News & Politics

Transformational Presidency

The fate of Obama's presidency will be determined by how bold he chooses to be.
Four years ago we gathered at The Nation to watch the election returns. Around midnight we began to weep. But we had to put out an issue the next day. So, through the grim night and bleak day after, as the Election 2004 verdict became clear, we held our emotions in check and worked to make sense of the disaster that had befallen the country. The cover of our issue that week was of a black sky, dark clouds obscuring a slim and crestfallen moon, with a simple headline: "Four More Years."

Four years later, our offices are filled with editors, writers, interns, and colleagues--some crying, this time with joy--all jubilant about the new era of possibility opened up by Barack Obama's victory. We know there is work ahead to build a politics of sanity and justice and peace. But tonight we simply celebrate.

Obama's election marks a remarkable moment in our country's history--a milestone in America's scarred racial landscape and a victory for the forces of decency, diversity and tolerance. As our editorial board member Roger Wilkins reminded us on the eve of the election, Obama's win "doesn't turn a switch that eradicates our whole national history and culture." But "win or lose, Obama has already made this a better country, made your children's future better."

This long and winding campaign has been marked by highs and lows, necessary and unnecessary divisions, indelible characters and high drama. For the first time in decades, electoral politics became a vehicle for raising expectations and spreading hope--bringing in millions of new voters. The Obama team's respect for the core decency, dignity and intelligence of the American people was reflected in the campaign's organizing mantra --"Respect-Empower-Include." In contrast, the McCain campaign chose to denigrate voters' intelligence, spread the smears and mock the dignity of work with its cynical celebration of a plumber who wasn't really a plumber.

Grassroots engagement and record-shattering turnout contributed mightily to Obama's decisive victory. Moving forward, this small-d democratic movement --broad-based and energized--will be critical in overcoming the timid incrementalists, the forces of money and establishment power, that are obstacles to meaningful change. And it will be needed to forge the fate and fortune of a bold progressive agenda.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the publisher of The Nation