The great American past time--the presidential election--finally drew to a close last night, not with bitterness or rancour or divisiveness, but with hope, dignity and reconciliation. Sen. John McCain, standing before hundreds on the lawns outside the Arizona Biltmore hotel, a grand edifice designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, passed the torch with grace and dignity to U.S. president elect Barack Obama. "We never hide from history--we make history," said McCain. It was a touching, moving scene that played out from South to North, from one generation to another.
Both men seized the day, rose to the occasion. Obama, standing on an enormous blue platform, behind giant walls of bullet-proof glass, surrounded by hundred of thousands of rapturous, cheering, flag waving supporters in a Chicago park where--as CNN commentator David Gergen noted earlier in the evening, the Democratic Party had imploded back in '68.
That was mere months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Flash forward 40 years to the scene in Chicago. In the crowd, Rev. Jesse Jackson, his teary face frozen almost in disbelief. An eye witness to King's terrible murder in Memphis, here he was, 40 years later, in the promised land. It had all come true.
Kudos to the CNN camera crew, switchers and editors, who let it all play out without commentary. Obama's triumph in Chicago was juxtaposed with spontaneous crowd shots in Harlem, Times Square and even outside the White House in Washington, D.C.
"Change has come to America," Obama said, although he said it behind those giant, Plexiglas barriers.
The election coverage was at its best at the end, live at the speeches, away from the million-dollar studios and their wall-to-wall technical gadgets. CNN was more tricked out than James Bond in the Roger Moore era. An old coot stood on the giant electronic stage and pulled bar graph data out of an enormous iPhone. The blue and red bars were loaded with election information but the whole scene looked like grand dad gone tech happy. At one point he just couldn't reach the bar. I waited for Howie Mandel to appear and ask him to open a suitcase instead.
John King had more success with his nifty blue and red state screen, pulling all kinds of info out of cities and suburbs. It was cool when he would jump back to 2004 and compare McCain's vote appeal to that of his Republican predecessor, president George Bush. Still, after a few hours, you longed for the late, great Tim Russert and his five dollar, Grand & Toy white board.
Also missed, believe it or not, was Dan Rather on CBS (although some could still catch his act over on HDNet). Those folksy Texas sayings were always part of the deal. Rather would have been all over this election like a raven on a road kill.
NBC used the skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza to great effect, spray painting states red or blue right on the ice as results came in. Running the voter tally up the side of the 30 Rock tower in blue and red streamers was another nice low tech touch. Good to see Tom Brokaw again on NBC's election night, too, although he still sounds like he just chugged five or six martinis.
Peeked in once or twice to ABC's coverage. Peter Jennings was always all world on election night and he has never been properly replaced. Sam Donaldson, time to tease out those eyebrows and send the lid to the comb over Hall of Fame. George Stephanopoulos is a plus, but ABC still seems to need their own new Obama to step forward and take this thing forward.
CNN had the best pundits and panels, with raging Cajun James Carville as peppery and partisan as ever, piping up about the Clintons this and the Clintons that. It was pointed out by somebody that a shrinking number of Americans relate to redneck cartoon characters like Joe the Plumber. Wolf Blitzer kept things moving with Ed Sullivan-like efficiency, as did Anderson Cooper, who couldn't get any skinnier. A 3-D special hologram effect dropping Will I. Am into the studio was showy and lame, pretty much beam me up Scotty time at CNN.
Still, all this petty sniping seems so Bush administration. The night ended in triumph for the networks and the nation. There were many reasons to give thanks on this night: Sarah Palin never spoke, nor did Oprah Winfrey (glimpsed in the Chicago crowd with Steadman).
It may be time, as Obama said quoting Abraham Lincoln, to heal the divide. That's going to take time and hard work, and, as Obama said, there will be set backs and false starts. But he looked like a guy who could hardly wait to get at it. That was what the whole world needed to see.
UPDATE: A guy can only watch so many channels on election night and I missed a ton on other channels. For more on the coverage, check out CanWest TV scribe Alex Strachan's always on top of it blog TV Guy's Guide to Good TV. Among other things, Strachan points out that nimble Anderson Cooper shines over Blitzer, that Diane Sawyer is more anchor-worthy than Katie Couric and that someone should stick a fork in David Frost over at the BBC.