The election is over, but our job is not. President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain laid out in their respective victory and concession speeches what now lies ahead.
We are a nation at war with outside forces. We also are a nation divided on such domestic issues as socialized health care, and tax, Social Security and school reform. And if you’ve ever tuned into C-Span to watch a floor debate, you know some Democrats only drink blue Kool-Aid and some Republicans stock only cherry and strawberry in their pantries. So it will be interesting to watch Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain at work on their respective ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Hopes remain high for both.
Mr. McCain — who should have given the American public close-ups of his gracious, humorous and multicultural sides along every step of the campaign trail — finally let America see the real John McCain. On election night, every American who tuned in saw the John McCain that the Washington media has interacted with since the post-Keating Five scandal. Mr. McCain can be viewed as ornery as any liberal who has been asked to not propose tax increases. And, no, he doesn’t talk with honey in his mouth — after all, he is a straight shooter. (In the 1960s, while he was a fighter pilot held captive in Hanoi, Mr. McCain would have been honored with a badge from urban America that said, “Thanks, John, for telling it like it is.”)
After his concession speech, Mr. McCain should be welcome in every corner of America. In fact, the 94 percent of black Americans who had never even given Mr. McCain a passing thought, simply because he is a Republican, should give him praise if for no other reason than what he said in his speech.
I know many blacks remain angry because Mr. McCain referred to Mr. Obama in a debate as “That one,” and I know some folks from every corner were taken aback because Mr. McCain actually pointed his finger at Mr. Obama (it is not polite to point). But don’t forget what was said Tuesday night by Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama. Both men — both politicians — made promises to us about what they would do separately and together on behalf of America and its citizenry.
Said Mr. McCain: “A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him … To congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love … I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight. I’ve always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too … These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face … I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”
Only afterward, of course, did the victory speech come from Mr. Obama — who used the word “we” so often (actually over, and over and over again) until one would think he preferred speaking of himself in the third person. He said nothing profound, and the flourishes to which listeners were accustomed weren’t there. But the president-elect did wedge the door and we have to take every opportunity to pour through it. More importantly, the American citizenry has to hold him at his word.
Mr. Obama said: “And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.”
I hear you already. “Help? No way.” But c’mon. Look what happened when we didn’t help President Bush: Anti-Americanism ran rampant. We have to turn that around.
Look what happened when we let Washington put Social Security reform on the back burner: Baby boomers are panic stricken about reaching retirement age and current recipients are panic stricken about their retirements.
Mr. Bush’s approval ratings (thanks in part to a do-nothing 110th Congress) are in the toilet, while Congress’ ratings are barely high enough to put water pressure in the tank.
If we want our America back we’re going to have to follow Mr. McCain’s advice to “bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”
Sure, the die has been cast. But as Mr. McCain explained, our job began after the votes were tallied.
Deborah Simmons is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. dsimmons@washington times.com.