In recent years, we have increasingly perceived ourselves as a tolerant people, willing to think anew about the prejudices of the past. Much of the economic dynamism of the country—the vibrancy we cherish—comes not just from the fact of this openness but from our psychic investment in it. Even when the government lets us down badly, as it has in the recent past, we think of ourselves as a good and decent people. Misguided, perhaps, and easily fooled. But good. Even Arabs who hate the U.S. government under either party always insist that they like the American people.
So what happens if we wake up the day after the election to find that the nation has rejected an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful, and eloquent candidate in a year when 80 percent of voters think we’re on the wrong track? To what would we attribute Obama’s defeat? The inescapable conclusion would be that, no, America is not ready for a black president after all.
Out, damn’d spot! The stain of America’s original sin would spread further yet, pushing us into a past we had hoped to transcend. The normal pain of one party losing an election would be intensified enormously by the pain of history. Republicans (who barely tolerate McCain) wouldn’t cheer much; they would know in their hearts that the party of Lincoln had completed its metamorphosis into the party of cynicism.