Many, probably most, observers regard Barack Obama's election from the standpoint of race relations--rather as the culmination of Martin Luther King's speech on the Washington Mall in August, 1963:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
And that wish has indeed been realized. Obama has not been judged by his skin color, but rather by his character--which seems to me exceptionally fine.
But, on the other hand, Obama is not personally a product of the "black American" experience. His father (whom he barely knew) was not descended from slaves; rather, he was a foreign student from Kenya. His mother, and the grandparents who raised him, were "white." He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia in "multicultural" societies, not in the deep south and not in an urban ghetto. So the experience of "Black America" was a subject he had to learn about from books, from his wife, from the church he attended here in Chicago, and from his work here as a community organizer.
So, from my own personal point of view, the new Era of Obama is something other than an achievement for American blacks or for the rise of a new acceptance among whites. In my own perspective:
--First, very happily, it is the end of the eight-year Bush Era of dominance in Washington, a painful time when, for me, it was difficult to even listen to the words of our Chief Executive on television. A time when there was little respect for law, for the political neutrality of the machinery of government, and for the "will of the people" or their general well-being. When patriotism was hijacked to mean support for the person of the president, rather than love of country or its democratic values, institutions, and traditions.
--Second, it is the end of the much longer Reagan Era, begun in 1980--which was after all built on deficit financing in the public and private sectors, along with a transfer of further wealth to the already-wealthy and a great disrespect for the functions of government and our shared public necessities.
--and Third, it is the rebirth in a sense of the Era of Kennedy, elected in 1960: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but for what you can do for your country." JFK never got to live out what reasonably could be expected to have been two terms in the White House. And Bobby Kennedy, who very likely would have carried out a similar dream, was also felled by an assassin's bullet. (Like MLK, too)
JFK not only had wonderful things to say, but he said them wonderfully, very movingly and persuasively. Obama has that same ability. And Obama, like JFK, also shows every desire to bring thoughtful intelligence back into positions of federal leadership.
So, suddenly, there is now least a reasonable hope that Americans ("white" and "minority," male and female, urban and rural, of many religious convictions, and Democrats, Independents, and even some Republicans) will sit down around a common table and try to devise solutions to our many economic and social problems.
Whew! Time to breathe out! Maybe some relaxation, even in the face of enormous challenges, is possible.
That is the personal meaning of Obama's election for me: end of Bush, end of Reagan, and a rebirth of Kennedy.