In the “West Wing” episode "Bartlet for America," the White House chief of staff, Leo McGarry, tells this story to his deputy, Josh Lyman:
A man falls into a hole and the wall is so steep he can't get out. A doctor walks by and the man says, "Can you help me?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down, and walks on. A priest walks by and the man says, "Father, can you help me?” The priest writes a prayer, throws it down, and walks on.
Finally a friend walks by. The man says, "Can you help me?" and the friend jumps into the hole with him. He says, "This is stupid, now we are both in the hole.” His friend replies: "Yes, but I've been in the hole before and I know the way out.”
Hemingway advised young writers to write one true sentence, and here is one: We are not the first generation of Americans to find ourselves in a hole. The great truth about Obama is that he believes, in the core of his soul, in the American idea that would be the heartbeat of his presidency. We are in this together. We will rise to the occasion with common purpose.
Obama says that those who give their lives for our country do not fight for red states or blue states, but for the United States. He means it. This man, whom Caroline Kennedy says with light in her eyes would be a president like her father, is also supported by those named Goldwater, Eisenhower, Buckley, Powell and now Ken Duberstein, who served President Reagan as chief of staff.
Obama is the quintessential American. He is descended from those who came from afar, as so many came to America through Ellis Island to stake their claim to hope. He is descended from a hero who fought with Gen. Patton, and a woman who helped build the arsenal for democracy from a factory in Kansas.
Obama did it the old-fashioned way, through brilliance leading to the presidency of the Harvard Law Review and a reverence for the Constitution. He believes in America as a beacon of hope. His victory will be applauded by friends of freedom everywhere who ask what we can do for our country and our world.
In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) reached out to discuss the possibility of running with John McCain. Kerry was exploring a concept with true presidential greatness. And then: McCain's man Weaver met with Bush's man Rove. McCain cast his lot with Bush. America lost one of the great opportunities in modern history.
What Kennedy knew, what Kerry sensed, what the famous Republican names who support Obama understand, is this:
America is a great and wonderful and special and extraordinary and incredible place that is truly a family of many faiths, a mansion of hope with many rooms, a community of shared patriotism with many dreams, an exemplar of what is possible when good men and women join together with a generosity of spirit that aspires to make dreams come true and light the world.
The man who jumped in the hole was right. We have been there before and know the way out. Barack Obama knows this, and before the sun rises again, the next great chapter of the American story will begin.
This article was first published at The Hill's Pundits Blog