November 05, 2008
I don't make a habit of writing political posts here. In fact, this is my first one. So I hope you'll indulge me for one day while I share a few personal thoughts on what happened yesterday here in my home state.
Barack Obama won the state of Indiana. I'm going to type that again just because it feels so good. Barack Obama won the state of Indiana.
I know that's not the big story. Barack Obama is President-elect of the United States of America. That's the big story, and no local victory can match the impact of this momentous event. But if you had grown up where I grew up; if you had seen the things I've seen living in my home state; and if you understood how utterly impossible this victory seemed even a mere six months ago - you would perhaps feel what I feel today. You would grasp the magnitude of this event.
I am a liberal. Not a moderate. Not a centrist. Not a "social liberal." I'm what my neighbors call a "Kennedy liberal." This means that here in Indiana, I am a perpetual loser. With the exception of my grad school years living in New York and a few years teaching in Wisconsin (both places where my politics were considered acceptable, if not universally embraced), every Presidential election cycle in my lifetime has meant defeat. Even in the Clinton years, we failed to deliver the state of Indiana. We never even came close. Indiana always votes Republican.
On my local election ballot yesterday, I could choose from a total of three Democrats: Obama for President, and two candidates running for state office. Every other candidate on my ballot was a Republican running unopposed.
Indiana is the home of the Church of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Throughout the early part of the 20th century, Indiana's Klansmen came from all walks of life. They were not disproportionately rural, or less educated or even predominantly fundamentalist. Several of the most powerful Grand Wizards of the Klan hailed from Indiana. I have never bothered to trace it, but I am certain some of my ancestors were active members of the KKK.
Indiana is a deeply conservative state with a long history of intolerance. Racial epithets remain commonplace (Mexican immigrants have replaced African Americans as the favorite target), and being gay is still a dangerous thing to be in the wrong bar on a Saturday night. My neighbor three doors down has a Confederate flag in his window.
And Barack Obama won the state of Indiana yesterday. Do you see the miracle of this? I'm too old and too cynical to think we've erased all our problems or found sudden enlightenment. But maybe we've begun to turn the corner in my tiny spot on the globe. Maybe this is the beginning of real change.
I knocked on doors and made phone calls for Barack Obama, and so did many of my friends. It was to be another hopeless cause. It was to be just another heartbreaking election night in Indiana. But it wasn't. He won. We won. For the first time in my political life, I feel proud to call myself a Hoosier. And for the first time in so very many years, I feel proud to call myself an American.