Charles Blow has written one of the most eloquent meditations on Barack Obama’s victory considering it as a redemption of centuries of African-American slavery and suffering:
History will record this as the night the souls of black folk, living and dead, wept – and laughed, screamed and danced – releasing 400 years of pent up emotion.
They were the souls of those whose bodies littered the bottom of the Atlantic, whose families were torn asunder, whose names were erased.
They were those who knew the terror of being set upon by men with clubs, of being trapped in a torched house, of dangling at the end of a rough rope.
They were the souls of those who knew the humiliation of another person’s spit trailing down their faces, of being treated like children well into their twilight years, of being derided and despised for the beauty God gave them.
When I read Blow’s reference to “400 years” it immediately called to mind another 400 year interval of suffering. Biblically, Jews endured 400 years of slavery in Egypt before they could make the journey with Moses through Sinai to the Promised Land. Perhaps, this is yet another reason that Obama’s quest resonated among American Jews.
Martin Luther King, of course, channeled Moses tragic vision of the Promised Land on Mt. Nebo, in the famous speech delivered the day before his assassination:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
And I believe Obama deliberately alluded to this speech in this hopeful passage from yesterday’s victory speech:
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you we as a people will get there.
Moses of course, like King would never reach the Promised Land. Joshua was Moses’ disciple and he was the one who reached the end of the journey. So in a sense, Obama is our latter-day Joshua. He is the one who has broken through, kept his eyes on the prize, and won a monumental victory on behalf of American liberty and justice.
Tom Friedman today spoke of Obama’s achievement as the final victory in the American Civil War that began at Bull Run in 1862. An important idea to keep in mind.
But there is another important redemption as well in this victory: Obama has redeemed the 2000 election stolen from Al Gore by George Bush and our Supreme Court. For the first time since then, a Democrat will assume the presidency. This must give Gore mixed emotions. But I hope he can share the joy amidst his own personal regret at what might have been.