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More Dogs on Main Street

The world looked different when I woke up Wednesday morning. I’m not just talking about the snow, which is a welcome sight as we start getting into winter. The Obama election seems like a change as dramatic as the snow itself. I stayed up late Tuesday watching the coverage. The scenes of the crowd in Grant Park in Chicago were powerful. Obama’s speech clenched the deal for me we made the right choice.

I remember watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I have a dream" speech on TV when I was a kid. The second I heard it, I knew I had witnessed the world change. It was at a pretty theoretical level for me. I had no idea about race or racism because I had never encountered it at all. If there were black people in Salt Lake at the time, they weren’t in Sugar House. I was in my senior year in high school before there were any black students in the public schools I went to. That year, there were two black students for about half the year. Still, the importance of King’s dream was obvious.

Last night, with the Obama win clean and secure without hanging chads, or claims of Ohio voting machines not registering, or people being stricken from the rolls because their name was somewhat similar to that of a felon I had that feeling again. I saw the world change. I wanted to be with that crowd in Grant Park.

The nitty-gritty of government is fixing potholes and buying fighter jets. Governments all around the world do that with differing degrees of effectiveness, but they are all in the same business. What sets the U.S. apart is that we have this idea that we really are created equal, the government really does belong to us, and that anything is possible. Obama’s life is a classic statistical indicator for failure. Mixed-race, single-parent, economically stressed, immigrant background, frequent moves, raised by grandparents everything about it would sound the alarm bells as a kid "at risk" and unlikely to succeed. The statistical predictors would have said he would drop out of high school. That kid is going to be president. The American Dream is alive and well. Not only that, but the people have repossessed their government.

People will be analyzing the role the race played, or didn’t play, in the election for a long time. It’s impossible to know. I’m not sure that he would have been able to capture the attention of the nation if a white guy named Jim Smith had delivered the same speeches. I’m certain that he wouldn’t have made it beyond Iowa if his demeanor was that of Al Sharpton or Jeremiah Wright.

For black voters, I’m sure the impact is different. Scenes of Jesse Jackson weeping in the crowd in Grant Park, and commentators like Eugene Robinson choking up on TV, tell that story. The symbolism is profound. He won across all demographics. While history will note him as the first African-American president, for all that means, in the end, race didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. He’s a president who happens to be black, not a black who happens to be president. As King put it, he was judged on the content of his character, not the color of his skin. This is our finest hour.

When it comes to real prejudice, I think Mitt Romney got a lot colder reception because of his religion than Obama did because of race. The most hurtful slur anybody could throw at Obama was the persistent rumor that he is a secret Muslim. Prejudice is still alive and well, it’s just moved on from race.

Obama will take over a real mess. The list of big, intractable, complicated problems all of them at crisis levels is long and discouraging. He will be lucky to find successful solutions to even a few of them, and will probably get his butt kicked by several. The list didn’t get any shorter Tuesday night, but I had the sense that the odds of solving some of them got a whole lot better on Wednesday morning. The Obama election is such a significant break with business as usual that I have to feel like we are going to make some real changes for the better. Hope, by itself, isn’t a solution. But hope sure tastes better than cynicism of the last eight years.

Now there’s work to be done. I suspect there will be some heavy lifting there for every one of us as we try to put Bush’s train wreck back on track.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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