Yes, it is significant that a country with our history was able to set that aside in order to elect an African American President, but let's look at the alternatives. Initially, President Obama had to beat out a woman pursuing that same office. Was this a vote for Obama or against Hillary Clinton. In addition, Sara Palin would have been our first woman vice-president, and would have taken over had anything happened to John McCain. Was the vote for Obama or against McCain/Palin?
I would agree that one of the biggest reasons it is one of the most important stories of the decade is the fact that he is the first African-American to be elected as President of the United States. He was able to capture the interest and support of a large cross section of the country in doing so.
Many would focus on his being the first African-American elected as US President, but I think that misses the larger story, which was public participation in that election, from donations $10 at a time, young people who had never voted, donated or volunteered before doing all three, caucuses that were truly multicultural and multi-generational in nature, and the single greatest political ground game in at least my lifetime, and perhaps in US electoral history.
Just as I told myself when I was standing on the National Mall in January 2009 with 1.3 million of my closest friends, I don't think I will ever see anything like that election again in my lifetime.
We will not know for a long time whether the election of Pres. Obama is truly the most important story of the decade, but there are at least two reasons why it looks as if it may eventually earn that title.
First, Pres. Obama was, of course, the first president to have significant amounts of non-white "blood." This is a major event in our country's history for symbolic reasons if for nothing else. Obama's election is visual proof that our prejudices are not as strong as they once were.
Second, Pres. Obama's election and time in office so far has helped lead to a huge right-wing backlash. This is best seen in the rise of the "Tea Party." If this movement continues, Obama's election may be seen as the catalyst for a major shift in American politics -- a shift towards more populism and conservatism.