Where were you standing? is already taken as zeitgeisty question, and How do you feel? is a mite banal, but the spirit of both were too tempting to skip asking Jewcy‘s inner and outer circles. So we did. Check back here frequently, as we’ll be updating this list throughout the rest of the week.
I was in an African restaurant in Fort Greene when CNN called the race for Obama. Almost immediately, the intersection outside the restaurant turned into a giant patriotism party. Bearded hipster types ran through the crowd shouting "USA! USA! USA!" — unironically, mind you. Everyone belted out the national anthem. In Union Square, apparently, the crowd spontaneously broke into "America the Beautiful." When I called my friends in DC, they reported similar singalongs. All night, I heard the same thing from everyone: "I’ve never felt more proud to be an American." Of course, after the controversy over Michelle Obama’s comment about finally being really proud of her country earlier this year, that’s a weighted statement, but think about it: For me and my peers, people who first voted in 2000, the last eight years have been one disaster after another. Finally, we’re witnessing a moment in the history of U. S. government where something good happened. It’s been a long time coming. -Former Jewcy Managing Editor Izzy Grinspan
Watching the election results on a giant screen at a rally in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Office Building in Harlem, I heard the man behind me tell his companion, "Obama gonna pay my mortgage." I was touched as the crowd roared in approval of Ohio, which might as well have been where I grew up. The moment the broadcast of the acceptance speech ended, a dixieland brass outfit struck up out of nowhere, and a dance circle thronged around them. We paraded down 125th Street chanting "Oh yes we did!" and singing "Obama" to the trombone. I left the party on the island in the middle of Lenox Avenue. An African-inflected man bounded up to me and asked whether he could get a hug. "Yes we can," I said. At Lexington, none of southbound trains were running, and a light rain began. But it was good night to stay in Harlem.. –Austen Dacey, philosopher and author of The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in the Public Sphere I got a call from my Mom at 10:59 last night.
“Dad just got a call from his high school friend that works for NBC. They’re gonna say Obama won the election at 11:00.”
All I could say back was “Oh. Wow,” followed by a quick, “Turn on NBC” to my friends. “What? What?” they asked.
And then it happened.
It wasn’t long before we heard a roar from below us. Every car in our little Harlem neighborhood was sounding its horns, and we started to see fireworks exploding outside our windows. Honestly, I’m still waiting for someone to pinch me, or to be informed that someone made a mistake and the whole thing isn’t really over. In the scheme of things, I haven’t been around for many elections, and for the last two of them I had woken up the next morning still not knowing whom our next president was. Being able to call the election before my bedtime just seemed too easy somehow.
But it wasn’t easy, really. I’m not one for getting too sentimental, but I must admit, there was a tear in my eye when I saw those images of Jesse Jackson bawling in Grant Park, and when Bernice King could not even hear her television interviewers over the sounds of rejoicing in the Ebenezer Baptist Church. It’s really something, you know? -Jessica Miller, Jewcy staff writer
My body was in Brooklyn last night to watch Barack Obama’s first speech as the president-elect, but my heart was back home in North Carolina. The Senatorial seat once held by stalwart conservative Jesse Helms now belongs to a Democratic woman, Kay Hagan, who endured absurd and unfounded mudslinging from the incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole. Beverly Purdue became the state’s first-ever female Governor. And, as of 3 PM today, there was still no official word on whether North Carolina’s electoral votes would go to Barack Obama or to John McCain. In the grand scheme of things, of course, those fifteen votes won’t change the outcome of the election. But if the Tarheel state goes Tarheel blue for the first time in more than 30 years, I will re-cry all the tears of joy I cried last night. The South is changing. I used to be the only Jewish kid in my high school in Raleigh, but looking at the most recent yearbook I see a broad variety of skin colors and last names. A state that no one dreamed would ever be anything but a guaranteed win for a conservative candidate has shown that it will no longer be taken for granted. Even if NC goes to John McCain, the fact that a former Republican stronghold was won by the slimmest of margins is still significant. I’m incredibly proud of where I’m from, but moreso I’m incredibly proud of where we–both my home states, and this whole nation–are going. -Lilit Marcus, Jewcy editor
