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What Historic Really Means

To appreciate the tide of history that broke over America tonight, you had to start by listening to John McCain. In his generous concession speech, he acceded to the force of that tide. For once, he didn’t dispute the phenomenon that Barack Obama represents, or gainsay it, or argue with it. He tried to go with the flow, and more, to urge his supporters to ride the wave too, rather than attempt vainly to stop it.

When McCain called on his supporters to work with the new president, it was an act of generosity -- not just in the “good loser” sense, but in the seam of patriotism that is McCain’s life and calling. In its humility and recognition that American history had turned a page, it was McCain’s best speech in months.

When it was Obama’s turn, his rhetoric didn’t quite rise to the moment, and that was appropriate, too. Words really couldn’t capture the enormity of what had happened, and Obama seemed to recognize that. His acceptance speech was low-key and gracious, and he didn’t pull out all the stops on the organ. There was the recital of “yes we can,” but the president-elect spoke the words in a soft voice of wonderment, rather than a roar of affirmation. When he proclaimed that “a new dawn for America” was at hand, the phrase sounded almost flat. The words were true enough, but they were so much less intense than the images we were seeing on the television screen.

The best part of Obama’s speech was the way he reached out to Republicans -- to the people who hadn’t voted for him and doubted the promise of unity and change he had offered. “I need your help, and I will be your president, too,” he said. That wasn’t just good politics, it was the promise of real leadership. When it came to specifics, Obama was vague -- “We will get there,” he said. Okay, but where? That will come later.

The word “historic” is surely the most overused in politics, but tonight we saw what it really means. MSNBC had the good sense to just watch the crowds for a few long minutes after it called the victory for Obama at 11:00, and those are the images I’ll remember as long as I live: The jubilant young African-American men and women at Spelman College, literally dancing for joy, weeping in wonderment, in some cases falling to the floor, blown over by the force of that historic tide. Or the diverse crowd at Grant Park in Chicago, jumping and hugging each other in jubilation.

I remember similar images from television footage the night the Berlin Wall came down: Young people dancing in the streets, embracing and singing as they tore apart that hideous barrier, brick by brick. Obama had it right when he said the real agent of change tonight was “you” -- the millions of people who had formed the human tide that elected the first African-American president; who, as Obama said, put their hands on the arc of history and bent it in a new direction. An unforgettable evening; words truly didn’t do it justice.

By David Ignatius  | November 5, 2008; 1:24 AM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Next: Election Analysis From My Mother


1. Drill, baby, drill!

2. I wonder what events over the next 3 months will unfold, or prepared and set up by the sitting Prez. and VP, to make it more difficult in a bitter, sour departure that is signature of the Bush-Cheney Axis.

3. Obama already had the most emotional challenge that he could in his life time: within 24 hours, his grandmother that raised him passed away and he got the dream job of his life time ambitions.
That also tested how he can handle a true challenge of leadership.

Posted by: hgcsato | November 5, 2008 4:23 AM | Report abuse

I think that we saw the real John McCain in his concession speech. With that tone and clarity, he might be POTUS elect at this moment. Barack Obama has given us that tone and clarity for months and, as a result, has won the election.

Posted by: philb111 | November 5, 2008 6:20 AM | Report abuse

I hate to start crowing about this... but when I saw Sarah Palin tearing up next to John McCain after the consession speech, I felt like telling her (and Guiliani)-- you just got schooled by a community organizer.

Posted by: qwe1234 | November 5, 2008 6:31 AM | Report abuse

As I sat here in Germany I watched the election with awe and wonderment. The dream of many has came to past. Today I truly believe that in America today anything is possible . No longer can African Americans blame anyone for their lot in life , you can make it in this country if you work hard and play by the rules.

Posted by: tim110 | November 5, 2008 6:56 AM | Report abuse

Afirmative Action should no longer apply to the Black African American. Congradulations Obama supporters.. Now lets give all Americans equal opportunities.

Posted by: SAL3456 | November 5, 2008 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I am a 64 year old white guy. Unlike you I was truly inspired by Obama's speech. I felt my eyes tearing up as I experienced a new surge of hope that this nation might rise above its petty bickering to address the key issues facing us. I agree that McCain's speech was very gracious and patriotic-he put country first. I worked at the polls in Prince William County yesterday and I observed the possible emergence of a new electorate which is more diverse and voting for something instead of against something.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | November 5, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse





President-elect Obama CLEARLY changed history tonight by becoming America's first African-American President and arguably that would not have occurred as it did without a mandate.


