Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Couldn't Have Said It Nearly As Well

Susan Pearce is a good friend who shares ideas with me regularly. She sent me this e-mail recently and I asked for her permission to put it here, because, quite frankly, it captures the way I feel but I couldn't have said it anywhere nearly as well. Thanks Susan:

I think I've finally slept off my election campaign hangover and can speak coherently.

It has been an exhausting campaign with plenty of highs and lows. Most of us Democrats couldn't believe, right up until the last moment, that we were actually going to win this one. It's been a long time since we have had cause to celebrate! But I think Barack Obama is going to be a great President. It's as if his very election, 76 days before he has even been inaugurated, has already changed the attitude of the country and the world. Have you ever seen such crowds and exuberation after an election? Truly amazing.

One of my big hopes was something that is already happening: the positive reaction from the rest of the world. It gives the rest of the world a chance to push the "Reset" button and give us another chance to live up to the ideals that we've never stopped espousing, but which too often we stopped exemplifying.

Of course, now he bears the weight of almost unprecedented expectations, and he is going to have to perform. Not the least of his problems is going to be to get Congress to transcend their ingrained, petty political thinking and actually see themselves as public servants instead of priviledged royalty. Barack actually means what he has said about needing to work together to find common ground, the need for individual sacrifice, and that we are at just the beginning of a long, steep climb. But most of them have lived their lives making politically expedient, empty promises, and being expected to actually fulfill them is going to be a quite a shock.

One thing that has bothered me is that it seemed like the minute the election results were announced, the media went into overdrive, talking about the significance of electing our first black President. Excuse me, but Obama never ran on race. He never used the Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson rhetoric of division. He said, "Look at me, look at what I believe, look at what I think we need to do about our economy, our foreign policy, our energy and environmental crises." So why is his election suddenly all about his race, instead of a mandate for the policies he articulated?

I believe that one consequence of his election will be to advance race relations in many ways--breaking negative racial stereotypes about black men and black families that whites may hold, and being a positive role model and offering hope for blacks and other minorities that, if you get an education and work hard, you can achieve the American Dream.

I read a quote this morning from a young black man that said, in effect, that Obama's election meant that "maybe whites aren't as prejudiced as we thought they were." If Barack's election means that blacks and whites are going to have to reexamine their conscious and unconscious prejudices, that will be fantastic.

But it won't be enough. Obama isn't going to be judged as "a great President--for a black guy." Or, "better than the last white guy." He's going to be judged by what he does or does not accomplish. Period.

I don't mean to diminish or trivialize Obama's transcendence of racial attitudes. But do you know who I think has done that to a much greater degree, at this point? Tiger Woods. Don't laugh! When Tiger first turned pro in an almost exclusively white man's sport, his race was a big deal. It was pointed out that he would be playing at clubs he couldn't belong to. When he began to win a lot of tournaments, I heard a lot of comments and jokes that boiled down to, "He's a bit 'uppity,' isn't he?" But his dominance --his excellence--over the past 10 years has transcended that. Who do you now hear saying, "Tiger Woods is the greatest black golfer of all time?" You may still hear someone argue that Jones or Hogan or Nicklaus was better overall, but the racial adjective has disappeared.

As with Tiger Woods, I think that the miracle of this election is not that this country has suddenly transcended its racial divisions--that's way too much to expect. But it does prove that an exceptional individual can make people see beyond race. The epitome of Martin Luther King's dream was that we would reach a time when a man was judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. We've made a start at that.

But Obama's dream is unity at all levels? Remember ". . .We don't live in a black America or a white America . . . a Blue America or a Red America . . . we live in the United States of America. . ."

Maybe the question is not whether Obama can live up to our expectations. Maybe the question is, "Can we live up to his?"


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