Americans on Tuesday turned a page of history, breaking through the partisan politics and racial barriers of the past to embrace the inspiring voice of a new generation. Barack Obama's remarkable rise from modest beginnings to his election as the nation's first black president is a uniquely American success story, and the voters' recognition of his talents and their confidence in his potential sends a positive message to the world. The 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois tapped into the hunger for change and for candidates who unite rather than divide. Obama won Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia, states President Bush won four years ago. He won the battleground state of Pennsylvania, which was Democratic in 2004. He energized black and Hispanic voters and younger voters of all races. He engaged countless Americans who had never paid much attention to elections. It was a spectacular finish for a candidate who entered the race as an underdog in a crowded Democratic primary field. The skills and determination it took to defeat formidable politicians such as Hillary Clinton to win his party's nomination and John McCain to win the general election should serve him well as president.
Throughout the marathon campaign, Obama remained focused and unruffled by smear tactics or shifting tides. His eloquence drew legions of followers, and his steadiness in message and demeanor was reassuring as he introduced himself to the nation. He largely steered clear of hot-button social issues, and his plans to expand health care, overhaul tax policy and emphasize foreign diplomacy over military force resonated well beyond the Democratic base. Strong communication skills and intellectual vigor will be welcome in a White House that has seen little of either in the last eight years.
In exit polls, an overwhelming number of voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction. The nation remains entangled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economic crisis shows no signs of easing, as mortgage foreclosures continue to rise and the big automakers in Detroit struggle to survive. There are demands for better access to health care and an ambitious energy policy.
The pressure on Obama as he transitions from campaigning to governing will be considerable. He must learn to say no to members of his own party in Congress and to the interest groups eager to capitalize on his victory. He should continue to avoid snap responses and aim for political consensus. He will need help, and he would be wise to recruit a Republican or two to his Cabinet and to continue to surround himself with seasoned advisers.
Forty years ago, this nation suffered through the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Rioting overwhelmed the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as police tear-gassed antiwar protestors in Grant Park. Tuesday night, Obama celebrated his historic victory with a half-million cheering supporters in that same park. For all of the continuing issues with race, it was a powerful reminder of how America has matured in embracing diversity and recognizing talent regardless of background or skin color.
These would be challenging times for any incoming president. At home and abroad, the nation has lost its balance. It will require a commitment to common goals and shared sacrifice by Americans to regain solid footing, and it will not happen overnight. On Tuesday, voters placed their faith in an engaging young leader to transform Washington and steer this country toward a brighter future. If Barack Obama is as effective at governing as he has been at campaigning, he should get off to a fine start.