It just so happened that I woke up and turned on the television right as CNN was calling the election for Obama. Watching good old Wolf Blitzer deliver the news, I unexpectedly found myself overcome by tears. “Are you crying?” my mom asked, a bit in disbelief, when she called me a few minutes later. It was not until I was watching Obama’s speech at Grant Park that I realized what had overtaken me. This election means different things to different people, and I can hardly compare the significance of this victory for me to the significance of this victory for African Americans and others who have fought so long, so hard to reach this day. Nevertheless, at the moment those historic words, “Barack Obama Elected President,” came on the screen, I had found myself wholly sentient of the accumulated frustrations and shame of the past eight years. My tears were a response to the overwhelming sweetness of being finally set free from this era of pessimism and despair.
My generation is one hopelessly stricken by cynicism. We came of voting age at a time when our government was stalled and our president persecuted for a transgression so irrelevant to politics as to be comical. (To this day, I am dumbfounded that a president can be impeached for lying about a blowjob while his successor goes unscathed for a grand fabrication that has led to the deaths of 4,500 soldiers and 90,000 civilians). Not more than two years later, we casted our first votes in a presidential election, only to see a majority of our country disenfranchised in a process that exposed the absurdities of our electoral system. (And to think that we would soon after initiate a war on the premise of spreading democracy when we had so notably failed to execute it in our own country). I will let history be the judge of the failure of leadership in the eight years that followed – the disastrous environmental policies, the steps backward in education and healthcare reform, a misbegotten and misguided war, and most recently the crippling economic crisis. I’ll only say that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our generation has been one of the most cynical and, until recently, apolitical generations of the modern era.
The experiences of our youth have left its scars. Despite yesterday’s victory and Obama’s earnest and inspiring words on the great changes enabled by democracy, I myself am skeptical of democracy as it is practiced it in the United States. I believe the right to vote is one that should be earned, not bestowed. I believe that a person who is so willingly misinformed as to claim that Obama is Muslim and, moreover, so bigoted as to think that this fact should or would have any impact on his suitability to lead our country, has no place in a voting booth. I believe that the endorsement of a candidate as unqualified as Sarah Palin to be next-in-line for our nation’s highest office is evidence enough that out political system is broken. If that makes me an elitist, then it’s a badge I’ll wear proudly, knowing that the principles on which our nation was founded were conceived by an unparalleled generation of men who were thoroughly educated, widely published, and cosmopolitan, qualities which seem to comprise our current definition of elitism.
Ours is a generation that has been robbed of an outlet for our idealism, in the place of which has poured hardened cynicism. The next four-hopefully-eight years will tell whether we can be redeemed, or whether we are destined to be casualties of one of the bleakest periods of leadership that our nation has known. Nevertheless, the events of the past couple days have provided a cathartic reprieve and (a word so unfamiliar to us) hope – if not for ourselves then for those who follow in our footsteps. Celebrating in Harvard Square on election night, I joined in as a mass of kids waving American flags initiated the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the stroke of midnight. Heading through Harvard Yard the next morning, I couldn’t help but notice a jump in the step and spark in the smiles of undergrads, many of whom had just voted in their first election. And crossing the river back to campus, I came upon a class of preschoolers, carefully holding onto a rope as they walked in two columns behind their teacher. I looked from child to child, noting boys and girls of races far more diverse than I recall from my own youth, and then stepped aside to let them pass, watching as they marched towards a future liberated from the doubts, the pessimism, and the impossibilities that we have known.