I was forced to park ~1/2 mile away. As I walked towards the school, I passed excited college students texting their friends, elderly shuffling as best they could, and parents with their children. Given the importance of the evening, I was immensely proud of my neighbors, and caught up in the sense that the long night may in fact be coming to an end.
All through the school, neighbors were packed into classrooms and hallways, talking about issues and candidates. The combination of engaged people, political signs, and children's drawings were a powerful reminder of why I was there.
As I moved through the line to receive my ballot, I was shocked to be handed a 2x3" piece of plain paper with ripped edges, and asked to write my preference for President and put it in an envelope. Once I realized that they must have run out of printed ballots 30 minutes into the caucus, I was overcome with the emotion of knowing that something much larger had begun.
"We The People of the United States of America, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union..."
It was my privilege to write the name "Barack Obama" on that piece of paper.
Many others have written much better than I about their rationale for supporting Senator Obama. In particular, the author Michael Chabon makes the emotional case for the intellectual issues and noted law professor Lawrence Lessig makes a very strong intellectual case for the emotional issues. Both are well worth your time. Their analysis has both beauty and integrity.
In my case, I have a commitment to (and belief in) the American Dream (or more precisely, the Dream that is America) that is so profound, that it is difficult for me to talk of it without getting choked up.
Not the dream of a chicken in every pot, nor the dream of two cars in the driveway.
Rather the Dream of many peoples coming together to achieve something larger, and leave something better for those that follow. This is the true soul of America, and embodied in our Nation's Motto: E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many One.
We may celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but our true character and what we should aspire to live by is best captured in the preamble to our Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
We the People does not refer to the 51% of the 64% who vote that agree with us, but it refers to all that we are and all that we will be. Not Red States or Blue States, but the United States. Not the welfare of those that vote for us or give us donations, but the general Welfare. Not a southern strategy or swift boating a military hero, but to form a more perfect Union.
The past 20 years have been a long dark night for those of us that believe in We the People. The lessons and successes of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove (shamefully applied by both parties) have put our nation on a path to Balkanization, and manipulated the American Dream into a micro-targeted nightmare. More frighteningly, over the past decade the tactics of division have moved beyond partisan politics to an Orwellian exploitation of fear, and set the last great superpower on a path that could easily spiral to neo-facism.
While we face many challenges and dangers in this world, I believe the greatest threat to what we are is to forget who we are. When we fracture ourselves and "win" by causing someone else to "lose", we spiral ever deeper into the zero-sum night.
We stepped back from the same precipice in the 1890s (greed) and 1950s (fear). Each time, the moment was right to elevate a leader and a voice that rejected the politics of division and the policy of the ends justify the means, and reminded us that we are at our best when we grow the pie, not when we fight over the scraps; that our manifest destiny is born of our shared values and dreams, not conflicting fears and greed.
I have been waiting for that leader and that voice for the past 20 years. While I have done my best to live the example of the greater good — of people coming together to accomplish more than they thought possible — I had nearly lost hope.
Although I still suffer from what Chabon called the "pitiable...fear of disappointment", I believe that leader is Barack Obama.
Even if he falls, or falls short of the ideals he has set forth, there is a glow on the horizon, waking those who believe more in the Dream than they fear the darkness. As that glow grows into full light, we are indeed the people we have been waiting for.
As Seneator Obama said Tuesday night (emphasis mine):
You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. It will not be resolved on even a Super Duper Tuesday. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have so little, who've been told that they cannot have what they dream, that they cannot be what they imagine. Yes, they can.
We are the hope of the father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake with doubt that tells him he cannot give his children the same opportunities that someone gave him. Yes, he can.
We are the hope of the woman who hears that her city will not be rebuilt, that she cannot somehow claim the life that was swept away in a terrible storm. Yes, she can.
We are the hope of the future, the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided, that we cannot come together, that we cannot remake this world as it should be.
We know that we have seen something happen over the last several weeks, over the past several months. We know that what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored — that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation — repair this world, make this time different than all the rest. Yes, we can.
Let's go to work.