I left work soon after, as soon as a table closed down, and went home to get Anna. The presidential race was looking good for Obama. Grant Park was filling up with people; Liz was there among them. A group of my supporters were having an election party. Anna and I listened to McCain's concession speech on the way over.
I had been thinking about the 2000 election, the first presidential election that Shelagh and Liz were old enough to understand. Liz and I slept on the floor of the living room watching TV as the race was called, first for Bush, then for Gore, and then a tossup that would take weeks to eventually be decided with a sketchy Supreme Court decision.
I have spent the last eight years trying to keep my kids from becoming cynical, trying to to keep alive the faith that what we do, each of us, matters. It has not been all that easy to keep the faith myself when our very nation, up to and including our economy, our constitution and our very atmosphere, has been cynically offered for sale to the highest bidder. Still, with the help of friends, relatives, teachers, neighbors, the kids are alright. Somehow, while we were "Waiting for the World to Change" and I was despairing that we just couldn't wait much longer, they were forming and testing the new networks that elected this new president.
We aren't out of the woods, yet, not by a long shot. Before the 2000 Bush victory party was cut short, we saw them dancing to the strains of "Louie, Louie", the song that played in Animal House right before they trashed the joint. It has been a long, ugly frat party and there are some big ugly chickens that have yet to come home to roost. Obama acknowledged the work ahead last night:
I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.
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.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.
There's lots of work to be done. But I can breathe again. I sat last night watching Obama speak with Anna on my lap, even though she's way to big for laps. She, and Liz out there in the crowd somewhere, and Shelagh, watching election returns with her husband in a loud crowd at a bar in Ann Arbor , they were all proof that we've survived, that I've raised these kids through the dark times with their spirits intact.
Here is a Chicago news video with a short interview with Liz at Grant Park last night.