The theme of John McCain’s concession speech last night sums up my feelings well. The outcome of the election wasn’t what I hoped for, but it would be foolish to deny the history of the moment. Conservatives love to hold up the idea of a meritocracy, and nothing defines that better than an African-American of modest background rising up to the presidency. As someone weary of the petulant reactions to President Bush’s two White House victories, I have no desire to engage in bitterness or petty name-calling. So, my take is similar to that of some of the good folks at the National Review’s Corner blog last night: I congratulate Barack Obama, and he’s my president. I don’t have any illusions that he is going to be a great healer or an inspiration to us all, as so many on the left believe. (He’s already showing that, by offering the divisive Rahm Emanuel the job of chief of staff.) I fear that if he is the “second coming” of anyone, it’s President Jimmy Carter. But he won fair and square, and now he will have a chance to succeed or fail on his own merits. –Rachael Larimore, copy chief, Slate magazine The inverse of 9/11. History taking place, but not tragedy bearing out the worst in others and their ideas. This time it was the best. Nobody knows how good a president Obama will be any more than they knew what kind of president McCain would have been. What we do know is what people meant to express by the choice. It wasn’t fear and loathing of anything except fear and loathing; it was an embrace of the better side of our natures. If this sounds like an Obama speech, that’s because there was no great disparity between what the man was selling and what people wanted to buy. Detractors called the whole show a scam, and everyone who bought it a sucker. What I felt last night wasn’t some massive political Jonestown–I know the signs and my guard was up. Last night America was taking a risk and feeling damn good about it. It was the sight of all the outsiders taking control and re-making their country. It was about race and not about race (and paradoxically there is no paradox in that). I don’t know how jilted a fox you had to be to call the grapes of Nov 4th, 2008 sour. One can devote their life to critical inquiry and skepticism, but that does not mean that special moments such as this one must be colored with cynicism. It doesn’t require you to remove yourself from the moment. Part of being a skeptic is calling a spade a spade. Now isn’t the time for premature defeatism or kneejerk pessimism–if Obama fails, then we can cry foul. But last night, today, and probably for many more days to come, we can just cry. At the exorcism of demons, at the renewal of a great country, at the prospect of what residual returns this extraordinary moment could have not only for us, but for the rest of the world. My reaction to this election? I’m proud to be an American and excited to be alive. -Josh Strawn, Jewcy contributor, lead singer of Blacklist
As someone who still has plenty of doubts about an Obama administration, but couldn’t in good conscience vote for McCain due to his appalling choice of a running mate and his inept conduct during an economic collapse, I wasn’t ready for my reaction to last night’s returns. Call it a toe-dip into the waters of sentimentalism, but I was unambivalently proud of my country (and not for the first time, I’ll have you know), just for electing a black man to the office of the presidency. Just for? No, scratch that. I don’t applaud appeals to race or religion or tribe, but only a heartless automaton would fail to see that by this morning we were unofficially inhabiting the post-civil rights era. That Obama has many attractive qualities to match the symbolism of his triumph justifies, in my view, the international celebration that has yet to die down. The scales will begin to fall from the eyes in the months and years to come, even if he governs magnificently. Both Hamas and the Kremlin took the occasion of Obama’s election to remind us that the world has not suddenly been rendered benign or safe. John McCain’s tragedy, as I’ve called it, was in how he chose to conclude the climax of his political career. Will Obama’s be a failure to make the best of the beginnings of his? Know hope, but know much else besides. –Michael Weiss, Jewcy editor
We did it. All of us. We worked and phonebanked and volenteered and gave more money than we could afford, and god, we did it. Tonight I walked through the city and saw it reborn. We hugged and danced in the streets. We high fived and set off fireworks and smiled at stangers. Union Square was a mob scene. We knew triumph and redemption. We got a smarty pants big city guy with a funny name elected president, despite having everything against us. We took our country back.
