Over the past four days or so I’ve been pretty ill. The last two nights have been the worst. In fact, on both of those last two nights I was been awake pretty much all the way through the night, totally unable to sleep at all. But last night it had some benefit. Even though I was in a lot of pain, my throat was killing me and the antibiotics hadn’t kicked in, I still got the chance to watch the US elections unfold in front of my over-tired eyes. I saw history as it happened and I’m glad I did.
At first there were doubts, but as the night went on there seemed to be an air of destiny in proceedings as first one state, then the next that McCain needed to win to maintain a challenge seemed to call for Obama.
So it was, that at just after 4am, McCain shuffled into view to concede; a diminished and forlorn figure who now looked old, weary and defeated. His concession speech was a masterpiece of measured and restrained dignity, wasted before an unfortunately graceless audience and a glassy-eyed Sarah Palin. Perhaps if he had spent more time being like this, McCain may have attracted more of the centrist vote. As far as the more mental fringes of his own party were concerned, McCain was never the real deal. He struggled to reach even them.
But even I, as a confirmed cynic, was moved watching the tears in Jesse Jackson’s eyes as Obama spoke in Grant Park Chicago. And to be sure it was a hugely impressive speech. It felt somehow aptly historic; a feat of wondrous and beautiful oration, as well as being one of those times when the confluence of the mood and the speech were perfectly matched.
It was almost messianic, if you looked at the crowds. But the speech wasn’t. It was self-consciously un-triumphalist, loaded with the requisite levels of humility and the sure knowledge of a greater truth: there is no way on earth that this man can come anywhere near meeting the expectations that many of these voters will place upon him, however good a president he may turn out to be. The dreams are even more elevated and lofty than ours in the UK were in May 1997, when the grinning Blair landed. This is a movement with real history and real feeling. a folk memory with the undertow of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers to haul it along.
But, just for now, none of that is important. At 5am today, even though I felt like death, I sat in my living room and saw that there is at least some glimmer of hope within us, a sense that we are capable of rising above the petty, quotidian concerns we allow ourselves to be distracted by. And for a moment at least, I felt good.