Wherever I go these days (the State Capitol of Texas, a restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown, and many points in between), people are telling moving stories about the reaction to the election. For instance:
- Three hundred people were still lined up to vote at a precinct in Pittsburgh when time ran out. Very quickly the news came that Obama had won Pennsylvania. So there was no opportunity to vote, and voting didn’t matter because the state had been called. Everyone decided to stay in the parking lot and pray together for the outcome in the West.
- Much of the Tufts student body was gathered in the Student Center when news came of the Obama victory. They massed in the main quad and sang the National Anthem and other patriotic songs until 1 am, when they marched to Davis Square.
When both of these stories were told, there were Republicans in the room who listened with grace and even appreciation. I think the President Elect has broad good will, partly because he broke the race barrier, partly because he ran a dignified and positive campaign, and partly because we all need him to succeed in this time of crisis. But it’s important to remember that many people did not vote for him, and some certainly had principled reasons not to. We need a two-party system across the country, including here in New England where there are now zero Republican US Representatives. Nothing really valuable can happen unless people of good will on the Republican side voluntarily participate, both in Congress and in civil society. It’s asking a lot for them to keep clapping at stories of Democratic triumph. They can focus on the civil-rights breakthrough, as William Bennett did rather gracefully on Election Night. But there is much more to Obama than his African American heritage. Especially for those of us who enthusiastically supported him because of his agenda, an important challenge now is to make sure we respect differences and are ready to include other people without assuming that they buy the whole package.