Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Barack Obama

The next few weeks are going to be full of exclamations and extravagant cheer (as the past few hours have been), but it's truly been the kind of great day that history books just aren't going to be able to fathom. Someday it will just be a matter of fact that Barack Obama was the first (of no doubt several) African-American Presidents. There will be colorful sketches of our President-elect (probably standing, smiling with his arms crossed) that will come in educational packets along with the visages of Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and others. Kids will simply memorize that he was the first black president like they know that George Washington was the first white president. It won't seem surprising or even unusual that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was elected president in a landslide. In time, the radical emotions we're feeling now are going to be replaced with blase acknowledgment. But this is a good thing. I'd rather our society be one in which it is accepted as a given that a black man can be president, than live in this euphoric bubble for the rest of history.

I remember starting a discussion in 2003 with some friends at Penn's dining hall about who would be the first person of "minority" status to break the Christian white man streak. Would it be a woman (not technically a minority), a Jewish American, an African-American, a Latino-American, an Asian-American, or other. Ultimately the consensus was that it couldn't be someone of predominantly Hispanic descent because of tension over Mexican immigration, and it wasn't likely to be an Asian person due to the relatively small portion of the population they represent. A practicing Muslim certainly seemed out of the question at that point. Joe Lieberman had almost been a heartbeat away from the Presidency only three years before, but even so, the conservative Christians didn't seem likely to go for a Jewish commander-in-chief, and Jews only make up about 1% of the US population. So we figured the safe bet would be a woman (there had been female executives in other countries, after all), or if the President died, his/her Jewish Vice President. Even five years ago, a black president seemed like something to strive toward in 2020 or 2024. I'm so rarely glad to be wrong.

In our defense, we couldn't have seen a candidate like Barack Obama coming from a mile away. Joe Biden famously gaffed when he called Obama an African-American candidate who is "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" but after the shock wears off, you get what he's saying. I don't think "clean" is meant to suggest an opposition to a supposed group of average, less-hygenic African-Americans. I think it's a contrast to politicians, who are known for being corrupt and for having sex scandal skeletons lurking in their closets. You know, dirty. And "articulate and bright" could draw a comparison to some current presidents. As for"nice-looking," well, Obama's handsome probably by most standards. And let's face it, as far as the personal histories of politicians go, Obama was squeaky. If Ayers, Rezko, and Wright are the worst characters they can associate with you, you know you're virtually bulletproof.

There are so many things I'm looking forward to during the Obama Presidency, but maybe most of all I'm looking foward to his Supreme Court appointments. Finally, 88-year-old liberal Justice Stevens can retire in peace, knowing that his seat won't be given to a right-wing idealogue. 75-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably feeling the same way. Even Stephen Breyer and David Souter, hovering on either side of 70, might want to consider calling it a career. How great would it be to get three or four fresh liberal faces on that court after such a long haul? I almost suspect that Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt have been carrying Stevens around Weekend-At-Bernie's style just to keep his seat out of Bush's hands.

And on top of it all, what a week to be a Philadelphian Democrat. Jeremiah Wright is going to have to change the punctuation and emphasis of his now-famous chant to, "God damn, America."

I'm sure things won't turn around overnight, but I'm more optimistic about our country's future than I've been in a long, long time.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Gail Collins, today:

"The boomers [Clinton and G.W. Bush] didn’t win any wars and that business about being self-involved was not entirely unfounded. On the other hand, they made the nation get serious about the idea of everybody being created equal. And now American children are going to grow up unaware that there’s anything novel in an African-American president or a woman running for the White House.

We’ll settle for that."