God bless you President Obama. -Molly Crabapple, Jewcy contributor, artist of inspired bawdy, author of Dr. Sketchy’s Rainy Day Colouring Book
I watched the returns from Luce Hall at Yale University, which was overflowing with graduate students and professors, and a surprising number of children. At the beginning of the night, the atmosphere was optimistic but muted; I imagine that the assembled felt the way I did as a Red Sox fan in 2004, after the Sox beat the Yankees and were up three games to none in the World Series. Sox fans, like Democrats, have experienced the anguish and frustration of repeatedly seeing expected victories vanish before their eyes. When Pennsylvania was called for Obama, I realized that whatever fantasies I had been nurturing about a McCain upset were not going to come true. I downed a glass of wine. The crowd cheered less with enthusiasm than with relief. Soon I packed up my things, headed home, and went to bed. Let these Yalies enjoy the taste of victory; for many of them, what happened last night is evidence that America might not after all be an irredeemably awful country. Hopefully, with catharsis and jubilation out of the way, such people will settle into support for responsible governance. I hope so, but find it hard to imagine. -Noah Pollak, Jewcy contributor, Commentary/contentions blogger
There’s something in the way Democratic brains are wired that makes us always think, given our track record over the last four decades, that we’re going to lose an election no matter what. (It’s also, I should add, a very Jewish way of thinking.) So, quite frankly, I didn’t care about the fact that almost every poll out there said that Obama was going to win. As I sat on the train last night and headed home I had a lonely, miserable feeling that the Obama candidacy was doomed. Maybe a lot of those Obama supporters were like the Howard Dean supporters in Iowa — long on passion, short on numbers. Maybe the people who don’t respond to annoying pollsters calling when you’re trying to sit down to dinner tilt Republican. Maybe the voters will overlook John McCain’s increasingly bizarro behavior and remember the good McCain. When I got home, my mother called to say that one of her friends had gone to vote in Pittsburgh and had found her polling place practically empty. She added that her friend was the only person she knew voting for Obama. "Well, thanks for making me feel worse." But mostly I thought that in the privacy of the voting booth, a fatal number of white voters would find themselves unable to vote for a black guy — no matter how inspirational and brilliant. No African American had ever appeared on a national ticket — how it would turn out in the end was a tremendous unknown, and the weight of it was suddenly crashing down. (I should add, it was an argument that I had been through with friends and relatives when I was urging them to vote Obama in the primary. "I think Americans are different now than they were even, say, 15 or 20 years ago," I would tell them. And "I think that the people who were not going to vote for him because he was black were not going to be voting Democratic anyway.") No, last night I was panicked until Obama won Pennsylvania. After it was official I uncorked a bottle of champagne and watched the speeches. I had told my friends that I would probably be weeping either out of joy or sadness (particularly given the amount of emotion I had invested in this election). But I wasn’t weeping and I wasn’t even jumping up and down after the first few minutes. I was merely sitting quietly. I was speechless. (My friends will testify how loudly that silence speaks.) I kept shaking my head and saying, "I don’t believe it… I just don’t believe it." Call it awe. Not so much for Obama (as much as I love the guy) — it was awe for my fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that many players tried to drag this campaign into the mud (not the least of which were the Clintons) America did not rise to the bait. In every part of the country — even in southern states like Virginia and North Carolina which I had written off a long time ago — people came out and voted for Barack Obama. When Obama says that his unlikely story is a nearly impossible one anywhere except here, I think he’s on to something. There are moments when America will do something so unexpected and wonderful that you are dumbstruck. That’s what I was last night. -Max Gross, Jewcy book blogger, author of From Schlub to Stud
