immediately before and after the election, of course, it was interesting to see the knives being sharpened and measured for the goodness of fit in a Palin body. What has happened with this all-out assault on Palin, this exculpation of McCain and the RNC is curiously refreshing in its galling hypocrisy.
But I was curiously impressed with Fox News homing in on reality rather than hanging on for dear life for some miracle on Murdoch Street. All but the Weekly Standard boys, William Kristol and Fred Barnes, appeared to be graceful in defeat, generous in word, and acquiescent in body language. An amazing sight. The world cheering and Fox folk genuflecting. Ain't TV grand.