Four years ago we gathered at The Nation to watch the election returns.Around midnight we began to weep. But we had to put out an issue thenext day. So, through the grim night and bleak day after, as theElection 2004 verdict became clear, we held our emotions in check andworked to make sense of the disaster that had befallen the country. Thecover of our issue that week was of a black sky, dark clouds obscuring aslim and crestfallen moon, with a simple headline: “Four More Years.”
Four years later, our offices are filled with editors, writers,interns, and colleagues–some crying, this time with joy–all jubilantabout the new era of possibility opened up by Barack Obama’s victory. Weknow there is work ahead to build a politics of sanity and justice andpeace. But tonight we simply celebrate.
Obama’s election marks a remarkable moment in our country’shistory–a milestone in America’s scarred racial landscape and avictory for the forces of decency, diversity and tolerance. As oureditorial board member Roger Wilkins reminded us on the eve of theelection, Obama’s win “doesn’t turn a switch that eradicates our wholenational history and culture.” But “win or lose, Obama has already madethis a better country, made your children’s future better.”
This long and winding campaign has been marked by highs and lows,necessary and unnecessary divisions, indelible characters and highdrama. For the first time in decades, electoral politics became avehicle for raising expectations and spreading hope–bringing inmillions of new voters. The Obama team’s respect for the core decency,dignity and intelligence of the American people was reflected in thecampaign’s organizing mantra –“Respect-Empower-Include.” In contrast,the McCain campaign chose to denigrate voters’ intelligence, spread thesmears and mock the dignity of work with its cynical celebration of aplumber who wasn’t really a plumber.
Grassroots engagement and record-shattering turnout contributed mightilyto Obama’s decisive victory. Moving forward, this small-d democraticmovement –broad-based and energized–will be critical in overcoming thetimid incrementalists, the forces of money and establishment power, thatare obstacles to meaningful change. And it will be needed to forge thefate and fortune of a bold progressive agenda.
Already we hear calls that the new Democratic majority must not”overreach.” That is code for “do not use your mandate.” Ignore thosecalls— this election was a referendum on conservatism that has guidedAmerican politics since 1980. Indeed, future historians may well viewBarack Obama’s victory as the end of the age of Reagan and the beginningof something substantially new. And progressives can justifiably claimthat the election outcome was a clear repudiation of conservativeeconomic ideas and absurd claims that a more egalitarian approach togrowth constitutes “socialism.” This ideological rejection, the sharpfailures of the Bush Administration and, perhaps most important, theshifts in public views on the economy and the war have led to thiswatershed moment–a historic opportunity for a progressive governingagenda and a mandate for bold action.