Obama ran a brilliant campaign which "spoke" to the people in 21st century terms. He fused technology, symbol, and oratory, seamlessly joined television entertainment, internet advertising, celebrity culture, infommercials, with community organizing and private and spectacular levels of fundraising. Some level of thuggery on the part of his supporters has been alleged. Through it all, Obama maintained a manfully stoic composure. He was sometimes amused, sometimes angry, always…distant, always ready for his close-up. All future political campaigns in America will require a similar choreography, a simultaneity of forces. As I wrote this I realized that only suicide/homicide bombers have perfected the deadly art of simultaneous, choreographed attacks, a kind of anti-life death art. I hope and I pray that President Obama is as effective in preventing such attacks and in outwitting the attackers as he was in running his two year Presidential campaign. But here’s one more thing that troubles me. People really believe that a mere mortal, a mere politician, will Solve it All, deliver on his every promise, perform the impossible, walk on water. No one is realistic. As we now know, Hamas greeted President Obama’s victory by launching a barrage of rockets towards civilian Israel. I wonder how President Obama will deal with Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran and all those extremely Bad Guys. -Phyllis Chesler, Jewcy contributor, psychologist, author of Women and Madness, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, and Women of the Wall, Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site
On the streets of New York you could see two kinds of reactions last night: the drunk variety (wooooooooooooo!) and the reflective, poignant, verge of tears variety. Personally I was too hammered to feel anything but a cathartic sense of joy and relief, but in the morning—as I nursed the best hangover of my life—I watched Barack Obama’s victory speech again, and I felt a lump in my throat the size of Bristol Palin’s unborn child. After eight years of demagoguery, paranoia, wrath and carnage—which the textbooks will record as one of our darkest hours alongside McCarthyism, Vietnam, and internment camps—the American people have elected a chief executive worthy of the office, a man who values the integrity of our constitution and the unparalleled greatness of its ideals. On January 20th we will no longer have a dictatorial charlatan who masquerades as the president of the United States of America; we will have a president of the United States of America. Expectations for the Obama Administration are reaching messianic proportions, and he will surely make mistakes, perhaps indefensible ones. Power corrupts; Obama is about to become the most powerful man in the world. He could abuse his office; he could lose our favor in the months and years to come. However, if Obama fulfills the promise of his campaign—if he truly does restore America’s laws and change them for the better—we might have elected a Jefferson-, Lincoln- or FDR-caliber leader in our lifetimes. This is obviously a huge milestone for African-Americans, but it is also—to a lesser degree—a milestone for my generation. The attacks of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq have defined what should have been the best years of our lives. We learned to distrust our government, resent our fellow citizens and sneer at the words “freedom” and “patriotism,” which were used as weapons against real freedom and real patriotism. It is no small feat that Obama reminded millions of us why we loved this country in our childhoods; in many ways he embodies the speeches we memorized in elementary school, and inspires the same optimism we felt when pledging allegiance to our flag before class started. Young people showed up to the polls in record numbers (reporters are speculating the youth vote gave Obama the victory), not because we were scared of other countries, but because we were proud of our own. It’s good to remain skeptical of mass movements because they naturally discourage freethinking—and Obama’s cult of personality has its fair share of creepy idolaters—but I no longer envy my parents for living through the 1960s. We now have our own “I was there” moment. We were part of something special, something extraordinary, something American. We are no longer a nation of torture and theocracy. We are no longer a nation which hates the world, and which the world hates in return. We are once again a nation which produced the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation and “I Have a Dream.” We are once again the United States of America, indivisible with the possibility of liberty and justice for all. Let’s hope it sticks this time. In other words: Wooooooooooooooooooo! -Marty Beckerman, Jewcy contributor, author of Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots
