Thursday, November 6, 2008
We are bearing witness to history– all of us.
The election of Barack Obama is a remarkable milestone not just for what it says about who we are, but about who we no longer want to be.
Obama, of course, is the first African-American to win the highest office in this country.
But what has made his campaign all the more remarkable is the way he managed to keep his race from becoming the issue on which it– and he– are judged.
After a period of irresolution on the Rev. Wright issue, about which Obama was, to his credit, obviously anguished, he effectively answered questions about where he stands with a Philadelphia speech that defused the race issue as effectively as John F. Kennedy standing up to Baptist ministers in 1960.
The much-touted “Bradley Effect,’’ named after the 1982 race in which the late Los Angeles mayor was unexpectedly defeated in his gubernatorial contest against George Deukmejian because of last-minute racial backlash, particularly in Orange County, did not materialize this time. Let’s be clear: Barack Obama is no Tom Bradley. I was reporting in Southern California at the time, and I knew Bradley– a decent man who would have been a much better governor than his opponent.
TOO MANY HAVE FOUGHT IN THE CAUSE OF CIVIL RIGHTS, TOO MANY HAVE BLED, AND TOO MANY HAVE DIED FOR IT TO BE FORGOTTEN – NOR SHOULD IT BE.
But Obama’s candidacy has been entirely different. His soaring eloquence and appeal to reject our cynicism about “politics’’ represents a badly needed change in our collective conversation.
This time is different.
We are not “over’’ the racial issue, anymore than we can be over birth, death or the cycles of the moon. Too many have fought, too many have bled, and too many have died for the civil rights struggle to be forgotten– nor should it be.
But it is to Obama’s credit that he refused to let the politics of race define this contest.
The aplomb with which he beat the expectations game to become the Democratic Party nominee against the most compelling field of contenders in recent years showed the composure we will need in a president who will lead us out of the current economic mess into a brighter future and in a commander in chief who will get us out of the far more tragic Iraq quagmire.
The “change’’ mantra ran the risk of appearing to be just one more example of brilliant branding, the Democratic equivalent of “Morning in America.’’
But when the economy tanked, it marked a perfect storm for Obama to conquer his last political frontier: voters who needed someone they thought would hear their concerns about their future, their families and their country.
Once again, Obama’s cool temperament stood him in good stead.
While John McCain, an honorable soldier who admittedly knows little about the economy, frantically flew around in an effort to demonstrate that he was “in charge,’’ Obama watched and patiently waited, demonstrating the honesty– and modesty– we need from leaders.
They say it’s better to be lucky than smart. Obama is both.
And sometimes you make your own luck, as he proved during the grueling primaries and the shorter dash to the White House.
Hopefully, the new president will continue to beat the odds. To do so, he will have to demonstrate even more grace under pressure. We build our heroes up to tear them down– and we in the media deserve some responsibility for this destructive cycle. Those who expect Obama to suddenly morph into a combination of Huey P. Newton, Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore are in for a rude awakening.
So, a special message to Obama supporters: Keep him honest, but cut the guy some slack. Save it for what counts. Fair-weather friends are a dime a dozen, and worth about as much. Expect attacks from Limbaugh, O’Reilly and the rest– but remain wary of unproductive bickering on the left.
We have a new president who can make history. Not instantly. Not by making everyone happy by doing everything that everyone who supported him wants, but by doing the right thing: Trying to make the best decisions on the basis of what will work and what will help America– and the rest of the world.
The name of this column is “The Local Spin’’ so it’s a fair question: What will this mean for Monterey? Maybe nothing, this election week, as the pundits chatter. Hopefully a little more after Inauguration Day, if you’re struggling to keep your job, pay your bills or care for a sick loved one. Much more than that if you have a relative fighting in a foreign land. Unknowably more if you’re an African-American or a Hispanic child, dreaming of a brighter future. One man, no matter how eloquent, can’t fix every problem. But one man can make a difference. Then again, you already knew that. This election just proved it.