Now we grow up

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Originally uploaded by Barack Obama

If America lost its innocence after Kennedy’s assassination, and lost confidence in its leadership after Watergate, then I suspect the post-Watergate years (up to W.’s administration) were like a teenager fumbling around for an identity and a meaning. That lack of identity was especially obvious after the USSR fell and communism collapsed across most of the countries in the world.

Now we find ourselves at the point where we have to work, where we have to stand up and lead. Let’s be very honest: Bill Clinton’s a good manager, but he’s not a leader (he wants to be everyone’s friend), and W. has cut our throats in the international community. We needed to grow up.

No matter whether the economy was the prevailing factor on Tuesday or not, we have, over 146 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, taken a new step forward. We’ve begun to grow up and realize our place in the world.

We aren’t an empire and we aren’t meant to be. Regardless of the fact that this country was founded by white men who, basically, were just tired of paying taxes to Britain and wanted that money to stay here, there is different dream that has been popularized by the writings of Jefferson and Franklin. We promised to be a country where all people could be something, where all people would be respected, and where all people could live freely no matter their beliefs.

Electing Barack Obama actually goes light years in following those ideals. No, I don’t envy him the task before him and, no, I would not be surprised if he has a difficult go of it in 2012 on the trail to be re-elected. But the reality is: We’ve finally shown that someone other than a white man can become president. We’ve actually seen people come together to support this man because he is the embodiment of the dream that our forefathers (in the popular imagination) established for this country.

There will, for many years to come, be people who denigrate Obama for being the “other” and not like them, but the world has moved past those people.

Dare I say that the majority of the American electorate realizes that, for our country, our dreams, even humanity, to survive that it was time for us to prove that we could move beyond the shackles of slavery and racism that we, ourselves, placed on ourselves so long ago?

I’m not sure.

But the reality is that is the face we have put forward. We’ve shrugged-off the old and familiar and stepped into a new age that we, now, can all shape. This is no longer the domain of one ethnic group or class or sex… it’s all of ours.

The USA, as a nation, is young. China, after all, is more than 6,000 years old, Japan is roughly 2,000 years old and Great Britain (in its current form) dates back over 400 years. We have only been at this for 232 years (219 if you start counting at the Constitution and not the Revolution).

We stand at a unique point. We can either wall ourselves off an fend only for ourselves, leading to an isolationist and xenophobic society that even begins to turn upon itself, or we can accept the mantle of responsibility and lead the country and even humanity itself into a new age of cooperation and prosperity.

No, we should have no patience with dictators or those who would bring harm to others due to a difference of beliefs. But we must also understand that leaders in other parts of the world are there for a reason and, instead of threatening them with guns-a-blazing, we should be working with them, and their governments, to bring their populations up. In this day and age, no one in a civilized society should be living in poverty.

This, of course, cannot be done solely by Obama and his administration. In fact, very little of it can be. They can lay the groundwork and prepare for future generations to take much larger steps, but they can’t do it all. He’s a good man, and a strong leader, but he’s not a god. This is work we will all have to do for many, many years.

But we took the first step on Tuesday night. I can honestly say that, in my 35 years, electing Obama is the most sincere and strong stance I have seen the USA make. And I’m proud of it.