It was only fitting that the weather in Indianapolis during the last few days leading up to the presidential election was sunny and warm, full of optimism and hope, tempered by a not entirely irrational sense of nervousness and paranoia.
The optimism came because a sense of realization had hit most people last week that, barring an unforeseen disaster, there was nothing that John McCain could do to beg, borrow or steal the election away from Barack Obama.
You could see it on the faces of people walking around Monument Circle on Sunday afternoon. It was a palpable sense of expectation, as real and immovable as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument itself.
Mixed in with the excitement was a sense of pride about America and a wave of patriotism I hadn’t seen since Sept. 11. It felt like the United States, sensing that it had spent eight years in the wilderness, had finally regained its bearings again.
As we reflect back on a wild and historic political season, there was much to be proud of for us as a nation. Rejecting the radicalism of the Bush years, both parties nominated strong, sober, heroic men for president, setting the stage for a unique contest.
For the most part, both candidates campaigned with a high degree of integrity. Unfortunately for McCain, there was simply no way to distance himself enough from the unpopular policies of Bush, and no way for him to match the intensity and the fervor that Obama unleashed in his followers.
In any other year, McCain’s efforts might have been good enough to win. In a contest where he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and still hope to win, McCain made several key blunders.
The first was in his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Time will tell if she develops into a Nixonian figure who rises from the political graveyard to seek higher office or if she turns into just another celebrity. Either way, her brand of aw-shucks conservatism won her the support of the Rush Limbaugh crowd at the cost of the rest of the population.
McCain’s erratic behavior during the fiscal crisis further alienated voters. In the end, America fairly evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of both tickets and ended up supporting the candidate who offered the promise of a better tomorrow.
Much has been made about the need to unite this fractured and divided nation. It is something that Bush deliberately avoided doing for eight years but something we can ill afford now.
My feeling, though, is that it is not going to be that difficult a task. Americans are tired of in-fighting. They simply want justice and action on a number of issues. They will, by and large, support the new president. Obama will begin his presidency with an unprecedented amount of goodwill and political capital.
The only fear is the radical right. When Bill Clinton began his presidency, the conservatives formed militias, invented sinister conspiracy theories and named the federal government as its chief enemy. Aided and abetted by talk-radio, the fervor culminated in the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City.
Something similar will happen again, meaning that our nation must defend itself from attacks from radical Muslim terrorists as well as radical Christian homegrown terrorists.
By and large, though, I sense a new era of national unity and pride. With a new president and a strengthened Congress, more good things will be accomplished in the next two years than there were in the last eight.
The conspiracy theorists of the right will retreat to the insular safety of their radio shows and Internet sites while the rest of the nation rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. They will join the JFK assassination and Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists in the wilderness of lost ideas.
There is much to be done and the new president will need the support of the entire country, not just the blue states or the red states. The victors can only afford to celebrate for a brief period of time before taking action.
It will not be easy and it will take a lot of time to undo the damage done by the Bush gang. But it can and must be done. As we bask in the glow of a hard-earned victory, let us extend a hand of friendship for the other side, which tried so hard yet fell just short.
We are all Americans. The election is over. Let’s work together to make our country the greatest in the world again. We need to fix our banks, our schools and our image abroad.
As John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “Let us begin.”