Enough with the "historic election"

Posted on November 6, 2008


It’s official – I’m already sick of hearing about this “historic election.” It’s better than hearing about “historical” elections as Ken Jennings has complained, I suppose – at least “historic” refers to something “famous or important in history” or “having great and lasting importance” instead of something that has the character of history. Reagan’s election in 1980, FDR’s election in 1932, Lincoln’s election in 1860, Jefferson’s election in 1800 – those are all “historical” elections. Let’s give Obama at least to the end of his term before calling his election “historical,” OK? But I digress.

As I was saying, I’m already tired of hearing about how Obama’s election was historic. Not because it’s not true, but rather because it’s already overdone. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “historic election” even before President-elect Obama took the stage in Chicago election night, never mind all the times I’ve heard it on the radio and read it on nearly every webpage, blog, and news site I’ve visited since election night.

There’s another reason I’m sick of the phrase, too. It’s not enough.

It’s not enough to just elect the first black man to be President. It’s not enough to elect the first biracial man to be President. It’s not enough to elect someone who actually knows what it’s like to live on food stamps. It’s not enough to elect a compentent President after 8 years of rank presidential incompetence. It’s not enough that Obama organized the youth of this country into a force to be reckoned with. In fact, no matter how historic Obama’s election is, it’s not enough.

Enough already with the “historic election”. The election of Barack Obama was only the first step. In 10 or 20 years, what will define whether President Obama’s election was truly historic won’t be that he was black, or mixed race, or anything else I mentioned above. Instead, it will be what he does during his administration.

If Obama gets the U.S. out of Iraq without leaving a mess we’ll have to re-invade to fix later, that will be historic.

If Obama puts an end to the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan without provoking a war with Pakistan, that will be historic.

If Obama keeps the country from slipping into a second depression, that will be historic.

If Obama puts the U.S. onto a path of oil independence without relying on environmentally destructive shale and coal-to-liquids programs, that will be historic.

If Obama leads the U.S. to a renewable energy standard and strips away market-distorting carbon fuel subsidies, that will be historic.

If Obama leads the country in upgrading our collapsing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure, that will be historic.

If Obama helps Congress develop a solution to the linked problems of entitlements, defense spending, and national debt, that will be historic.

If Obama can rebuild our relations with the rest of the world, that will be historic.

If Obama can cut U.S. carbon emissions in the short time the best science available says we have, and can get the rest of the world to do the same, that will be historic.

If Obama can reduce the costs of health care, provide health care to the millions of Americans who lack it at present, and maintain the quality and freedom our health care system provides at present, that will be historic.

If Obama can implement all the economic, regulatory, scientific, technological, social, cultural, and diplomatic changes required to do everything I just listed off, at the same time, and still deal with all the other things that will come up, that will be historic.

President-elect Barack Obama will always be the first black President. No-one will ever be able to take that from him, and no one should try. But there will come a time when our next President’s “blackness” will be an important historical footnote. And when that happens, when Obama’s race has been relegated to the status of a footnote by the accomplishments of his presidency, that too will be historic.

It will also, ultimately, be enough.

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