Opinion — 28 November 2008

Bad economic news seems to pummel us daily, and most people are justifiably worried about the major recession that is engulfing our economy. And yet, as our national holiday weekend of family, food, football and shopping approaches, it is only right to pause and give thanks for our many blessings as well. High on our list of things to be thankful for is this remarkable democracy that we live in and often take for granted.

We have recently witnessed one of the rarest events in the history of the world: a free and fair election in which one political party peacefully takes power from another. The complaints about the election that voters were intimidated in some places, that ACORN erroneously registered voters may be legitimate, but they dont diminish the significance of the accomplishment.

This 2008 election was remarkable from start to finish: a seemingly never-ending buffet of delights for those who love the political process and a good story. On the Democratic side, we had the drawn-out battle between the heir apparent, Hillary Clinton, who did indeed put 18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling in America, and Barack Obama, the charismatic, half-Kenyan son of a single, white mother. On the Republican side, we had the aging war hero, John McCain, whose campaign disintegrated in the summer of 2007 over political infighting and McCains support for the surge in Iraq, only to come roaring back and swamp rivals Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. McCains subsequent selection of Sarah Palin, the little-known governor from Alaska, as his running mate energized the GOPs conservative Christian base.

It was an election that shattered assumptions and taught us valuable lessons about biases that seem to be fading as well as bigotry that remains. Who could have ever dreamed that an African-American man with a Muslim-sounding name could be elected president of an America at war with radical Islam? That this man could carry Virginia, former capital of the Confederacy?

The campaigns of Clinton and Palin, political opposites who are nonetheless forever linked by this election, were deeply personal to the women in the Democratic and Republican parties who supported them. However, the venom that was hurled at both candidates, and the ridiculous critiques of clothing choices and wardrobe spending that they endured, showed that bigotry toward women, unfortunately, endures.

The drama provided by these compelling figures and their close nomination campaigns generated high, sustained interest in this election. Young people were energized like never before; Obama drew huge, unprecedented crowds to his rallies and Palin was greeted everywhere she went by crowds chanting Sarah, Sarah. Anecdotes abound of elderly African-Americans, who had previously never voted because they felt disengaged, casting their first-ever ballots. This excitement manifested itself on election day perhaps a misnomer since so many states allowed early voting when a record 125.2 million people cast ballots in the presidential contest.
This fascinating election of 2008 will be written about for decades. It was easily the most compelling since 1968. In part thats because the times are similarly tough. Then it was a losing war, racial strife and student unrest that defined the times.

Now it is a two-front war and frightening economic conditions. As in 1968, America has elected a president from the opposing party in an attempt to change direction. Unlike President Bush, whose victories in the last two elections were agonizingly close, Obama won this year with a large enough margin to declare a mandate, which will hopefully lessen political divisiveness. Though the times are tough, the hopes and expectations for our presidentelect are high.

In this season of Thanksgiving, regardless of our political persuasion, let us remember the joy of African-Americans on election night and give thanks for an America where such things are possible.

Denise Dunbar is a former CIA Analysist and Alexandria resident.

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