The political cartoon that has probably affected me the most in my life was the Bill Mauldin drawing after the Kennedy assassination. As you can see, it shows the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial, with his face in his hands, obviously crying. In response to Barack Obama winning the Presidency, maybe an appropriate cartoon today would show Lincoln crying once again, but this time they would be tears of joy or amazement.
I'm not so naïve as to think, as Rush Limbaugh and others scorn, that Obama is "the one," the Messiah, the person who is going to single-handedly cure America of all of its problems. I don't even know if he's going to be a great President -- only time will tell. I'm also not so naïve as to think that his election means that bigotry is a thing of the past in the United States. I'm sure there are people who don't think Obama's election represents progress so much as a lucky Democrat who happened to be running at the right time. I disagree. There are several areas of real progress. Personally, I'm going to give Obama a chance and my support despite his rooting for the Chicago White Sox and my being a Cubs fan. I think you'll agree that's real progress.
Barack Obama and his family are now preparing to move into the White House – which was built with slave labor. That's progress, isn't it? Apparently, there was no "Bradley effect" in this election in which people claimed to the pollsters that they were going to vote for Obama but when they got into the voting booths, they just couldn't bring themselves to vote for a black man. It's possible that some people did feel, "I hate voting for a black man, but this economy is killing me and maybe he can get us out of this jam better than McCain." If that's true, maybe it's not such a bad thing. It means that some people's self-interest trumped their prejudices. Maybe in a few more generations, their families won't have these prejudices at all. No progress?
Something that seemed to elude Sarah Palin and some of the Palinites is that while it's true that "Joe the Plumber" is a real American, he's not the only real American. The Muslim who became a citizen a year ago is also a real American. The rabbi with Russian parents who was born in Brooklyn is a real American. And the black woman whose great-grandparents were slaves is also a real American.
One thing the election seemed to do was repudiate fear of or hatred for "the other." It didn't represent a triumph for the stereotypical "typical American," but for all Americans.
Most of all, to many of us, it represented an enormous step forward in American history. Just like the elderly African-American woman crying in Chicago's Grant Park, I never imagined that I would see the election of a black or a multiracial President in my lifetime. I'm old enough to remember visiting Florida in the Fifties and seeing "colored" water fountains and bathrooms. I recall going on driving vacations with my family to Wisconsin, and not being able to stay at certain motels along the way because they were "restricted" to white Christians. I can certainly remember the killings, the lynchings, and the other violence associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties.
Coincidentally, I was in Grant Park for the last big political demonstration there during the violent days of the 1968 Democratic Convention. (I wasn't a war protestor, I was a journalism student at Northwestern. I was covering the all-important delegation of Hawaii. They showered me with flowered leis, not tear gas – but I think I'm allergic to both). Even though there were many more people in Grant Park for Obama's acceptance speech, there was no violence. That's real progress, too.