Some thoughts on the Election

I think my brother put it the best. When I told him that even though having our guy Barack Obama win re-election last night was an awesome feeling, it didn’t compare to how crazy excited I felt back in 2008. He told me that last night actually felt even better than four years ago, when he called me all the way from DC screaming and crying at the top of his lungs. He said that this time around, it was all about vindication, not just of his efforts as a congressional aide in passing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but the efforts of countless Americans in and outside of government who worked so hard to keep the vision of a fair and balanced America going, despite all the vitriol borne from misinformation and miseducation. He said this one felt better, and after thinking about it, he’s right.

Not just because he was actually out there canvassing and phone-banking and donating money. But because if Obama had lost, if a President Romney had ascended, beholden to the right-wing commitments he had made, then all that work the past four years really would have been for naught. No universal healthcare, no Dodd-Frank…and who knows who would be up for the Supreme Court. Very frightening. All this anti-Obama talk about how he’s the downfall of the country, when we were seemingly on the verge of undoing decades of evolution and open-mindedness.

I’ve gotta thank my brother and all the volunteers and campaign workers. I’ve been away from the US for almost a decade, so I don’t know what it’s like to roll my sleeves up and work hard for a political candidate. Doing it two cycles in a row, in a year when it was that much harder to find the idealism surf compared to four years ago, is a testament to their convictions about the direction the country needs to head.

Thanks guys. We owe you a big one.

Laughing and crying (more #inaug09 stuff)

Back in the early part of 2007 I went to the first Barack Obama function in Shanghai. I gave it some press and donated $50 (my first ever political contribution). The event was at the now defunct Moon River Diner. It was a conference call with the then senator in which he talked about the campaign and took a few questions from Beijing and Shanghai. There were probably about 30 people max.

Fast forward to Inauguration night. The official Democrats Abroad Inauguration party was at Glamour Bar. The venerable Dan Washburn and his lovely wife Bliss picked me up after my dinner and we headed toward the Bund. Right when we got into the first floor lobby, Michelle Garnaut, the owner of Glamour and M on the Bund, came out of the elevator and told us that Glamour was overflowing, and that people couldn’t even get into the bar and were stuck in the lobby. We ran into Chris St. Cavish from SH Magazine, who later told us he took the elevator up anyway and could not get out of it once it got to the 6th floor.

From 30 people in Moon River to hundreds overflowing one of the most premium bar/lounges in Shanghai. Not too shabby, Mr. President.

We ended up circling back to Big Bamboo and having a fairly pleasant viewing experience, surrounded by good friends and good beer. The only negative part was the fucking douchebag that kept yelling “Snap!” during the president’s speech and other gutteral idiocies. But this was Obama talking, so we let the better angels of our nature prevent us from spitting phlegm in his direction.

So that was 24 hours ago, and earlier today I caught myself up on the rest of Inauguration Day in the States. As usual, some of the things I came across made me laugh (see earlier post) and some made my tear up. Here’s one that accomplished the former:

h/t to Buzzfeed

h/t to Buzzfeed

And what was tear inducing? How about the First Couple’s first dance?

Did you catch that? That’s Beyonce tearing up toward the end. If this doesn’t get you, you have no soul. That’s right, you Republican! (I kid, I kid — better angels, and all)

Ok, just a little bit more about Barry O

I’ve voraciously devoured all the post-election analyses and commentary that I can get my hands on, and the best two I’ve read so far are obviously Newsweek’s lengthy but insightful reporting from inside the campaign (every presidential election, Newsweek reporters get a unique insider view on the condition that they don’t report anything until after Election Day) and Ron Suskind’s article in this past week’s NY Times Magazine. I’ve read the Newsweek piece twice now (and trust me, it’s long), but I’ll quote from Suskind’s piece because, as usual, he writes with a succint beauty that is conducive for distilling narratives down into a handful of memorable and bloggable bites:

On an early meeting with key supporters before the Iowa caucus, when Obama was trailing badly in the polls:

Obama explained that day that they were running a different kind of campaign, a real grass-roots campaign, one that grew from the bottom up, from the dirt, and that it takes time for those roots to take hold. And the heavy hitters nodded; yes, they understood that idea, but it wasn’t working. The polls were the proof. They showed Clinton with a double-digit lead.

And Jarrett can remember how Obama looked at them, hard-eyed, everything on the line. “ ‘Did you think I was kidding when I said this was the unlikely journey?’ ” Jarrett recalls him saying. “‘You thought this would be simple? No, change is never simple. Change is hard.

