Obama victory signals new push for unity
Americans elect their first black president and deal a blow to an era of Republican ascendancy.
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Senator Obama's victory marks the first time American voters have elected a black man as their national leader.
It is a historic achievement greeted with cheers of celebration in urban neighborhoods that have had little to cheer about for years. More important, it is an achievement that may help unite the country and heal racial divisions as old as the republic itself.
"If there is anyone out there who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama declared in his victory speech.
Moments earlier, Republican John McCain had conceded the election, reaching across the partisan divide. "I pledge to [Obama] tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face," the Arizona senator said.
The election touched Americans of all hues, but perhaps none more so than African-Americans who had personally experienced a time when blacks had little opportunity for advancement.
News of Obama's success left Mr. Bronson almost speechless. "I am very much satisfied," he said.
In broader terms, Obama's election in all likelihood marks the end of a conservative era in Washington whose origins date back to the 1960s. In defeating Republican Sen. John McCain, the Democrat Obama will take office on Jan. 20 with expanded Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, and a demoralized Republican Party in retreat.
It's too soon to say whether the rise of Obama also signals a wholly new approach to government, much the way Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932 gave rise to the New Deal. But with the nation in economic crisis and mired in two foreign wars, Obama has signaled swift action. Even before his election, he had been working with the congressional leadership on an economic-recovery package that includes an extension of unemployment benefits and spending on infrastructure. Obama has also promised to address Iraq on his first day in office. Healthcare reform remains central, but given the economic crisis it is unclear if Obama can push for that right away.
"There is this passion for a shift," Mr. Dallek says. "One party wears out its welcome. The conservative movement has been in the saddle for quite a while. Now there's an impulse to shift ground."
As elections go, he adds, this one could be compared to 1960, when John F. Kennedy overcame concerns about his faith and became the first Catholic president. The election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 also contains parallels to today, with a Democrat sweeping to power in the face of daunting economic challenges. Others raise the analogy of 1980, when Ronald Reagan rode his conservative movement to Washington, also promising hope and change.