Tuesday night, as I stood listening to president elect Barack Obama's acceptance speech, cheeks aching from a smile that wouldn't fade and chills running up my spine, I felt a sensation that for nearly eight years has been foreign to me: pride to be an American.
I'm proud of a people that has watched the actions of its government for the past two terms tarnish and degrade its once proud global reputation, and has risen up to emphatically renounce them. I'm proud of my generation that, rather than succumbing to disillusionment in the face of its leaders' disregard, stormed the polls in record numbers to hijack the course of history.
As the cameras panned over the jubilant faces not just in Chicago, but in Kenya, England and countries all over the globe, I felt a sense of vindication and hope that I knew the majority of my fellow Americans shared; hope that this nation can repair its shattered image, and vindication from our characterization as militaristic opportunists.
That sense is not an isolated one if the headlines following Obama's win are any indication: "A New World," proclaims a London Times headline, plastered over a photo of the smiling president elect, and The Sun calls his victory "One Giant Leap for Mankind."
LA Times interviews with citizens abroad reveal similarly lofty sentiments: "There's a feeling of hope that things will be right in America," said Jordanian political analyst Randa Habib. "Obama can make you once again respect the U.S. for its values and democracy and all those things we had forgotten about over the last eight years."
Despite my enthusiasm, I am not so idealistic or na've as to believe that Obama is anything more than human. I recognize that he will operate under the same limitations of funding, partisanship and the agendas of his constituents.
In many ways, he will face steeper financial odds than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office during the Great Depression. He has two wars to manage, and the tide of global opinion will not turn in our favor overnight, despite the initial jubilation.
But, by showing the global community that we are ready to fundamentally alter the course of the politics that have led us to be almost universally despised, Obama has already won the hearts and minds of many around the world.
For those in the Middle East who had braced for more of the same arrogance and disregard from the U.S., Obama's intention to face international relations with diplomatic candor rather than military might is a welcome change. In autocratic societies, his historic win was a triumph for our democracy as well: "Let me tell you that now I believe in American democracy," said Mostafa Eqbali, an Iranian merchant in Tehran. "Honestly, I did not think that Obama would be president."
It remains to be seen whether Obama can live up to the electrical storm of hype that's surrounded him from day one. In many ways, I'm sure he won't - he simply won't be able to please everyone, and for that he will lose some of his golden glimmer.
But the fact remains that even by trying to live up to half of what he has promised, he will show the American people and the world that, as he said in his Tuesday speech, "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."
Today, for the first time in a long time, I call myself a patriot.
Matt Dubois is a senior English major who's be proud to be an American, but still won't watch the Country Music Awards.