Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Election

One Nation, One Voice

I am overjoyed today to the point of wanting to burst.

Word has recently come in, after last night's astounding electoral victory, that Indiana, which in 2004 gave George W. Bush one of his broadest victories, has delivered its 11 electoral votes to Barack Obama.

Ohio, the crucial swing state that narrowly robbed John Kerry of victory four years ago, handed its 20 votes to the Illinois Senator early in the night, while a slew of states once thought lost to the Red tide have returned home.

New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Iowa, all deep within the Heartland so sanctimoniously claimed by Bush's GOP, defected dramatically from the Republican bloc. Florida, a blessed state as much representative of a radically changing America as it is of America's eternal promise of freedom and opportunity, placed its 27 electoral votes squarely behind Obama by a 51%-49% majority.

And, in perhaps the most stunning reversal of the entire election, Virginia, capital of the Confederacy, birthplace of American slavery, practitioner of racism and discrimination, cast its allegiance with a black man who it will now call President.

How many ropes swung from tree branches in that state? How many of her beautiful valleys were stained with the blood of dark-skinned bodies dumped late in the night? How many tears fell from brown eyes, how many parched lips asked why?

How many whites, trying to do the right thing, simply disappeared into the darkness there during the civil rights movement four decades ago?

How many people ever would have said that a man named Barack Obama would have won the loyalty and robust support of the Old Dominion?

That single event, the seizing of Virginia's 13 electoral votes by Barack Obama, presages not only a monumental political realignment in this country but a cultural one as well.

For decades now, conservatives have relished in demographics showing the rise of the South and concurrent fall of the North, predicting that the Southern states' elevated stature would provide the Republican Party with a built-in electoral advantage that would erase the Democrats' ability to compete nationally.

What they failed to realize, though, was that the skyrocketing population numbers south of the Mason-Dixon Line were as much the result of heavy Northern immigration as of the Southern birthrate.

People born outside of this region who come here bring with them the politics and ideals of another place, a whole ideology that taken on its face is anathema to the traditional Southern ethos. Yet those Northern migrants eventually marry and have children of their own, children who are born in the sweltering climates Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Texas, children who call themselves Southerners and to whom Floridian oaks are as familiar and intuitive a sight as New England frost was to their parents.

These young men and women, coming now to maturity, are Southerners and will balk at any suggestion to the contrary. Yet from their mothers and fathers they have inherited Northern sensibilities that they reinforce in their own peers. A new generation sired from the old Confederacy has infused the South with electoral power at the same time that it is changing Dixie's political norms.

Barack Obama has broken across the Potomac into the Land of Cotton, and lines of Democratic dominance will only continue to advance, south from Virginia (or, depending on what happens this afternoon, North Carolina) and north from Florida.

In 2012, when President Obama is up for reelection, the electoral map will look somewhat different than it does today; the decennial census, set for 2010, is predicted to strip the North of at least eight electoral votes and awards the South with four.

Florida will jump from 27 to 29, Texas from 34 to 37, and Georgia from 15 to 16. North Carolina could potentially move from 15 to 17, and Virginia may go up from 13 to 14.

Simultaneously, Pennsylvania will fall from 21 to 20, New York from 31 to 29 (tying with Florida), Massachusetts from 12 to 11, Ohio from 20 to 18, Illinois from 21 to 20, and Iowa from 7 to 6. Michigan could also lose as many as two electoral votes, possibly going from 17 to 15.

All of this, however, bodes well for Obama as the North remains loyal and the South shifts.

I just want to say how immensely proud I am of my country at this moment. What it means to be a Southerner, and what it means to be an American, has changed.

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