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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008

New Morning in America

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Sen. Barack Obama’s history quaking win in the year’s first presidential contest in Iowa prompted one particularly absurd journalistic analysis to suggest that Obama’s victory showed that America had finally become colorblind.       

Could any journalist in America possibly think that the overwhelmingly white participants in the Iowa caucuses didn’t realize they were voting for a black man? In fact, to suggest that 95% white Iowa suddenly was stricken with colorblindness grossly understates Obama’s achievement. White people who want to go to great lengths to deny the existence of racism are fond of saying that when they look at someone, they don’t see either a black person or a white person. They just see a person. Black people think that’s hilarious. They think white people must be awfully dim or outright lying to claim not to notice when someone is black. Obama didn’t win in Iowa because voters didn’t see him as black.

Obama won because Iowans saw him for exactly who he is—a brilliant black man with the oratorical gift to inspire both whites and blacks to believe America really can live up to the beautiful words of our founding fathers. Those words about equal rights and equal opportunities for all Americans were never more distant than on the day they were written by wealthy, white, male property owners who restricted participation in American democracy to wealthy, white, male property owners.

But we could now be at one of those historic turning points when heart-stirring rhetoric becomes a reality.

Voters of all races enthusiastically supporting a black man who both embodies and eloquently expresses the dreams of our nation is a far better story than the dubious claim that voters somehow forgot about the racial divide in America.

Bringing People Together

Obama likes to talk about bringing together red states and blue states as the United States of America. Interesting color choices those. He could just as easily talk about bringing together black and white, but he doesn’t have to. His campaign and his crowds personify that.

When civil rights leader Jesse Jackson ran for president, he called his campaign the Rainbow Coalition. But his was an African- American campaign run to keep the concerns of African Americans before the Democratic Party.

Obama’s campaign, which truly is a Rainbow Coalition, is not being run to send a message. It’s being run to elect a president.

Obama respects the civil rights heroes on whose shoulders he stands. They were the ones who opened the doors to Harvard Law School so that he could graduate near the top of his class.

He also demonstrates that the struggle for civil rights is not just an inspirational story for African Americans. On the night of his victory in Iowa, Obama invoked the images of young people in the South braving fire hoses, dogs and bombs to secure the dream of America.

That’s an inspirational story for all Americans who want positive political change. The greatest compliment every other candidate for the presidency—Democrat and Republican—paid to Obama’s national leadership was to begin parroting his call for change after his success in Iowa.

The attempt was particularly absurd coming from Republican candidates who have failed to distance themselves from the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. The most hilarious candidate claiming to be an agent of change was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In the New Hampshire debate, Sen. John McCain laughed openly, gleeful to remind voters that Romney had changed positions on nearly everything he once claimed to believe to pander to right-wing Republicans.

What is impossible for any other candidate to copy from Obama is the upbeat theme of inspirational hope he expresses so eloquently at the same time his own story exemplifies it.

At the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to claim that inspiring hope and excitement in an electorate that has long been alienated from politics was not enough. What the American people really need, she suggested, was someone with more experience at the political games in Washington that disgust the public so.

Obama had to remind her that inspirational leadership and uplifting speech really can make a difference by bringing people together and building popular majorities that cannot be denied.

The last time a president spoke with such a nation-stirring, positive belief in America, it was an amiable, retired actor who painted bright pictures of morning in America and a shining city on a hill.

Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan was just reading from a script to cover up the dismantling of social programs and the cutting of taxes for the wealthiest people in the country.

Obama appears to be the real deal. His election would not only immediately improve America’s sullied image in the eyes of the world, but, even more importantly, in the eyes of our own citizens as well.

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