From Phoenix, Ariz., Mon., Nov. 3 - You'll find no pundits who do not characterize Tuesday's election results as historic. They've come to this conclusion because a black man was elected president; and it is true that such a result was one that many people, myself included, thought they would not see in their lifetime.
Still, to me, the fact that a black person has been elected president is not what qualifies this election as historic. After all, had Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination, she probably would have won the presidential election, becoming the first female chief executive of this country - an equally, if somewhat less improbable, historic first. The Republican brand, if I can use that term, has been so damaged by the present administration that the party's defeat was practically inevitable. In most people's estimation, Bush et al. have steered the country into a ditch. The electorate was not predisposed to hand the keys over to the Republican Party's designated driver.
What does qualify this election as historic is the fact that it has disrupted the timeline of history. It has ended the hegemony of white, European-derived males at the pinnacle of the country's political leadership. It is the ultimate acknowledgement that the nation has changed; it has been accepted that we are a multiracial, culturally variegated America. It indicates that the GOP's decades-long strategy of divide and deny, adopted when the Democratic Party's embrace of the civil rights cause repelled its Southern white faction (the Dixiecrats of the post World War II era), has ceased paying political dividends. In the ensuing decades the Republicans have been more than happy to offer them sanctuary under their "big tent."
The tent pole of racial distrust has collapsed. This election establishes a new 21st-century national identity. As our cover story this week demonstrates, cultures have globally embraced the American democratic system's promise of equality and self-determination. The Declaration of Independence has promised the freedom to pursue happiness, and blacks, Asians, Hispanics, women, immigrants of all stripes and others previously disenfranchised have come forward to demand payment on that promise. They received a dividend on Tuesday for their faith in the system.
Now the challenge before Barack Obama is to unite the country and ratify the notion that, regardless of the turmoil in our financial structure, the value system of this nation is not bankrupt. What is historically significant is not so much that Barack Obama, a black man, is in the White House. It is that we, as a nation, put him there.