When we got the results of the Iowa caucus, I felt the things I was supposed to feel: excitement, vindication, enthusiasm, and fear. Fear of Mike Huckabee, primarily, but also fear that if the campaign a year ahead of us was to be between a black man from Chicago with a foreign name and a Baptist preacher from Arkansas, we may not have seen the end of the culture wars that have spoiled my young adulthood.
But there was another emotion present, more interesting than any of those: tremendous anxiety for myself. It was so disturbing that I didn’t tell my wife about it for several days. An unfamiliar anxiety, but not entirely remote. It was that night-before-the-S.A.T. anxiety. It was applying-to-college anxiety. It was first-real-job anxiety. Maybe even will-she-marry-me anxiety. In other words, it was stepping-off-into-maturity anxiety.
Barack Obama is one year younger than me. We are both almost baby boomers, but not. This isn’t the first time that someone our age has done something world-changing, but it’s the first time someone our age has done this.
You know what that test-taking anxiety really is, don’t you? I wasn’t afraid of a poor performance. I was terrified, in fact, that I would do well on the test.
I became an adult when I figured this out.
This is what an adult knows that a child doesn’t: A good performance on a test only assures the imminent arrival of other, much more difficult tests. I was scared of the S.A.T. because it promised college. I was anxious about college because it opened the possibility of a demanding career. I was terrified of a career because it meant that one day … I might have to decide the fate of my country.
You think I’m kidding? Maybe what I admire most about Barack Obama is his willingness to tell the truth. About himself, primarily, but also about us all. He uses words like “we,” he talks about “this moment in history,” not because those phrases make us comfortable, but because they are the truth.
I’ve got to decide if I’m ready for what I’m now certain is coming: the candidacy of Barack Obama. But don’t think such a wonderful event will solve anything or complete anything or even make the world a better place. We can talk about what it will mean to have the son of a Kenyan in the White House (and I will). We can talk about what it will mean that an interracial face will lead the world (and I will). But those aren’t the real issues, which is why Sen. Obama doesn’t speak about them so much himself.
The real issue is whether we’re all ready to grow up.
Growing up is not about power—it’s about sacrifice. It’s not about perfect faith—it’s about stumbling, incomplete faith. It’s really not about proceeding in airtight confidence of perfect righteousness—it’s about the completely absurd instinct that compromise and love of our fellows will somehow get us through.
I have spent a long time waiting for power and certainty to be conferred on me so that I might meet the challenges of my life. The news from that precinct has not been good. While I was busy wondering how to avoid being a citizen of this beautiful but terrified nation, we lashed out at the rest of the world, betraying everywhere our most sacred principles.
The news from other precincts, however, has been very good. Out of the crucible of this awful decade, a leader has emerged. Maybe Barack Obama is inexperienced and charismatic and full of the naive and unsupportable belief that America is still a great country and capable of great things, but I think I’m just inexperienced and charismatic and naive enough myself to support him with all my heart and soul.
And I will never call his vision of America—a nation innovative and undivided, a nation whose huge power can be wielded for the good of all nations—a fantasy. It is not a fantasy: It is what I pray for when I’m holding my wife and son. It is the true flag that I pledge allegiance to. And, from now on, it is how I will vote.