In 2004 I cried myself to sleep on election night. The reelection of Bush was bad enough, but I despaired over much more than that. I had begun to fear that Republicans who insinuated that some of us weren’t “real” Americans were, in fact, correct. Whenever pundits claimed that so-called values voters had tipped the race to Bush, I screamed that I too vote according to fervently held and thoroughly American values, but I wondered, deep down, whether those values had a place in America anymore. That feeling of alienation from my own country, that hopelessness about its future, that sense that change for the better was all but impossible—that nearly broke my heart.
And now, four years later, with the election of Barack Obama, I feel like a part of this country again—I’m proud to be a part of it—and I feel like there’s good reason to be hopeful about its direction. I don’t think Obama is perfect, and I’m sure that he’ll disappoint me from time to time, but I do feel like we share common values with millions of other Americans about what is good about our country and what is wrong and what could be so much better.
I’m excited to think of the United States once again leading by example on the international stage as a model of human rights and a beacon of opportunity. I’m excited to think of an economy judiciously regulated to ensure competition, discourage recklessness, and protect workers, consumers, and the natural world. I’m excited to think of judges who will respect the Bill of Rights, restore habeus corpus, and guarantee legal protections for all people.
Suddenly those dreams of basic competence and ethics don’t seem so unlikely, and I can dream bigger and grander: dreams of the government recognizing partnerships between any two consenting adults; dreams of a country without a de facto religious test for public service; dreams of basic healthcare for all Americans; dreams of scientific research and education free from ideological restraints; dreams of Americans of all religions and no religion, of all races and economic backgrounds, immigrants and native-born, straight and gay, disabled and not, all finding common ground and shared values as citizens of the United States.
After the catastrophe and strife and tumult of the past eight years, that’s a lot to dream and a lot to ask of Obama. But I have hope in him because he’s not naive or zealous; he’s proved himself to be intelligent, inquisitive, pragmatic, disciplined, and patient, and that’s the kind of steady leadership we need. I have hope in him, and what’s more, I have hope in the rest of us and hope in this country—for the first time in a long while—and for that I am profoundly grateful.