“ ‘Listen, I know you’re nervous,’ he went on. ‘But if you’re nervous, I’ll hold your hand. We’re going to get through this together. And if we win Iowa, we’ll win this country.’ ”

Jarrett said: “He turned their emotion around. He made sense of it. He told them why we were there and what was within our grasp. And people became jubilant. You never heard cheering like that. That was the turn, where it happened.”

Of course, the roots took hold in Iowa and spread state to state. And now, the day before Election Day, Team Obama was running though fields of tall grass, city to city, in the final day of a kind of electoral mystery tour.

At a meeting in late 2006 with close friends and advisers, the decision on whether he should run or not still hangs in the air:

It was Michelle, Axelrod remembers, who stopped the show. “You need to ask yourself, Why do you want to do this?” she said directly. “What are hoping to uniquely accomplish, Barack?”

Obama sat quietly for a moment, and everyone waited. “This I know: When I raise my hand and take that oath of office, I think the world will look at us differently,” he said. “And millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently.”

Why this was so unstoppable for McCain and the tattered party of Bush:

McCain, like Obama, is a storyteller. All the best leaders are. Which is why he couldn’t have failed to see that his story — of the freed prisoner from a failed war who rose to greatness — was a story with roots sunk too deeply in the past for this moment. This is even more true for the president that Obama will soon replace. Bush, locked in his Oedipal struggles — father and son, World War II and Vietnam, a faded generation and a fading one — again and again mistook rigidity for fortitude and never really evolved in office, as all presidents must. He rose up, using his innate trust of emotion and impulse, to meet the first challenges of 9/11, but then froze solid. At a time when the nation’s challenges, so fresh, so fast-moving, so startling, demanded constant reappraisal and response, he — the child of a president — thought it was about him: his issues, his battles, his heart. It’s not, at least not now.

Election Aftermath

So it took a good 96 hours before the joyous high that enveloped me immediately after the networks called the election for Obama started to uncloak itself from my being. Since there is now some distance between that glorious euphoria and now, I’ll just take a moment to summarize in brief some of my thoughts:

  • The world actually feels different. This isn’t some hoary bullshit, it’s palpable and happened almost immediately. It feels more profound for those of us outside of the States, I think, because as Americans we’ve been accustomed to this automatic defensive posture ever since the invasion of Iraq, and now for the first team the citizens of the world seem to be back on our side. It’s weird, but it’s definitely real.
  • The overwhelming sentiment here is that we are more proud of our fellow Americans than we are of just Obama. As I was explaining to a friend on Saturday night, it’s not that we wanted Obama to win because we felt he was going to suddenly make everything better. It was more because if he did win, it would say something about our generation and our countrymen and women than anything. It makes this Californian and espoused Berkeley liberal feel unbelievably closer to those in Iowa, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia than I ever did before.
  • As an ethnic minority, it’s great to point to the prejudiced areas of the country that didn’t vote for Obama and say “YOU are the minority!”
  • After following this campaign as intently as we all did, combined with the Obama campaign’s savvy outreach to all of us supporters, we really feel like we know this man more intimately than any other politician. So when he strode across the stage at Grant Park, or when he stood behind the lectern for his first press conference as President-elect, it wasn’t some distant and unknowable leader that stood before us, but this guy that was a part of us, that we could root for and look up to and still recognize as another human being. This is the kind of shit that makes you want to work hard for someone.

Now that the campaign fervor has subsided and some of us are left feeling more sorry for the likes of Palin than disgust, it’s appropriate that everyone is putting the clamps down on hope barrages and reality checking all over the place. But this time, it feels a little different. For instance, let me paste here an e-mail my dad wrote to my brother and me a few days after the electon:

Glad to know you guys celebrate the result of the election. From many points, Obama does represent changes lots of American are looking for. But he is facing a very, very tough job ahead. The higher the expectation there is, the likelihood of disappointment will also be higher. We can wait and see how a smarter president goes to action and who are those people he has around him. The current government together with many previous one are all controlled by the big corporations. Change will be needed but changing it will be very difficult.

My dad has been a consistent Republican his whole life, and even though he was totally revolted by the Bush administration, he was still leaning toward McCain toward the very end. But like most of the stuff I was reading online in the aftermath, there was no vitriol or antipathy or disgust from those on the “losing” side when it came to Obama. Most of it was guarded optimism, and a lot of it was the same pride in the American people that we all felt. What a change compared to 2004, and doesn’t that say a lot about what the election of Obama has already done? Let’s keep the ball rolling, guys.

