Jed L. of The Jed Report and DailyKos put together this fantastic video, which chronicles the historic and incredible night of November 4, 2008, a night, as The New York Times said, in which the racial barrier to the highest office in our nation finally fell as Barack Obama was elected, by a wide margin, the 44th President of the United States.
It doesn’t matter if you voted for John McCain, Barack Obama, or a third party candidate; this election, as I stated before, proves something about America. It speaks to our collective ability to select its leader based on the content of his character and the power of his ideas, not the color of his skin.
The world will forever see America differently.
I’ve been reading a lot about the nature of this election and its national and international implications, and there are a few articles worth sharing:
Salon.com’s Rebecca Traister unpacks the meaning of Jesse Jackson’s tearful reaction to the election. In an article entitled “America Has Cracked Open,” Traister observes:
Watching him, you couldn’t help thinking of the kinds of generational tension that these two years of enormous change — so swift and sudden sometimes we haven’t even been able to properly record it, let alone comprehend it or credit it to those who built the groundwork for it — have evoked. During this year, in which like-minded groups of people were forced to compete with and among each other for a rare, unprecedented seat at the presidential table, there has been, among African-Americans, women, the young and the old in progressive America, far less hand-extending and hat-tipping than there has been finger-pointing and back-turning. And whatever Jackson may actually have been feeling in those first post-victory moments, it was not hard to see this pain written on his face.
But not 20 minutes after the news of Obama’s victory had begun to sink in, the cameras again panned to Jackson, and this time his cheeks were wet with tears, his hand at his mouth. He still looked anxious, and tense, as if he, like so many of the people around him wandering saucer-eyed and silent, were still wound tight with fear: Is this happening? Is it real? And if so, can I begin to weep?
But the tears — on Jackson’s face, and on many of our faces — are real, as is Obama’s victory, as perfect and imperfect, back-achingly difficult and mind-bendingly easy as it’s been. Here in Brooklyn, N.Y., there are fireworks down the street and people cheering as they run up the sidewalk; from the roof of my building, you can see that across the East River, the Empire State Building has been lit up blue. This is happening. America has cracked open.
While watching Jackson on Tuesday night, I also couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind. As Traister points out, Jackson is from a different generation of African-American leaders, and he’s been critical of and has been criticized by Obama throughout the course of the campaign season. That aside, I can’t help but think that Reverend Jackson wasn’t just crying tears of joy. There was also, subtly, an expression of sadness. Sadness, perhaps, for the civil rights champions who never lived to see this day, people like his mentor and friend Martin Luther King, Jr., who lost his life in the struggle for civil rights. Sadness, perhaps, that they will never truly know the way in which their life’s work paved the way for an America in which a man named Barack Obama could ascend to the Presidency, only forty years after Dr. King’s death.
How could Jesse Jackson not cry, standing in that crowd, realizing that whatever hurt time and generational difference might have inflicted on his project and his legacy, he was witnessing the dawn of a world that his work made possible, but that he had not been able to make possible himself.
I recognize that some of my readers here in Central Louisiana don’t care too much for Reverend Jackson, but I’d hope they could put those personal feelings aside and marvel at the authenticity and the reality of that moment.
In another Salon piece by James Hannaham entitled “Our Biracial President,” we are reminded that Obama’s victory does not represent an end to racism or racial politics, “just a hopeful sign of the beginning of the end.”
As Obama gave his acceptance speech in Chicago, the media seemed to enjoy focusing on the elation of black communities in Harlem, in Kenya, and at Morehouse College, or on the tear-stained faces of Oprah and Jesse Jackson, as if black people had always been primarily invested in Obama’s triumph. But we can’t forget that the black political establishment and a big chunk of their constituency was initially very slow to warm to the candidate. (Well, except the Kenyans.) Here, he was the white man’s black candidate, carefully vetted before winning the trust everyone seemed to think black people would lavish upon him based solely on his race.
Obama’s Caucasian heritage has not evaporated just because he’s the first American president to be unashamed to have a shot of espresso in his vanilla latte. By voting for him, whites have shown their acceptance on a major level, but if everyone continues to interpret his presidency primarily in terms of race, we’re simply perpetuating the same old values. The Obama presidency gives us the opportunity to see more clearly into a future when the pain and injustice of the past, though it will not be forgotten, can be transformed into a shared purpose, and we can help the grand family squabble of American race relations to settle down. Like most American families, we’ll have our differences, but we will be able to sit down at the same table and show each other some respect.
This is a wise observation, though I would argue that President-elect Obama’s initial tepid support in the African-American community had more to do with Hillary Clinton’s institutional advantages and the reluctance to actually believe Obama had a chance with white Americans. I do not believe, as the writer suggests, that Obama was, initially, the white man’s black candidate. His early struggle in attracting African-American voters was more of a reflection of a (at-the-time) pragmatic assessment that a black man was still less likely to win than a white woman.
Still, I can’t argue with the writer’s basic conclusions: Interpreting or understanding his election and his administration merely through the lens of race is counterproductive.
To that end, the Los Angeles Times’s “Obama’s Post Racial Promise” by Shelby Steele seeks to unpack the dynamics of race in this election and the ways in which white Americans who supported Obama may unwittingly perpetuate racial politics (and not post-racial politics) by suggesting that they voted for Obama, in part, because of his race:
But there is an inherent contradiction in all this. When whites — especially today’s younger generation — proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer’s ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally.
Although I understand what Professor Steele is attempting to articulate, I think he’s a little imprecise with his words: If white Americans voted for Obama out of a “racial motivation,” then it is most certainly not the type of motivation Professor Steele implies. Indeed, it’s actually the opposite: It’s an expression of a rejection of so-called racial loyalties. It is definitively post-racial. Continuing:
The torture of racial conflict in America periodically spits up a new faith that idealism can help us “overcome” — America’s favorite racial word. If we can just have the right inspiration, a heroic role model, a symbolism of hope, a new sense of possibility. It is an American cultural habit to endure our racial tensions by periodically alighting on little islands of fresh hope and idealism. But true reform, like the civil rights victories of the ’60s, never happens until people become exhausted with their suffering. Then they don’t care who the president is.
Presidents follow the culture; they don’t lead it. I hope for a competent president.
While I also hope for a competent President, I believe Professor Steele may be missing the point: This election was not typical. It represented a realignment, and while no one doubts the hard work has yet to be done, it’s difficult to deny that, on the issue of race in America, we have taken a giant leap forward.
Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman seems to understand. In today’s New York Times, Krugman wrote a piece entitled “The Obama Agenda,” arguing that Obama’s election doesn’t merely represent a profound moment in history, it also represents a real shift in politics:
About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.
While many on the right continue to argue that this election somehow proves America is a “center right country,” the results of the election tell a different story. America is decidedly moving to the left. As Markos of the DailyKos pointed out today, only four states voted in higher numbers for the Republican ticket than they did in 2004. (Unfortunately, Louisiana was one of those states).
FL : D+8
Back to Krugman:
Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it’s also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.
So a serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs.
The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.
It’s hard to argue with a man who won this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics on his prescription for our economy.