I watched Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday with a profound sense of pride. Americans finally chose a person of color as its President, not because of his race but apparently despite it. America elected Obama because a majority of its voters preferred his ideas, liked how he campaigned and embraced his messages of change, hope and progress.
The only thing that bothers me about Barack’s success is that it took centuries for America to elect someone other than a white guy. After decade upon decade of saying one thing only to do another, we finally lived up to the promise our framers made: that in this land, all are equal. Why did it take so long for us to put our money where their mouths were?
America was born on the backs of slaves. Despite the obvious contradiction, racism and our Constitution coexisted. While slavery was deemed ethically objectionable by some, it was considered a necessary evil. Our economy demanded it. Over time, its rationalizations became deeply ingrained as the unjust double standard passed from generation to generation.
After emancipation, America’s racism mutated from overt (legal slavery) to covert (indentured servitude). Once it was clear that was little difference, the practice became less “fashionable”. Eventually, legitimate sharecropping provided many rural blacks a start. Some tested their luck in southern cities where prospects were limited and the pay was low. Others migrated to northern cities, where jobs were more plentiful. Soon there were black seamstresses, soldiers, domestics, musicians, entertainers, clergy, club owners, impresarios, butchers, grocers, gangsters and factory workers. Many black urban neighborhoods became self-sustaining. America’s economy still needed African Americans, just in different roles.
South of the Mason-Dixon Line, “separate but equal” (aka “Jim Crow”) laws evolved to accommodate people of color but also to keep them “in their place.” This system survived well past its obsolescence. The north had progressed. Life wasn’t easy there, but northern racism was less institutionalized than in the south.
Eventually, folks wondered why? This led to the American Civil Rights Movement. Long and difficult, many suffered and died in the struggle. Gradually, blacks won equal rights on paper but continued to feel discrimination’s sting on our streets, in our schools, at work and in our courts. Whites had no desire to share the upper rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. And after all, if you were white and poor, at least you weren’t black. The problem persisted.
Enough history. The point is, it took centuries to counter the racism that limited the prospects of a candidate like Barack Obama. In this land of opportunity, the top job was off limits to those of sepia hue.
One who dreams of doing something no one else has done and then does it can prove to be extraordinary. While his or her burden can be great, society’s reward can be vast. I suspect this of Obama; a suspicion reinforced every time I learn more about him. His campaign broke records in fund raising, in the application of current technology and by building a massive grass roots network of field-based operations that once trained, were empowered to make their own decisions. Obama’s ground game was second to none. He successfully negotiated the Clinton’s formidable mine field to win his party’s nomination.
Despite the disparaging remarks of the McCain camp on Obama’s tenure as a community organizer, it’s that very credential that helped secure McCain’s failure. Lessons learned on the street run deep and tend to stick. Obama’s street smarts honed his political instincts as well as his ambition. He learned from his defeats. As a result, he thrived in Illinois’ “take no prisoners” political landscape, forging alliances that would prove useful later.
I appreciate President Obama’s candor. He’s “comfortable in his own skin”. He needs the best and the brightest as advisers, not a gaggle of sycophants afraid to say they smell poop even if it’s on Obama’s shoe. Obama knows this. Confident, he hires advisers based on merit and acumen rather than a signature on a loyalty oath. A couple nuggets may not pan out but what’s left is solid gold.
I like leadership that reacts calmly in the face of crises. As the bottom fell out of world financial markets triggering an economic Tsunami, Obama was cool as a cucumber . He gather data, sought advice, conferred with experts and quickly came up with a plan. McCain’s “the sky is falling,” reaction stood in stark contrast. McCain created drama but contributed nothing. Economics was admittedly never McCain’s strong suit and his behavior proved it.
I hope that Obama’s election is a sign that our long-festering disgrace regarding race is on the mend. Regardless of color, gender, sexual preference, religion or lack thereof, what should matter most is what’s in the tool kit a candidate brings to the office. This was a contest between ideologues and ideas…and (for once) IDEAS won!
So, Huzzah! America elected its first mixed race president. We’ve been hiring mutts forever, so it’s nice to finally welcome one bearing a different pedigree. I like his style. I like that he has young kids and that the Obamas seems close. He’s a good writer, a great speaker and he drops a mean three.
That’s why, for the first time in a decade, I can honestly say that I’m PROUD to be an American! If in your eyes that makes me an anarchist, commie, heretic, criminal, traitor or anything less than a proud American, I can live with that.
But if you loathe Obama, at least give him a chance. I’m convinced that even if he doesn’t succeed, he’ll fare far better than a whole stack of the pasty white guys we’ve been hiring. And if we all pitch in, together we can restore America to its former luster.
It won’t happen overnight but I like our chances.