The other night, in his post-victory speech, President-Elect Barack Obama noted that this was only the beginning. There's a lot of work-- and sacrifice-- ahead of us.
That sacrifice began at home for us. First off, with Senator Obama soon to become President Obama, we're losing one of our Senators. Speculation has begun over who Governor Blagojevich will appoint to fill the empty spot. One of the jokes going around Chicago is that he'll nominate himself; it's widely believed that it's only a matter of time before he's indicted for corruption.
In reality, there are a few names going around. Emil Jones, the African-American speaker of the State Senate is one of them. Another is Illinois Director of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth. A couple of years ago, she was narrowly defeated in the fight for the the House seat that was opened when arch-conservative Henry "Youthful Indiscretions" Hyde retired. Another person on the short list is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose father Mike Madigan is speaker of the Illinois House.
Another sacrifice has been my Congressman; I live in Rahm Emanuel's congressional district. It was great having a guy who was a powerhouse in the Democratic Party as my congressman. But it'll be even greater having a guy who is good at getting things done as the White House Chief of Staff.
Overall, its nice to know that I'll soon have a President who is not only very, very intelligent and open to new ideas, but will surround himself with people who are intelligent and full of ideas-- not hacks, ideologues and idiots.
As a nation, we should all step back and think about this moment, before we roll up our sleeves and set about fixing the damage of the last eight years and then moving into the future, what we've done in 232 years. Some time in the next couple of months, take an hour or so of your time and read the US Constitution. It's a remarkable-- and partly flawed-- document. It is at times brilliant, guaranteeing rights-- free speech, freedom of religion, right of peaceable assembly and other rights-- that were radical at the time, and in most of the world still not guaranteed. Some of the founders wanted slavery banned. Unfortunately, many of the founders were slaveholders. In order to get them to sign on, and to get the Southern states to join the union, slavery was allowed.
The Southern states wanted their cake and to eat it too; they wanted to count slaves when apportioning the number of House members, but not to give the enslaved people a vote. Slaves counted as 3/5's of a person when determining the state's population for the purpose of determining how many House members represented a state. At the time, this might not have seemed so peculiar; most white "free" people did not have the right to vote. The Constitution allowed the individual states to determine who voted. Most states allowed white male property owners to vote. This represented a tiny minority of the population.
Over time, suffrage has steadily increased. Non-property owners, women, African-Americans-- over time, with great struggle, the right of political participation has opened up.
Tuesday night, as i sat at my best friend Jim's house listening to Senator Obama's speech in Grant Park, I thought of a lot of things. I thought of the people who had paved the way to that moment. I thought of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers who were brutally slain in the 1964 "Freedom Summer" in Mississippi. The ringleader of the mob that killed them, Edgar Ray Killen, was finally convicted in 2005. I thought of Martin Luther King, Violet Liuzza and many others who paid the price to bring this country to living up to it's promise that "all men (and women) are created equal."
One person I also thought of was Karole, a woman I dated in the late eighties. She was one of the smartest, funniest and prettiest women I dated. She was also African-American. I'd met her one night in the Gingerman tavern. I was drinking a Foster's beer-- you know, the one that comes in a can that's about the size of the old oil cans. She turned to me and asked "What, were you a quart low?" It was probably the best opening line I ever got.
One night, I was out with her at Danny's tavern, a bar in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. We were hanging out, talking, enjoying a beer, when a woman stopped to talk to us. She started telling us what a nice statement we were making. Finally, I stopped her. I wasn't dating Karole because she was black; I'd dated other African-American women-- and latina, jewish, catholic, white, etc. The circle I ran in was very mixed. I wasn't out with her, I pointed out to the well-meaning lady, to make a statement. I was out with my girlfriend.
When things ended with us, it was not because of the difference in our races; it was a difference in our maturity levels. I was an idiot in his twenties who was suffering from the "grass is greener" syndrome. As I finally got a little older and wiser, I regretted not having hung on to her. I was lucky that when I was ready to appreciate someone who was intelligent, funny and pretty, Kim came along.
So when I listened to Senator Obama's speech, I was moved by the history. I was moved by Jesse Jackson's tears, and came close to shedding a couple myself. Yes, it's great that we're going to have an African-American president. But most important, I'm going to have a president who is intelligent, intellectually curious, compassionate and looking out for my interests. I listened to Obama speak and thought "Hot damn-- this guy is going to be my President! Good for me!"