In 1994, I covered the mid-term elections from cheesy hotel ballrooms in Boise, Idaho, before running back to a drafty office to input my thoughts on an ancient Mac. I was stunned at the march of Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America crew across the whole country. I was in Washington D.C. the night the Republican Congress was sworn in. There was a rainstorm that turned to ice that night, and I remember thinking, as I watched Gingrich speak, “I can’t believe people fell for this.”
In the years since then, I watched as America seemed to grow dumber, meaner and angrier every day. For the past eight years, the people at the top took everything worthwhile about America and made it even cheaper.
Jean, as usual, said something tonight far smarter than I ever could: “When you love your country, it hurts even more to be ashamed of it.”
Not much in this campaign gave me much reason to hope. John McCain gave an honorable, intelligent, and humane speech tonight conceding the election. It was the exact opposite of everything he’s said over the past year. And he was restrained, compared to some of his supporters. From every grimy corner of the Internet, there were people all too willing to report or invent the foulest shit they could fling. I was fully prepared to throw my vote away on a candidate everyone called un-electable, to endure another four years sinking deeper into the muck.
But listening to Barack Obama tonight, I feel small and mean myself, for giving up somewhere along the way. For failing to believe in my own convictions. For relying on cynicism and the quick joke.
I’m not covered in magic twinkle-dust now; I think I’m still a grown-up, and I know politics is flawed and dirty, and political solutions are ephemeral at best. This little sermon notwithstanding, I still believe in the quick joke over the earnest speech.
But tonight, I was reminded the reality of America is only sustained by the American Dream. It may take a lot of kidney punches behind the scenes to make the Dream work, but it’s important to keep believing in the ideal. The Dream is what keeps us alive in this imperfect world.
Tonight I’m proud again, because other people out there had more faith than I did. And they took a step — a first step, on a long and never-ending road, sure, but a step — into a future they have the strength, and the courage, to imagine will be brighter and better than what came before.