Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Well, I goofed! I predicted that Arlington would go 75 percent for Obama. It only went by 71.8 percent. Oh my!

Many years ago, a friend of mine called and said that he had a strong challenger in his congressional race. For the first time he was required to raise money in Washington. Would I help him?

The morning after the election the newspaper said that he had won by 78 percent of the vote. Later that day, I rolled into his Washington office and asked his chief of staff, “What on earth was that all about Frank?” “You have to understand, Dick, he thinks he has lost if he gets less than 80 percent!” That’s the way it is in Arlington!

It was an exhilarating win nonetheless. Arlington, with 3.2 percent of the total Obama vote in Virginia, accounted for an astounding 32 percent of his margin of victory in the state. (Thanks to Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey for working this out.) Way to go Arlington!

Election scholars are calling this the most significant presidential election in at least forty years. Some date it all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt. It appears to mark the emergence of a new generation of political leaders and workers who will shift significantly the direction and tone of our political system as did Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Arlington was a microcosm of the superb campaign run by Obama nationwide. Some 6,000 (yes I said six thousand, not hundred) volunteers blanketed Arlington for several months. And they were by no means all young workers. At the Arlington Democrats’ victory luncheon on the day after the election there was a significant sprinkling of 70, 80, and even 90 year olds, many of whom have been active in Arlington politics for 40 to 50 years.

I cut my political teeth on Louisiana politics during the battles on segregation and voting rights. In 1966, I managed the congressional campaign of a 24 year veteran of the House of Representatives. In a remarkable act of political courage, he voted for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. The race was very bitter and very racist. We had to hire armed guards and attack dogs to patrol the grounds of his house and campaign headquarters. Whenever I left the campaign headquarters for a drive in the country, I took an armed guard with me. Believe me, he was necessary.

For a person with this experience, Obama’s election was more than a miracle; it was one of the great moments in our history.

I attended the 1963 March on Washington, was moved by Martin Luther King’s great speech and heard Joan Baez sing “We Shall Overcome.” When I read that she sang the song at the Birchmere on the night after the election, I almost lost it!

Obama’s election is about much more than race, and that, of course, is as it should be. I am very optimistic about what his presidency will bring us. Far from an America in decline, I think there is a strong likelihood that he can bring us to new heights both domestically and internationally. He is reflective of new politics in this country and will be known as the great implementer of that enhanced vision of what we can be.