And I’ll end this post with some snippets of the kind of calls/emails I got when Obama won:

My brother in DC sent me a text after Obama won Ohio. “Ohio, baby!” Jean, all the way from Honduras, GTalked me: “Ohioooooooooooo!” When 11 pm ET rolled around and the networks called it for Barry, everyone at Malone’s (the American restaurant and bar that was hosting the Obama election watch party) jumped up in the air and started screaming with joy. Half an hour later, my brother called me. He was screaming and crying: “Can you believe this? Oh my God, can you believe this?” Clint e-mailed me an empty email with the subject line “YEAHHHHHHH BIAAAAAATTTCHHHH.” My friend Peijin, who was next to me, asked a girl if he could bum a cigarette by saying: “Yes We Cancer.” That night, I went to Sasha’s for the Shanghaiist Election Hangover and hugged everyone in sight. Everyone hugged me back. And 5 hours later, after 3 Obama-tinis at Glamour Bar, I was in a cab home, my head out the window screaming into the night.

It was a damn fine day.

I can’t believe we’re here

Not that this world needs another blog post about Barack Obama or this election, but I still wanted to spend a little bit of time to put down in words what I’ve been feeling these past few days.

Like most people I know, I’ve been finely tuned in on the day to day political news since the beginning of the Democratic primary election last year. I wrote about and attended Obama’s conference call with expats in China. I put an Obama ’08 bumper sticker on my furniture. I missed my flight and had to pay loads more money than I had to because I was glued to the couch watching Hillary’s convention speech. I donated money to a political campaign for the first time

And tomorrow, it will all be over. I didn’t volunteer like so many of my countrymen and countrywomen back home. I didn’t make calls or fundraise or go door-to-door. I didn’t attend any rallies or townhalls or even watch any campaign events in a social setting. I am not the most gung ho and hard core of Obama or Democratic supporters. But tomorrow it will be over and there will be a big gaping emptiness in my life. I can only imagine what those folks who actually put in hours of time and effort are going to feel afterwards; must be even crazier for them.

In a few hours I’m going to wake up earlier than I normally do and switch on CNN. After the third debate I just wanted to fast forward to this moment, and every hour that goes by I feel more and more anxious and nervous and excited and scared and hopeful and frustrated that we can’t fast forward this one last bit. Dan the Blogger told me he doesn’t plan on watching the news tomorrow because he doesn’t want people to see him cry. Joe the CEO told me he wants to watch with a handful of quietly focused people. Clint the Motion Graphics Studio Owner is going to invite three friends over to watch and drink. I still don’t know what I’m going to do.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here in this post. Being so far away from home, it’s funny how American I have felt throughout this campaign. I remember back in ’04 when I just felt disgusted at disappointed after Bush won re-election. It was a really depressing and emotional day. If I have to feel that tomorrow again I don’t know if I can recover. And that’s not an exaggeration. It will be heartbreaking. I don’t know if I can take that again.

I really want to celebrate tomorrow night. I want to holler and hug and toast and laugh and just be filled with joy. That’s really how I’ll feel if Obama wins. I’ll feel like that for a long time. And that is why this is what is going on in my head tonight before I go to sleep: please, those of you in Ohio and Florida and Pennsylvania and Nevada and Virginia and Colorado and New Mexico and New Hampshire and Indiana and Iowa and that one small little corner of Nebraska; please come through for us. For Americans who really want to be proud and hopeful and excited and willing to invest themselves in our country again.

Please make Barack Obama our president. I’m wishing as hard as I can from a lonely corner in Shanghai. Let’s make tomorrow one of the best days of our lives.

Words that count

I’ve been reading as many articles regarding Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama as I can get my hands on. I listened to the Meet the Press podcast on my phone this morning, hanging on every single replayed word.

Interestingly enough, the one thing that Powell said that really hit me hard (choked up, misty-eyed kind hard) was not repeated in any of the articles I read. And from the transcript, that is:

POWELL: I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

Too often, we attribute profundity and virtue to far too many undeserving statements and people. But I’ll remember this one for a long time. Yes, Colin Powell is a respected Republican and statesman and his endorsement is politically beneficial to the election prospects of the man I hope is our next president. But this story about Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan is not borne out of any sort of desire to score political field goals. This is a powerful plea to the better nature of the soul of a country. It gives heft to the rhetoric of the “fierce urgency of now.” And it makes it all the more likely that I’ll never go back to the States if Obama loses.