Be it Joe the Plumber or most other Americans, the vast majority of Americans have lost much from any existing retirement accounts and any real estate or stock investments. Obama received a mandate to correct that, but there was not the degree of cohesion across the board as to HOW that was to be accomplished.

He ABSOLUTELY DID NOT receive a mandate to become a modern American Robin Hood, taking from 'the rich' [?] to give to the poor. He DID NOT receive a mandate to continue, or begin anew, wasteful public spending programs.

Did Obama receive a mandate to return jobs to America? YES ++++ BUT ++++ at what wages and where does this money come from? Computer support positions went to India, not because America does not have the expertise, but because when Internet access providers TRIPLE your monthly fees, so they can PAY American workers, they will loose clients BIG TIME. THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS, IT SEEMS.


So far, America has paid for the Democracy but has yet to receive any dividend from that major investment. So maybe it indirectly was about the cost of energy and America needs to see a return on that investment SOMEHOW.


A mandate was clearly given by the American people to address this issue ASAP, wherever it arises. The obvious issue is Iran, or more precisely stated, the radical Islamic leadership within Iran. If this is not affected peacefully and VERY SOON, Israel will address it, of necessity.


The markets need to address the mortgage crisis EFFECTIVELY and since they cannot do that themselves, further efforts to stabilize them are mandated and yes, that was a mandate.


YES a mandate, but questionable funding for same.


Obama would be wise to confidentially, even secretly, listen up well here.

Posted by: | November 5, 2008 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Now that we have accomplished symbolism, the proof must happen!!

Obama threatened our enemies in one quick flash last night - missed by most I am sure. This will be his challenge, and he will be challenged.

Posted by: jjcrocket | November 5, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

McCain did do a gracious
concession speech and THAT
was the John McCain that so many moderates have come to admire. Sadly, for him, he let his campaign be run by some Karl Rove wannabees who tried to duplicate GW's wins, instead of allowing McCain to be McCain.
As for Obama, who won something pretty close to an electorial vote landslide, all he needs to do is get his staff hired and prepare to start cleaning up the huge mess left by the crooked and incompetent Bushies.

Posted by: rkerg | November 5, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I remember watching, with awe, the coverage from Berlin when thousands of people attacked the wall, from both sides, with whatever implements they could find. The feeling of relief, like a weight had been lifted from my chest, was sweet and life affirming. The wall was symbolic of the Cold War, something I had lived with my entire life. I'm not a black person, but, the analogy has put this passionate celebration into a perspective so that I can appreciate the emotion felt by those who are.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | November 5, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

John McCain showed a flash of patriotism last night that he lacked for his entire campaign.
I commend him.
When President Obama spoke, I watched the faces there which represented this entire country, and I shed tears of pride that I was an American seeing this country show the reasons I have worn a uniform and bled for her.
God Bless America and God Bless President Obama!

Posted by: TimJH | November 5, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I must take issue with your impression of last night’s speeches. Barack Obama was no less than inspiring. That he did not inspire you is beside the point, as he reached the hearts of many millions of people. Everywhere. One thing we can be sure of is that when Obama becomes President, his office will once more become the bully pulpit, and I do envision his using it to once more prove how much words can inspire and transform actions. Which brings me to McCain. I agree that John McCain gave the best speech of his campaign last night when he conceded the race to Barack Obama. Unfortunately it was too little too late.

I still feel that McCain has much to answer for. His campaign threw out a great deal of vitriol that was seized upon by too many fanatic right-wingers. In point of fact the campaign used the worst prejudices to fuel a rage that people are telling me they're continuing to hear about on C-Span and other venues. It is my ardent hope that few of them are gun owners.

In fact, one of the most disgusting things in the last days of the campaign was that in New York, which is a very reliable Democratic state, we were treated to a hellfire anti-Obama blitz of commercials featuring Reverend Wright preaching at his worst and an overvoice telling us how Obama was unfit and too radical for the country. The only purpose such an ad served was to fire up the Religious Right. I predict that McCain will not have the most comfortable return to the Senate. As for Sarah Palin, I wish for her a future as obscure as Dan Quayle, as politically promising as George W. Bush's at this point, and as visible as air.

Posted by: drcatalyst | November 5, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree that John McCain was inspiring last night. It was the work of a true patriot who did on the day of his loss finally put his country first.

Unfortunately, by allowing the poison about Barack Obama to be spread during his campaign, McCain is guilty of unleasing hateful rhetoric that is still going on today.

It is time for America to come together. There are haters who will never accept Barack Obama as President and there is no point in talking to them so I won't even try. But the rest of us - the vast majority - Democrats and Republicans - care more about America then we do about our political parties. We know that this once-every-4-year ritual is what makes America strong. Every 4 years, the people vote and the winner is the President of all the people.

