American Culture

Enough with the "historic election"

It’s official – I’m already sick of hearing about this “historic election.” It’s better than hearing about “historical” elections as Ken Jennings has complained, I suppose – at least “historic” refers to something “famous or important in history” or “having great and lasting importance” instead of something that has the character of history. Reagan’s election in 1980, FDR’s election in 1932, Lincoln’s election in 1860, Jefferson’s election in 1800 – those are all “historical” elections. Let’s give Obama at least to the end of his term before calling his election “historical,” OK? But I digress.

As I was saying, I’m already tired of hearing about how Obama’s election was historic. Not because it’s not true, but rather because it’s already overdone. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “historic election” even before President-elect Obama took the stage in Chicago election night, never mind all the times I’ve heard it on the radio and read it on nearly every webpage, blog, and news site I’ve visited since election night.

There’s another reason I’m sick of the phrase, too. It’s not enough.

It’s not enough to just elect the first black man to be President. It’s not enough to elect the first biracial man to be President. It’s not enough to elect someone who actually knows what it’s like to live on food stamps. It’s not enough to elect a compentent President after 8 years of rank presidential incompetence. It’s not enough that Obama organized the youth of this country into a force to be reckoned with. In fact, no matter how historic Obama’s election is, it’s not enough.

Enough already with the “historic election”. The election of Barack Obama was only the first step. In 10 or 20 years, what will define whether President Obama’s election was truly historic won’t be that he was black, or mixed race, or anything else I mentioned above. Instead, it will be what he does during his administration.

If Obama gets the U.S. out of Iraq without leaving a mess we’ll have to re-invade to fix later, that will be historic.

If Obama puts an end to the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan without provoking a war with Pakistan, that will be historic.

If Obama keeps the country from slipping into a second depression, that will be historic.

If Obama puts the U.S. onto a path of oil independence without relying on environmentally destructive shale and coal-to-liquids programs, that will be historic.

If Obama leads the U.S. to a renewable energy standard and strips away market-distorting carbon fuel subsidies, that will be historic.

If Obama leads the country in upgrading our collapsing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure, that will be historic.

If Obama helps Congress develop a solution to the linked problems of entitlements, defense spending, and national debt, that will be historic.

If Obama can rebuild our relations with the rest of the world, that will be historic.

If Obama can cut U.S. carbon emissions in the short time the best science available says we have, and can get the rest of the world to do the same, that will be historic.

If Obama can reduce the costs of health care, provide health care to the millions of Americans who lack it at present, and maintain the quality and freedom our health care system provides at present, that will be historic.

If Obama can implement all the economic, regulatory, scientific, technological, social, cultural, and diplomatic changes required to do everything I just listed off, at the same time, and still deal with all the other things that will come up, that will be historic.

President-elect Barack Obama will always be the first black President. No-one will ever be able to take that from him, and no one should try. But there will come a time when our next President’s “blackness” will be an important historical footnote. And when that happens, when Obama’s race has been relegated to the status of a footnote by the accomplishments of his presidency, that too will be historic.

It will also, ultimately, be enough.

6 replies »

  1. My gut feeling was most people were celebrating about how hope defeated fear, to put it in grandiose terms. That it happens to be an historic election is just an excuse to celebrate hope trumping fear.

    Or, and this is more likely, the news media isn’t quite ready to relinquish election news coverage for other newsworthy items.

  2. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. However, people thought that John F. Kennedy with his service in WW II, experience in the House and the Senate, good looks, charm, and his Harvard education was “The One.” Those weren’t enough. If it hadn’t of been for his assassination and the consequent legend of “Camelot,” Kennedy’s administration would have gone down in history as mediocre at best. From what I have observed, Barry Obama is no John Kennedy. All signs point to a huge letdown for the American people.

  3. This is so well done, Brian. I like the rhetorical power of the repetition (something black pastors do well). I’m not sure what signs the second commenter, Chuck Connors, is reading that point to “a huge letdown for the American people” — that sounds pretty premature to me — but time will indeed tell, and that’s a big and daunting laundry list you’ve lined out. I don’t envy the new President Obama in the slightest, though historical greatness is often honed in crisis.

  4. His success has a lot to do with his relationship with the other democrats in power. Presidents aren’t dictators…they can’t just will things to be done. If GW Bush would have had the benefit of a Congress with a spine, particulalrly the other Republicans, things may not have turned out so bad for him.
    Obama may be the poster boy for hope right now, but it’s really up to the government as a whole to get things done.

  5. The term-limited, circumscribed, figurehead nature of POTUS will also make it impractical for Obama to live up to the hype. Many people think that the president truly “runs the country” and therefore can bring about Epic Change. This just isn’t the case.

  6. Yikes–the list of items to address is frightening. Even to make good initial steps on these will be quite an accomplishment. Here’s my list of why I think Obama has a chance to be great:

    1. He will put competent people, not idealogues, in key government positions. Good, strong people at the departmental level will change the tone of those departments and lead to better performance throughout.
    2. I truly believe that Obama is acting on our behave, not just consolidating power for himself. He understands the Constitution and will not twist it to increase his power.
    3. He is highly intelligent and pragmatic. He will operate from his brain, not his gut. How refreshing is that?
    4. He will reach across the aisle to achieve solutions, not just because the Dems didn’t achieve 60 Senate seats, but to attack all these issues he’ll need a broader base. I think he’ll make a big push to bring along the moderate Republicans.
    5. He will work more than a 7 hour day and will not take two years’ worth of vacations. I’ve seen photos of his Chicago home: doesn’t appear to need any brush clearing.

    Maybe I’m projecting my wishful thinking. I’m 49 years old. This is the first candidate that I’ve donated money to, and the first time I went door knocking. But I’m optimistic.