On Election Night 2008, I sent the following email to nearly all of my friends. Perhaps you received it the first time around. With one week left until this year’s race concludes, I thought it might be worth sharing; not to showcase how right or wrong or prescient or naïve I was, but instead to spotlight just how different things feel now.
We’ve always been divided, but the gap seems to have widened to the point where I‘m concerned for the future of discourse. When campaigns’ best efforts are aimed largely at fomenting the worst of us—and when the possible reactions to an election’s outcome appear limited to outrage, schadenfreude, and relief — exactly how far from statesmanship have we strayed?
I’ve never been particularly good at being optimistic — but for a moment there, if even mistakenly, I was. And it was refreshing.
I suppose what I’m saying is: No matter who prevails this time around, I hope we can someday find our way back to a point rich with inspiration, steeped in civility, and focused on the future.
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From: Joe Ippolito
Subject: Tonight in America
I’ve just returned from seeing President Elect Obama’s victory speech, which I watched with my mother from her hospital bed. She was tired, having had another procedure today, and while her body wanted nothing more than to sleep, she was determined to stay up. She knew that something special had happened.
In the past few weeks, I have heard a number of people say that the vast majority of people in this country are stupid. I remember this being said because I was one of the people who said it. Tonight, I can’t help but think that — at least to some degree — I was proven wrong. Not simply because the candidate whom I favored emerged victorious, but because the country has been truly energized. Not simply because a majority of America appears to agree with me, but because for the past two years (and especially over the past few months), passion from both parties has truly raised this nation’s level of debate. Not simply because of the revolution of Internet-led campaigning, but because we have seen young people of all views engaged in a way that most thought impossible.
And then there’s this: Tonight in America, a strong black man stands poised to ascend to the most powerful position on the planet. Look at what we can do.
Look at what we can do when we cast aside ignorance, when we challenge preconceived notions of right and when we stop complaining long enough to act. Look at what we can do when we believe.
Obviously, however, it is not simply that he is black. It is that he’s Barack. It is that he’s a candidate who inspires, who excites, who rekindles a faith long since lost. It is that he is a candidate who has earned the chance to deliver the change he has spoken of so frequently. And we must, all of us, hold him to that promise.
I don’t expect us all to become policy wonks. I don’t expect us all to watch the Sunday news programs. I don’t expect us all to become fluent in the nonstop action fun-house that is Tort Law. I do, however, expect us to continue to care, to continue to be informed and to continue to battle for whatever it is each of us believes is right. Perhaps “expect” isn’t the right word. I request it. I beg it.
We must vote on based on policy, not on party. Merely because it is Democrat does not make it decent. Merely because it is Republican does not make it repugnant. As I write this, one Senate race could feasibly be won by an individual who was recently convicted of multiple felonies. Another might be won by a comedy writer. Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do. It will take all of us.
I don’t know where this will lead or where we will end up. This might be the cultural breakthrough that everyone has been describing. It might also be the event that places the racial tensions that have for too long gripped this country at an all-time high. This might be the impetus for the change for which we have all hoped. It might also be the moment where a brilliant marketing campaign descends into the puttering politics we’ve all come to expect. No matter what, though … tonight in America, something clearly is different.
To the naysayers — to those who still stand in doubt. If you don’t believe that the system can bring great things, move. Move because while cynicism needs to be encouraged, defeatism needs to be eliminated. Move because things are happening and you are nothing but in the way. Move because in spite of you, there are people who today walked up, waited on line and declared “I believe.” They are righteous and they are Patriots and they deserve better from us.
All too often, we seem to forget that we are a young nation. Looking at the course of history, we’re a teenager. And just like any teenager, we’ve demonstrated some fairly unbecoming qualities. We’ve been naive, we’ve thrown fits when we haven’t gotten our way, we’ve made questionable friendships, we’ve bullied those who weren’t exactly like us. We’ve made many mistakes and we’re sure to make many more, but tonight in America, maybe — just maybe — we’re starting to grow up.
Tonight in America, things are different. And the truth is, this might be the only time we feel it. Tomorrow, we’ll go back to work. We’ll talk about this, surely, but we’ll go back to our routines. We’ll make ads and we’ll cut trailers and we’ll read scripts and we’ll start companies and we’ll go running and we’ll sneak the occasional cheeseburger and we’ll download music and we’ll have a few too many and kiss some people we maybe shouldn’t and things will largely be the same. But something has happened. No matter how we feel next week and no matter where we are in four years, something has undeniably changed. And that can’t be bad.
Know that no matter your beliefs, you witnessed history tonight; one of those “watershed moments” they always talk about in textbooks. Who knows where it might lead? Unfortunately, none of us. It’s surely going to be a wild ride … but I can’t wait to see where it ends up.
Tonight as I sat there holding hands with my mother, I told her that while I’ve always been proud to be a New Yorker, for the first time, I was proud to be an American. Goodnight, dear friends … and God bless these United States.