They Let HimNovember 5, 2008
Standing in line, waiting to cast a ballot, is the real 4th of July for me. It is the only time all year that I go out of my way to wait. My job is busy, but flexible. I could go vote at 10 AM or 2 PM, but instead get up and go early — exactly the time when there will be many other people there. I see friends, neighbors and new kids of old neighbors. There is free coffee, lots of signs and stickers, and a gym full of volunteers. Everyone is happy. Voting before the election, which is easy to do in Charlottesville, has no appeal. Why vote in 2 minutes when you can spend 45 minutes celebrating the incredible reality of being an American?
And it is a reality that is easily lost in the somtimes bitter aftermath of an election. Each Summer I teach a group of senior executives from around the world. They come to Darden to learn new ways to think about their business. In addition to teaching, I eat dinner with them and talk to them in settings less formal than the classroom. I remember distinctly a conversation last summer with one participant, a senior executive of a major industrial company headquartered in the Middle East. When casual conversation turned to politics I offered the opinion that Barack Obama would win the election. He scoffed. “They won’t let him,” he replied. I pressed, “Who won’t let him?” He shrugged. Subsequent conversations with him laid bare the political reality that dominated his mental model of elections. He did not know who “they” were, only that “they” existed and always determined who was fit to be elected. And they would not like Barack Hussein Obama, and would not allow him to become President.
If you are happy this morning, rejoicing in the election of Mr. Obama, you do so with the knowledge that your vote changed history. That line outside your polling place mattered, and utimately is the only thing that matters when we chose our leaders. And, if you are upset this morning, distraught that a genuine American hero was sent home without the prize, remember that you can start today to work for a different political outcome. They cannot stop you. They don’t exist. They never made it to the shores of America.