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A Watershed Moment

For People Of Color, Last Night Was Epochal

There is no shortage of dispirted and angry Republicans this morning as a result of last night’s sweeping losses, but I want to ask them to put that aside for the moment and consider something remarkable and hopeful about Barack Obama’s victory.

Last night was a truly profound event for African Americans in this country and around the world, the equal of anything that ever occured in the Civil Rights movement, and indeed since the Founding of this country. It is just as important as the outcome of the Civil War. For the first time in American history, Black Americans are awakening this morning to the reality that their country — their country — has elected a person of color to the highest office in the free world, and has done so in a resounding and unequivocal way.

Whatever your disappointments for your party this morning, I invite you to take them off the table for a few minutes and celebrate with them, and try to understand and share the significance of last night’s election. I’m sad that Barack Obama wasn’t a Republican candidate, and I’m dismayed that Republicans have supported African Americans who lost in their home states for being Republican candidates (think Michael Steele and the despicable campaign that was waged against him). Regardless of that, regardless of everything partisan, last night was truly an event that comes around once every 1,000 years or so, and we should all examine and respect it.

Think about what it has meant to be a person of color from either party, of any ideological persuasion, of any religion, in this country up until last night: It has been impossible to look at the faces of the people this country has elected President and not harbor a nagging suspicion that your worst doubts about America’s dedication to the proposition that “all men are created equal” were true.

Not any longer. America has its first Black President, and he is by every indication a man of subtle intelligence and prodigious competence. Black Americans have every reason to be proud and hopeful. I sincerely congratulate Barack Obama and I also congratulate them. It is my profound hope that he will use the powers of his office to make America a better place, and preserve everything that is good about it, and make it a stronger country, a more vibrant and enterprising society, a society that leads the world because of its deep commitment to its ideals. It is my hope that African Americans can truly feel today, perhaps for the first time in their lives — or the lives of their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents — that today is truly a new beginning in America, for all of us.

My ancestors arrived in America as poor immigrants from Poland, illiterate in English, and labored for decades as farmers in the early part of the 20th Century. They were pig farmers and craftsmen and foundry workers. They survived the Great Depression, stacked one dime on top of another, and sent their children to some of the finest Universities in this country. They helped to produce, through the sweat of their brow and the steel in their spines, the war materiel that allowed America to achieve victory against Nazi Germany in World War II, even as their own family members were stranded in Europe and declared Untermenschen (“sub-humans”) by the laws of the Third Reich. They did these things because of their belief that America was a land of opportunity and freedom and responsibility and liberty — the light of the world. They were frugal people, who never asked for (or expected) a government handout. They also, however, never lived with the nagging suspicion that they were being held back because of the color of their skin.

It requires more eloquence than I’m capable of to adequately express my hope that African Americans who have doubted America’s commitment to racial equality can look to the Presidency today with real pride and hope. Let’s all work together to make America a strong, prosperous and just society. It is still the Land of Opportunity, and it is still the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, if we want it to be.

To fellow Republicans and Conservatives who are still smarting: we need to concentrate on the fundamentals again. We can do it, and we will.

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