Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Glory, Glory Hallelujah

In any decade, the election of our first African-American president would have been a historic triumph. But the election of Barack Obama to the presidency should be doubly celebrated because it also affirms something that was badly battered in recent times: American democracy.

Out of the stolen election of 2000, and all the wrongs inflicted by the Bush Administration since 9/11, the Obama campaign has built a democratic movement for change that has restored the Democrats to power and democracy to our politics.

There will be plenty of time for criticism and disappointments. President Obama will not be able to be all things to all his supporters. But on this night, it is time to savor the achievements and the possibilities wrought by Obama's campaign and Obama's victory.

Tonight, I cherish the images of my family's contributions to the victory. My children canvassed in Pennsylvania on Election Day. The sight of Allison scampering down sidewalks, and reports of my son Max standing up to a man who tried to stop him from leafleting for Obama and Congressman Patrick Murphy, give me great pride and hope for the future. I also love my wife's stories of phone banking in Greenwich Village, where Peter Yarrow led the volunteers in singing "We Shall Overcome."

The Obama victory also gives me a great opportunity to quote a poem that has inspired me for many years, a poem by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. The long thread of sorrows in Irish history draws attention to the best and worst of human possibilities. In one of his poems, "Voices from Lemnos," written more than a decade ago, Heaney set down words suited to the Obama victory.

Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted or endured.

History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

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