Election Day Notes From Tokyo

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The Oracular Email

I first watched Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and immediately I emailed a friend and wrote, “Did you hear this Obama guy? He’s going to be president.” I don’t know if I really believed that. But he was the kind of stirring unifying figure the country needed, that even then we were starving for. I certainly didn’t think he would be president this soon. When he decided to run for president two years ago, I thought it was premature. I didn’t think he could prevail against Democratic heavyweights like Hillary Clinton. Even if he got nominated I felt there was no way that he could survive the nasty invective of Republican electoral tactics.


This guy would have to be perfect.
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The Perfect Candidate

It reminds me of the movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It’s about how a white woman brings home her black boyfriend, played by Sidney Poitier, to dinner to meet her family. Her parents, played by Hepburn and Tracy, are socially liberal but excruciate over the hardship their daughter would have to experience in a mixed-race marriage. As if the whole thing is their choice.

Poitier’s character is perfect, a well-educated, internationally-respected, humanitarian doctor. And handsome to boot. As well as well-mannered and deferential. There was nothing that they could criticize him about. Yet they excruciated until the end. By the end, I was wondering why such a distinguished and accomplished man would bother with an undistinguished white woman and her annoying family. Of course, the movie was just a parable of the impossibly high double standards placed on black folks.

That’s what Barack has had to do, present a flawless image (never got angry), have impeccable credentials (first in his Harvard law class), and raise a storybook family. As the campaign progressed, I became increasingly impressed with the discipline, focus, savvy, and hard work of his operation. Everyone writes about how his campaign used the internet and cell phones so deftly, but more remarkable is the massive work on the ground by volunteers. He was able to mobilize the largest campaign organization ever. That’s a good sign of an able leader.

Observations from Japan
I’ve been following the elections from Japan. It’s late night in the US, but it’s a beautiful sunny Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo. I’m still old enough to be amazed at how I can cover events so closely on the other side of the Pacific through the internet.

I’ve been watching ABC News’ coverage live, only because CNN doesn’t stream outside the US. And after watching for a few hours, all i can think of is that Sam Donaldson looks like a Romulan. I’ve been tracking election results through the CNN and New York Times web sites, able to follow the demographic minutiae of the voters. I love the internet!

I was invited to attend a celebration party with other Americans, but I wanted to sleep in and follow events while I did the laundry and cleaned the apartment. So while I feel euphoric and want to celebrate with people, the city is unusually quiet on a typical weekday. I feel like I just won the lottery but I have no one to tell. I’ll have to wait for T to come home tonight before popping the champagne. I imagine all over America there are parties. I’ll be having a drink with all of you next time I’m on American soil. Is it safe to come back now?

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West Coast in Da House!
Thankfully, all the news services haven’t reported their predictions until after the polls close. But even before the results came in in a number of battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Missouri, at 207 electoral votes, anyone could see that he could reach those final 63 with the West Coast.

Finally an election decided first by California, Oregon, and Washington! Of course, winning Iowa and Virginia helped. I’m tired of the elections always being decided by wishy-washy Midwesterners, Cubans and retirees, rednecks and evangelists. The real America is more than small town people. Most Americans live on the coasts and in the cities. It seemed like we skipped over the middle and went straight to the West Coast for this election, and that’s alright by me.

Wave of Blue

That electoral map is crazy! Virginia, North Caroline, Indiana, Colorado going democratic?! A president hasn’t won without Missouri in decades, but it looks like Obama won’t need it at all. The disruption in these established electoral patterns shows us that America has gone through a profound change. Too bad it’s an America that includes a bankrupt nation waging two wars in a world undergoing global warming. I do not envy the man. But I think he’s surrounded himself with smart, inspired people.

McCain’s Concession Speech
His concession speech was honorable and gracious. It was the old McCain that I remembered from 8 years ago, a decent man, an able civil servant. I liked that he acknowledged the historical importance of electing a Black person to the presidency. It was a moving speech, imploring his supporters to get behind the new president, and doing his part to mend the rifts in the country, extending his hand to Obama.

It was the perfect tone to set for a difficult future.

Barack’s Acceptance Speech
He repeated some of his great lines about a united America. My favorite line was when he said that winning the election is not the change we seek. It’s the beginning of the change.

It wasn’t the kind of stirring speech that he’s capable of. Perhaps he was tired and he’s saving something special for the inaugural speech. Or maybe he’s understandably depressed because his grandmother passed away a day before he got elected. I know I cried like crazy at my own grandmother’s funeral. Nevertheless, his themes were about coming together. He’s the Great Togetherer. Either way, you could see the euphoria in people’s faces. The crowd at that park was estimated at 200,000. It’s times like that that I worry for his safety. I hadn’t thought about it all through the campaigning, but now that he’s the president-elect, I suddenly felt vulnerable for him.

Jesse Jackson on NBC

In the crowd of the Obama victory rally, the cameras caught a Jesse Jackson in tears. He explained that he was not only moved by the moment but also by all the sacrifice many people had made all through the Civil Rights movements, the leaders that had been assassinated, the years of being harassed, attacked and intimidated just to get the right to vote. It’s a great moment for him. Barack, and America, owe Jackson many thanks for paving the way.

So in honor of the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, that made today possible, here are a few interesting links to help give us a wide perspective on how this monumental moment came to pass.

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  • This is a cool audio slide from the New York Times about the role of song and resistance in the Civil Rights Movement. It follows some of the singer/activists on election day. Singing for Freedom.

When Miss Harris arrived at the city gymnasium where she votes, her 80-year-old friend Mamie L. Nelson greeted her with a hug. “We marched, we sang and now it’s happening,” Ms. Nelson said. “It’s really a feeling I cannot describe.

Gertrude Baines’ 114-year-old fingers wrapped lightly over the ballpoint pen as she bubbled in No. 18 on her ballot Tuesday. Her mouth curled up in a smile. A laugh escaped. The deed was done. A daughter of former slaves, Baines had just voted for a black man to be president of the United States. “What’s his name? I can’t say it,” she said shyly afterward. Those who helped her fill out the absentee ballot at a convalescent facility west of USC chimed in: “Barack Obama.”

Baines is the world’s oldest person of African descent, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which validates claims of extreme old age. She is the third-oldest person in the world, and the second-oldest in the United States after Edna Parker of Indiana, who is 115.

When Baines was born, Grover Cleveland was president and the U.S. flag had 44 stars. She grew up in Georgia during a time when black people were prevented from voting, discriminated against and subject to violent racism. In her lifetime, she has seen women gain the right to vote, and drastic changes to federal voting laws and to the Constitution — and now, this.

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5 thoughts on “Election Day Notes From Tokyo”

  1. In my opinion there was no way Obama couldn’t win. People were so fed up with Republicans that there was no way a Republican could win. I even believe that if things were different and Obama was a Republican, he would have lost. America has spoken.

  2. you know what’s great about this installment, baby? You make a reference that one of my favorite political columnists, Frank Rich of the NY Times made in your analogy to “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”. Google it if you hadn’t seen it already. Like yours, it’s a great piece of writing. In the words of Bono, “It’s A Beautiful Day”….

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