Barack Obama's decisive win in Wisconsin makes it increasingly likely that he will be the de facto Democratic nominee, possibly as early as the end of April. If he wins either Ohio or Texas on March 4, and carries the day in Pennsylvania on April 22, then any refusal by Hillary Clinton to concede would be nothing more than a sad and squalid sideshow on the road to his nomination.
I believe that if he makes it past the primary campaign, then Obama will be the next President of the United States. The next month is the turning point.
One angle on this astonishing development that deserves more attention is the way that the actual fulfillment of this promise -- an African-American man elected to the office of President of the United States -- answers a question that has haunted this country from its beginnings.
This question goes to our deepest understanding of what it means to be an American.
While the fact of a black man in the White House could never, in itself, redeem the suffering and injustice and persistent inequities brought on by the institution of slavery, it nevertheless would mean one thing clearly: we would know, once and for all, that the idea of America is true.
This question has haunted us from the beginning: Is it true?
The generation of 1776 no doubt included many wise, generous men and women. We owe to them our form of government and the basis of our culture. But they were also, by today's standards, morally abject, flawed -- monsters.
"Tremble" as he did for his country when he reflected on the great wrong of slavery, Thomas Jefferson did not free his own slaves from bondage while he lived, or even upon his own death.
Others among the framers, though opposed to slavery, were willing to compromise with Southern states and accord slave-owners a 3/5 increase in their representation for every human being they owned. This ugly stab to the body of the Constitution, staring out at us like an open wound when we read its words, was an admission of failure. It hypocritically acknowledged the humanity of each enslaved person while depriving him or her of the full dignity of a person (you are worth exactly 2/5 less than your "master"!); and then, to make matters even worse, it assigned this insulting valuation to the oppressor's gain.
This is not to mention the other unmentionables of that era: the genocidal campaigns against the indigenous people of the continent, the subordinate position of women both personally and politically, the barbarous treatment of criminals or other outliers to society...
But the story did not stop there of course. We congratulate ourselves on the abolitionist movement, the Emancipation Proclamation, the fight for universal suffrage, the civil rights victories of the 20th century. There has been progress, undeniable progress. Yet, for all of the gains made with each generation, we have still been haunted.
Is America more than its contemporaries would have it? Are we moving forward?
"We didn't land on Plymouth rock, my brothers and sisters," Malcolm X famously said, "Plymouth rock landed on us!" The struggles of America's citizenry were so often not chosen; they were forced upon us. We have edged along the rockface of history, but always with tremendous risk, and tremendous resistence.
But is the idea of America true?
The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America would answer that with a resounding "Yes."
The Presidency is different. It is an office which lies at the center of our national mythology. The White House, too, is different. We follow its holiday decorations and redesigns and the changing of its portraits with an ardor we normally would reserve for our own living rooms. It is a physical space which somehow represents the locus of our own aspirations to good citizenship and strong leadership. The very names resonate: the Oval Office, the Lincoln Bedroom.
To have an African-American take up residence at the White House, and more importantly, make decisions on our behalf as the Commander-in-Chief and Head of State, would be nothing less than a second revolution.
It would mean that the legacy of race in this country, the open wound in the body of our Republic, will have begun to heal. If this -- our secular original sin -- can be overcome, then who knows what future generations can do? The idea of America would be true.
How strangely satisfying to know that future generations, our children's grandchildren, may see us as morally abject, flawed -- monsters!