A Faith Restored

Posted Nov. 05, 2008, at 7:46 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 3:27 a.m.

At several points in his improbable, inspiring and historic run for the White House, Barack Obama told voters his faith in America was restored by the electoral success he saw along the way. Pundits, critics and opponents — including Sen. John McCain — lambasted Sen. Obama for what seemed to be a self-serving proclamation at best, and an arrogant one at worst.

Many interpreted his statement as relating to his African heritage. That a candidate of his ethnic background could win the Iowa caucus and emerge as the front-runner in the primaries surely would restore Sen. Obama’s faith that Americans are, in their heart of hearts, color-blind.

But that’s not what he meant.

Others interpreted Sen. Obama’s assertion as meaning that voters choosing to support him as a long-shot candidate, with limited experience in office, restored his faith in America as a place where people judge on ideas, intellect and the ability to bring them to fruition.

But that’s not what he meant.

What Sen. Obama meant was something altogether different, something far more nuanced, and it hints at the transforming agenda he will bring to Washington in January. What he was saying was that Americans are — perhaps only in this brief moment — willing to set aside the cynicism which they’ve been taught is the best lens through which to view government. That they are willing to suspend their disbelief that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, hawks and doves can actually find common ground. That Americans are willing to suffer through times of economic hardship and maybe even deprivation if they can get to the other side, to a country that is energy independent, fiscally restrained and environmentally responsible.

The president-elect’s faith in America was buoyed by the evidence that its citizens are ready to think about their country’s place in the world beyond an “us against them” view. That they are willing to believe that businesses will not pack up and leave if they have to comply with a few more regulations. That the rich among us can shoulder more of the tax burden.

The smart money would have been bet on Americans being small-minded, selfish and afraid to shoot the rapids of change. But they instead bet on hope and on the belief that America can complete the daunting task at hand, rebuilding its prosperity, its honor and its moral standing in the world.

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