I’m struck by how distinctly American I feel. I blog a lot about race, but I haven’t felt so patriotic in ages. Maybe since 9/11, which feels like a lifetime ago. For me, that’s one drop in the infinite reservoir of amazing takeaways … seeing people around the globe respond. Why is America so incredibly important to so many people? Why are we the Apple to the rest of the world’s PC? How is this land of Bush, and Enron, and Cheney, and Spitzer, and Flavor Flav, and TMZ and Fashion Police etc. etc. ad nauseam, also the symbol for that inscrutably-human sense of independent spirit? Look at the pictures, taken from around the globe. How can one man, one job, one country’s chosen leader mean so much? Iit’s so difficult to wrap my aluminum-body macbook around the idea that when the world is spinning its wheels in the, uh, ditch of life or whathaveyou, we’re the folks everyone looks to for a plan? What are we, Hancock? The Alcoholic Superpower? (If you were to ask me about America-as-Guiding-Light when I’m drunk and fantasizing about Sarah Palin, in my apartment, telling Katie Couric that she knows how to save Africa because she can see my balls from where she’s sitting; I would be like, "How can you talk about some broad ‘America the beautiful’ stuff with a scene like this in front of you? THAT’S UNAMERICAN! But I do appreciate the conversation, so hold on a second, I’m just busy at the moment." Then in five minutes I would return and tell you that such a thought [America-as-example-for-the-world] is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.)
But yet, it’s true. The throngs of people, the wide-eyed faces, the streaming tears… none of them lie. This country, my country, your country is the worlds guiding light. The world’s Encyclopedia Brown. The forger of black steel in the hour of chaos. The nationalized avatar of Nietzsche’s will to power? Or maybe you prefer, Manifest Destiny. Just Do It. Yes We Can. This mandate, this refusal to suck, where does it come from? In the last couple years we have bottomed out and taken it for granted, putting up the most pathetic effort we could in the form of George Bush. Seemingly testing our own karma, only so we could feel the rush of the Tao coming back harder and stronger with Barack, the Anti-Bush. We started this country with no money, only ideals. Then we sacrificed our ideals to build capital. And now, when capital is no longer worth much, we go back to ideals. Willing ourselves to power, by any means necessary. Where do we get it from? I want to bottle it and sell it… to myself. At a discount, cause the dollar sucks these days. -Patrice Evans, a.k.a. The Assimilated Negro, is a Jewcy contributor and author of the upcoming Negropedia.
Last night a friend asked me: “Did you cave at the last minute and realize that it’d be kind of cool to have cast a vote for our first black prez? A college friend Facebooked his status as wondering what the presidential limo was going to look like with spinners. Hilarious. If he wasn’t black, and living in Prague, he’d be dead.”
I’m a rational guy (readers will beg to differ), so I didn’t cave—until it was too late. I don’t mean that I’d change my vote. I mean that watching Barack Obama’s victory celebrations had the unexpected effect of melting that inky lump of frozen swamp water I call a heart. I was shocked to find that the tears of race-baiting demagogue Jesse Jackson almost had my waterworks going.
I’m delighted that Sasha and Malia are getting a new puppy, especially if it means the Obamas are getting rid of their old puppy, the national press.
I expected unendurable gloating last night. What I saw instead was genuine national pride. I could never base my decision on race alone, and I have precious little respect for those who did, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to live in an America in which an Obama presidency is possible. I’d rather celebrate in this Obama “tank” we keep hearing so much about than boo with the boors who marred John McCain’s sincere, gracious, and (dare I say it?) hopeful concession speech.
Okay, we can cut the swelling John Williams score, because that’s all the homiletic peroration I’ve got in me. It’s time to stifle the fuzzy feelings and go back to scrutinizing the man who’s promised to part the waters (or at least to stop them from rising) and lead us to a new dawn. (At the moment I’d settle for leading us away from a Red Dawn.) We can show our leader no greater respect than assessing him honestly and often, beginning in the cold light of a January afternoon. -Stefan Beck, Jewcy contributor, former editor of the New Criterion