I was flying last night, and as it happened I flew directly over downtown Chicago about 10:15 p.m. We leveled off at 29,000 feet southbound, and as I pushed the nose over I had a fleeting view of Grant Park right off the nose some four miles below. There were a conspicuous number of lights there, but we were otherwise too far up to make out any detail. Though the election had not been called when we blasted off from Milwaukee, the writing was on the wall and we knew what was going on down there. What a feeling of electricity must have been coursing through the city just then.
What we could see on a beautiful night was the whole of greater Chicago with its nine million people, and everything in an arc from Grand Rapids, MI off the left wing, to Indianapolis roughly ahead of us, to Rockford, IL off the right wing. Within this arc were a zillion towns and cities stretching like stars in every direction. And it was amazing to think that on this one day people in all these places and many, many more besides were motivated to travel over this ground to gather at polling places and state their preferences for how their country ought to be governed for the next four years. Given the momentousness of what was transpiring below us in Chicago, and the immensity of the public groundswell that brought it about, it was a magical night to behold our little planet from the climate-controlled comfort of a jet cockpit high up in the atmosphere.
We touched down in Louisville, and I checked my phone. The deed was done. All the long faces from my predominantly-Republican coworkers notwithstanding, I felt a rush of pride that in a time of crisis the Democrats had brought forth daring, precedent-setting candidates in Senators Clinton and Obama. We had used the opportunity not simply to reject the disastrous policies of the last eight years; we had also affirmed one of our country's essential truths: we are a country of immigrants, a country of greatly varied backgrounds and ethnicities, and positions of power and leadership are by right open to all here based on merit and hard work. That is the American dream itself, even if it has taken us centuries to live it out. The deep unpopularity of George W. Bush and the undeniable sense that Republican policies were wrong for this country gave the most obvious opportunity for Democrats. That we managed to do more than just repudiate--that we managed to make history--is to the country's great credit.
I have been used to a pall of gloom hanging over me about my country's future. And it was surprising and rejuvenating to suddenly feel as though a weight had been lifted. I found myself optimistic again, excited about what may lay in store for us. I never expected an Obama election to make the war or the crumbling economy or any of our other problems simply dissolve; but I have seen the present administration demonstrate a horrifying lack of leadership and judgment for so long that I have cringed at every new crisis, knowing we had no governmental resources to deal with it. It's thrilling to again think that competent, accountable people might run our government, that our rulers might once again be people of whom we are proud and in whom we have confidence. It's like the country being born again.
And that thought led me to a final realization, that the tribulations of this campaign have caused me to reject the inevitability of government as a fundamentally inept or injurious force. I reject the idea that government must make worse everything it touches. Though it is sometimes undeniably so, I reject that it is necessarily so. Conservatives have been using this line of thinking for 30 years, tacitly admitting (since they have been in charge for much of that time) that they are themselves incapable of fixing what they do not like. But I have hope. If we are unhappy with how our government functions, it us up to us to steer the ship of state in a different direction.
And what a step we have taken toward that end.