Barack Obama is a patriot, he loves America, he wants the best for the country. He will be our President and we cannot know how he will be tested in that role. Ultimately, he is only a human being. I think he has the possibility of being a great President but I know he will not be able to do it without the American people behind him. He needs all of us to make this work - let's give him a chance. We'll all win if this works!

Posted by: ruthlevinton | November 5, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Damn- I think Obama takes office in 2009, but some of you are acting like G-Dub got booted out last night!!
I'm sure Obama has already been working and formulating scenarios and actions; but after 2 years on the road...Can we give him a chance to mourn his grandmother, reunite with his family and SLEEP?
I did see moments where Obama seemed to be "in a zone"; maybe he was thinking of how much he wanted his grandmother to see this day as we recall she passed only days ago and was the cornerstone of his life. That's a lot to carry inside while celebrating such an historic moment in his life-he wanted her to be there. We forget sometimes these people have personal lives that don't include us.
AS for all you just waiting to see him fail-help me out with my memory. Do you recall ANY PRESIDENT-ELECT laying out a definitive plan for his term during his acceptance speech? I don't. Inauguration is in January so until then, can we hold off on "off with his head" unless he actually does something to warrant it?
WE THE PEOPLE have been hollering to oust Bush/Chaney for at least 6 years...we didn't get too much back-up from "y'all" on that did we?

Posted by: lioness_ohyes | November 5, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

@tim110- "No longer can African Americans blame anyone for their lot in life , you can make it in this country if you work hard and play by the rules."

Amen my brother! Ironically, even some blacks who HAVE MADE IT still never dreamed of telling their kids "you can do ANYTHING in America if you work hard enough" and having a REAL EXAMPLE to put to the words!!

Too often we place blame on the "factors or resistance" then we just simply give up when all we really have to do is have the courage of our convictions and keep moving forward. We've ALWAYS had to go above and beyond to prove our worth and sometimes to our dismay. I can admit from experience; jumping hurdle after hurdle and finding a brick wall at the end of the race can really wear on your spirit.
As Americans we also need to do a better job of "uplifting each other" and as you said, advise one another to PLAY BY THE RULES. Nothing feels better than honest success!
For ALL people not just blacks, this election has been the catalyst they needed to really believe- "I CAN do anything". I pray our children will turn to Obama and the many upstanding leaders of this country and see them as mentors and role models to emulate instead of embracing all the "negative stereotypes and attributes" of celebrities and personalities who (without intention) place a negative light on black and other minority communities. The fact that so many of these same influential personalities- some voting for the first time themselves-are starting to "look at and listen to" the message they're sending to the youth of America and abroad. FINALLY- they too believe-it's time for POSITIVE change!

I thank you so much for the encouragement and seeing a brighter day for America and Americans.

Posted by: lioness_ohyes | November 5, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse


What this means to history?

A revolution without weapons.


Posted by: ElMugroso | November 5, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't see anything that equals a "revolution" taking place in the next two terms. There will be some changes in a few areas, but no significant changes for 99% of Americans. We will still go to work everyday, pay ever increasing costs for the things we desire to own, and the things we need. We'll continue to pay taxes on everything we need to live, and we'll still complain about it and continue to blame the Republicans or Democrats.

Posted by: MarxBro | November 5, 2008 9:51 PM | Report abuse

In an astonishing betrayal of public trust, the media and the national political parties have collaborated to give us an eloquent chief executive with zero executive experience, unknown economic expertise, and a desire to change things. The media must be ecstatic. Their schoolgirl yearning for a charismatic, photogenic leader is finally reality. We will now be handsomely and charismatically led into the Land of Change.

There have been times when the nation could have easily handled the uncertainty and inexperience of a Barack Obama. Unfortunately, the current period of financial and economic crises is not such a time. Well, he can get some good economic advice? Who will he listen to? The economy cannot be shrugged off as just another issue to be dealt with. The economy is our job, our business, our savings, our home, our future, our children’s future. We have just barely, maybe, avoided another 1929. Our long-term economic problems may have been exposed: loss of manufacturing industry, weakness of being a ‘service’ economy, long-term deficit spending, unregulated financial institutions, political meddling in those institutions, wanton energy consumption. No amount of slick talking will solve these problems. President-elect Obama proposes redistributing the wealth. It is unclear how that wealth is to be created.

I too have now a schoolgirl yearning. I yearn for a crusty, ugly, overweight, old person who mumbles and drools and knows the way out of this mess.

Posted by: premmers | November 6, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

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