Let's leave the incredible, earth-shattering history for people of color out of this for a moment. A wall was broken last night in another way altogether. Barack Obama laid waste to the wall John McCain and the Republicans have been building for months, a wall that sought to keep a new kind of Democrat imprisoned by characterizations that have kept others (see: Kerry, John F.) bound. Stereotypes, misrepresentations and fear-mongering were the tools the GOP had used to try to paint Obama as anything but humble, anything but ready, anything but American.
All of their lies had begun to surround Barack Obama like so many bricks. One might think Obama would resort to the tools that built the national pedestal on which he now stands to chip away at this wall. His soaring rhetoric and inspirational oratory captured the nation first in 2004, and once again at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa nearly nine months ago. His speech after a loss in New Hampshire gave birth to the most important piece of art related to the election, will.i.am's "Yes We Can". It hit its crescendo in front of the Victory Gate.
But the critics whined, "Not enough substance!", and the Republicans saw an opening. They knew that running on their recent accomplishments was not an option, so their strategy became a masala of malfeasance: toss in three cups of racism, two tablespoons of xenophobia, a generous helping of class-based resentment of celebrity gossip and add in just a touch of fear of miscegenation - and you have the McCain strategy to paint Obama simultaneously as an outsider who didn't understand America and also the most popular man in not just America, but the world. Contradictory, yes. But when you have a media that largely asks few questions and plays along with memes that require little intellectual analysis (particularly by pundits, who are doing it largely on the fly or by talking point), you get a lot closer race than some may have expected in this, a presumed Democratic year.
That's over with.
At a time in which many have been yelling "Obama, bumaye! Obama, bumaye!", Obama made a tough, tough speech that met the moment. It renewed the hope of people like me - not for change, as Obama pleads for, but that one day, we'd have a Democrat that said things like this:
America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.
This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.
We're a better country than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment that he's worked on for 20 years and watch as it's shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.
We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty...
... that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.
Tonight, tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land: Enough.
He took every assault on him and turned them around. He showed not just that he understood the experience of many middle class Americans, but that he understood how the Republicans have succeeded in smearing him. And he didn't shrink from the personal charges; he rebutted them. Whoever else this was, it was not Adlai Stevenson. It was not Jimmy Carter. And it was less afraid and less calculating than Bill Clinton.
Above all, he took on national security - face on, full-throttle, enraged, as we should all be, at how disastrously American power has been handled these past eight years. He owned this issue in a way that no Democrat has owned it since Kennedy. That's a transformative event. To my mind, it is vital that both parties get to own the war on Jihadist terror and that we escape this awful Rove-Morris trap that poisons the discourse into narrow and petty partisan abuse of patriotism. Obama did this tonight. We are in his debt.
Indeed we are.