The longest, most demographically-difficult and highest-turnout campaign ever for the presidential nomination of an American political party was settled Tuesday night when Barack Obama — the son of an African immigrant and a daughter of rural Kansas — secured sufficient delegate support to assure that he will be selected as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.
It was a historic moment for Obama, for the Democratic party and for the American experiment.
For the first time since the founding of the republic, a major party has nominated an African-American man for the presidency.
There is drama in that – as there will be drama in Obama’s acceptance of that nomination on the 45th anniversary to the day of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
But there is drama, as well, in the fact that this African-American man has prevailed in a close contest with — not against, but with — a woman. Hillary Clinton.
Much has been made of the race and gender divisions that were highlighted during a robust if sometimes unsettling primary fight. But who really expected that the first campaign in which America would seriously consider the prospect of making a person of color or a woman president would be easy?
Instead of focusing merely on these divisions, it is important, also, to consider the most remarkable fact of this race: That in a country where women and most African Americans were denied the right to vote in 1908, a woman and an African-American man split the highest-ever turnout in a presidential nomination contest in 2008.
Hillary Clinton’s mother was born before women had the right to vote.
Barack Obama’s father came to the United States as a foreign student at a moment in history where many American states still denied the franchise to those whose skin was not white.
Their children have competed, seriously, for the most powerful position in the country.
Obama and Clinton each secured something in the range of 18 million votes over the course of the five-month process that began in Iowa and finished Tuesday night in South Dakota and Montana.
The two candidates and their supporters will argue for a little longer about who won the most popular votes and where and how to count them.
But the reality is that more than 36 million Americans participated in the caucuses and primaries of a major political party and that has, since January, been in the process of breaking down barriers that were erected more than 200 years ago by inspired but imperfect founders. For most of its history, America has been an incomplete democracy. But, for the past five months, it has struggled to deliver on the promise of a more perfect union.