Race is just one part of the tale. Barack Obama has reshaped the political culture. Photo By INF Photo/ CP Photo
The meaning of Barack Obama's victory - in which he splashed blue across previously red states - extends far beyond its racial significance.
Mounting one of the best-run presidential bids in decades, he tied his support for progressive positions (taxing the wealthy to pay for tax cuts for working Americans, addressing global warming, expanding affordable health insurance, withdrawing troops from Iraq) to calls for crafting a new type of politics.
After nearly eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Obama was the non-Bush: intelligent, curious, thoughtful, deliberate and competent. But he also championed the end of Bushism. He opposed the Iraq war. He opposed Bush's tax cuts for the rich. He was no advocate of let-'er-rip, free market capitalism or American unilateralism. In policy terms, Obama represents a serious course correction.
With the nation mired in two wars and beset by a financial crisis, Obama mobilized a diverse coalition that included committed Democratic liberals turned on by his policy stands and less ideologically minded voters jazzed by his temperament, meta-themes and come-together message.
He showed that the old Republican attack tactics don't always draw blood. A candidate could advocate raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations and withstand being called a socialist. A candidate could advocate talking to the nation's enemies and withstand being tagged weak and dangerous. And become president.
Crucial to his success was Obama's decision to keep anger (at least his own) out of the equation. For him and his supporters, there is cause to be damn mad. But he appeared to have made a calculation: an angry black man could not win over a majority of the voters. He offered voters not fury, but hope.
And considering his "improbable" - as he put it - rise, he was a natural pitchman for hope. Fixating on hope allowed him to talk about the problems of the United States while remaining an optimist. Americans tend not to elect purveyors of gloom and doom to the presidency.
Obama described his presidential bid not as a campaign of outrage but as a cause of hope, a continuation of the grand and successful progressive movements of the past. Commentator Mark Schmitt credits what he calls Obama's "communitarian populism," a quiet, inclusive populism. Leave your pitchforks at the door.
This message and his manner of delivering it led many Democratic voters to conclude that he was the right man for the post-Bush cleanup.
Not once was his campaign rocked by internal dissension. It never went through a staff shakeup. There were no media stories, relying on unnamed sources, revealing major disputes or fundamental disagreements at Obama HQ.
Consensus, smooth operations, no signs of turf fights or ego battles: this is virtually unheard of in major modern presidential campaigns. The operation of his campaign sent the signal that Obama is a serious person who can ably handle pressure.
With his victory, Obama has ended the Bush II era with an exclamation point. Now he faces a restoration project of unprecedented proportions. It may take years for him and the rest of Washington to remedy the ills neglected, exacerbated or caused by the Bush presidency.
And he will have a tough time matching progress to promise. At his victory celebration in Chicago before tens of thousands, he lowered expectations: "The road ahead will be long. The climb ahead will be steep." And he noted that his electoral victory provides "only the chance for us to make that change."
But his barrier-breaking victory is indeed change in itself. Consider this: Obama ended his campaign at a rally Monday night in Manassas, Virginia. There, before a crowd of 90,000 - young, old, black, white, affluent, working-class - Obama summed up his case.
"Tomorrow, you can turn the page on policies that have put greed and irresponsibility before hard work and sacrifice. Tomorrow, you can [put an] end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election.''
A black man on the verge of being elected president said that.
But race is just one part of the tale. Obama has redrawn the electoral map and reshaped the political culture. He has transformed the image of the United States, abroad and at home. "Who knew that we were the ‘silent majority'?" his campaign spokesperson, Linda Douglass, said moments after Obama left the stage in Grant Park.
The voters who see President-elect Obama as the embodiment of their America can trade the Yes We Can motto for a new one: Yes We Are.