Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sober Observations in the Wake of a Political Milestone

(Original published November 13, 2008)
It’s now nine days since America elected its first African-American president. Seconds after 11 p.m. (ET) on a crisp autumn night in New York City when the polls on America's West Coast closed, and the 14 networks reporting on the election declared Barack Obama the nation's 44th president, you could almost hear a distinct sigh of relief, followed instantly by a collective, joyful cry of "We did it!" ripple across the nation.
But since that watershed moment, conservative media commentators — some of whom only halfheartedly endorsed John McCain merely because he wasn’t a Democrat — continue to howl over spilt milk. Rather than offer any grain of reconciliation, they relentlessly carry on their attacks on Obama without even affording him the customary hundred days to settle in.
Remember, this is the far right faction that had as much influence for John McCain mistakenly choosing unqualified conservative political neophyte Sarah Palin for his running mate just to soothe their dissatisfaction with him, as anything else.
On New York 1, conservative commentator Curtis Sliwa ranted the night after the election and called it an "Obamanation," another term from his dictionary of nonsensical malapropisms.
On Sean Hannity's radio program, the host agreed with a caller, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq and who called the election one of the "worst moments" in the history of our nation. The man clarified his remark, noting it had "nothing to do with race," but rather "Barack Hussein Obama's" left wing politics.
For the next four years, regardless of President Obama's successes — or failures, they'll continue to spew their rage and incessantly criticize his every move. But if they can't come up with a more suitable alternative than Gov. Sarah Palin as their Great Right Hope for 2012, it may fuel the progress of moderation nationwide.
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Despite a campaign rife with fear-mongering and bogus innuendos, John McCain bowed out with poise and class on Election Night with a gracious, hands-across-the-aisle concession speech. The former POW showed his true character — that was practically nonexistent throughout his campaign — that I was drawn to eight years ago when I was tempted to vote for him if he won his party's nomination. That was before George Bush's rat squad spread a vicious lie that he fathered a black child out of wedlock, which ruined any chance he had to top of the GOP ticket.
If McCain would have displayed that positive quality, and criticized President Bush's policies more, he just may have edged Barack Obama — even with his vice presidential albatross, whose flame flickered as quickly as it sparked the campaign after the convention.
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For the time being, the international community has turned from loathing the United States, during eight years of the Bush Administration, to admiring us for electing the first non-white president in our 232-year history and coming to the realization that that's not what America is really like.
Not only was Barack Obama's victory a milestone in American history, it was a significant moment that saw a few states that had been red for decades — and strongly supported George W. Bush four years earlier — turn a bright shade of blue.
But before optimists think America is becoming a lot more tolerant and open-minded, they should realize that while several coastal blue states voted heavily for Obama their voters rejected propositions for such liberal issues as extending gay rights.
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In closing, I must note that I didn't anticipate what the impact of Barack Obama's historic victory would mean to black Americans — until election night. (It took me a while to appreciate the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring “I Have A Dream" speech in 1963.) But when I watched the stirring victory celebrations in Grant Park in Chicago and on the streets of Harlem in Manhattan, the exhilaration and teary-eyed faces of citizens of all shades moved me. (On the other hand, the crowd gathered in Phoenix to hear Sen. McCain concede looked like it was 99.44 percent Ivory Snow white.)
Ever since the Supreme Court integrated schools over 50 years ago and Congress passed laws to end segregation in the Deep South 40 years ago, black Americans have been — for the most part — patiently waiting to see how far they could progress in a nation where many tend to remain a benignly neglected minority as the ugly specter of racism has yet to be justly overcome. Despite seeing advances of successful African-Americans in all levels of government, including the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, in corporate America, in higher education and as thriving civil servants, few blacks — and few whites for that matter — ever thought they'd see a descendant of an African become president in their own lifetimes.
One hundred and forty five years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, 53 years after Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Alabama, more than 40 years after ancestors of former slaves were given the right to vote, 36 years after Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the nation' first black woman in Congress who ran for president when Barack Obama was not yet a teenager, America has its first president of African-American heritage.
Across America, for many aging civil rights leaders, who paved the way for equal opportunities in the 1960s, plus the many freedom fighters who died for the cause, electing a black president is the pinnacle of their struggles for equality.
Somewhere in heaven, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is smiling as he watches a piece of the vast dream he envisioned — "a nation where (people) will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" — fulfilled.
It's certainly great to celebrate a triumphant election in which a black candidate inspired a diverse electorate to catapult him to victory, though it will be much more challenging to transform the uncompromising attitudes of bigots who unfailingly defend barriers to combat explicit — and tacit — racism in America.