American Reporter Correspondent
Panama City, Panama
Nov. 10, 2008
DEAR ANDREW: THERE'S THIS GUY NAMED OBAMA
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- One of the most famous football pictures of all time came to mind during this election season.
It's from a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants played on Nov. 20, 1960 at Yankee Stadium. Trailing the Eagles 17-10 late in the game, the Giants were driving for a touchdown.
Halfback Frank Gifford reached back to catch quarterback Charlie Connerly's pass. As he turned upfield, Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik was waiting for him. Bednarik leveled Gifford, hitting him so hard that Gifford was knocked out cold. Gifford was hit so hard, he was sidelined for the rest of that season and the following one too, recovering from the aftereffects of a severe concussion.
As Gifford lay unconscious on the turf that afternoon, Bednarnik stood over Gifford, pumped his right arm and yelled, "This f----ing game is over!"
That image of Bednarik, a World War II combat veteran and one of the toughest men ever to play professional football, doing a war dance over the prone body of Gifford, came to mind watching the final weeks of the campaign. It's how I visualize politics and Bednarik's words to Gifford sums up how decisively Barack Obama defeated John McCain on Tuesday.
To me, the seeds from which Obama's victory sprouted were sown in early 2005, when a group of activists and political bloggers banded together to make Howard Dean the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
These people, many of whom were veterans of Dean's unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign, saw the organizing potential of the Internet more clearly than the Clinton-era retreads who were in charge of the DNC. They saw the possibilities of building a new Democratic Party - one that was present in all 50 states. They committed to building up the party's long-neglected campaign infrastructure.
Dean's presidential campaign was the first attempt to use the Internet as an organizing and fundraising tool. With Dean and his allies in charge of the DNC, the party learned from the mistakes that were made and improved upon this model.
What became known as the "Netroots" mobilized millions of new people and brought them into the political process. Suddenly, the Democrats had a ground game and the resources to execute it.
Dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration and a fired-up Democratic base resulted in the Democrats winning majorities in both the House and Senate in 2006. Suddenly, that permanent conservative majority the pundits spoke confidently of started crumbling - and fast.
The primary process showed how many candidates were still fighting the last war. Hillary Clinton had many flaws as a candidate, but perhaps the biggest was her campaign staff thinking that all she needed to do was win the 10 biggest states to secure the nomination. Obama's staff saw that there were 40 other states to be won also, and they campaigned in all of them.
Even in the most conservative states of the country, Obama made an effort to seek votes. It was a tactic that paid off not only in winning the nomination, but in winning the general election. The 50-state strategy that worked so well in 2006 came through again in 2008.
While John McCain stuck to the same Republican script of "fear and smear," Obama offered something different - hope and change. When the so-called October Surprise turned out to be the collapse of the financial markets, the fear and smear tactics of McCain and Sarah Palin looked trivial and out-of-touch. People wanted substance and intelligence and turned to Obama.
Obama turned out to be a transformative figure in American politics, and a reflection of where America is now in the 21st century. Racism will always be with us in some form, but the young people who flocked to the polls on Tuesday are part of a generation that has grown up seeing people of color in positions of authority. They've grown up in mixed-race families and don't think it so usual to see a black man as president.
Are we a post-racial society? Not yet, but we are now in a more diverse and multicultural world and we will see more Obamas on the political scene in the coming years.
The Republican Party doesn't seem to get this yet. The world changed, and they didn't. The voters changed, and they didn't. They fought the last war, and lost as a result.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.