The mandate given to Barack Obama in our Presidential election means an impressive number of Americans got over their racial and ethnic hang-ups due to an extraordinarily eloquent, confident and organized leader who speaks of peace, hope and change. Obama won in spite of his race and global family heritage that would have been insurmountable political liabilities for a lesser leader.
In my thirties, I was the Executive Director of the Presidential Campaign of Governor George Wallace of Alabama. Wallace was a master at using the politics of race and fear. Wallace's politics of fear are evident in his comments on the Watts riots in LA: "the pointy-headed liberals say that they (blacks) had an excuse to riot and burn and loot because they didn't have enough watermelon to eat when they were younguns."
While McCain/Palin steered clear of blatantly overt racism, Palin employed innuendo when she said of Obama,"This is not a man who sees America as you and I do." Islamophobic rhetoric abounded. Rep. Steve King an Iowa Republican told a Spencer, Iowa, radio station in March: ".. if [Obama] is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al‑Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11." Speakers at McCain/Palin rallies referred to "Barack Hussein Obama".
I was delighted to see Barack Obama overcome such politics of fear and division with his mesmerizing message of inclusion and respect for the diverse views of all people. This is the ideal of democracy. Our President is supposed to represent all our people. Obama's pleasant demeanor, superb social skills, with a friendly and cool manner of speaking, allowed him to allay fears created in some by his race and global family heritage.
Obama's democratic idealism is tempered with a political pragmatism necessary to make him an outstanding leader for these perilous times of global recession and war. I read Obama's; "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope" and they are two of the most well written political autobiographies ever.
I do have a concern -- his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. As a senior advisor to former President Bill Clinton, Emanuel championed law-and-order, "welfare reform" and conservative measures aimed at disassociating Democrats from liberal reforms of the past. After leaving the Clinton administration, Emanuel earned $18 million with a global investment banking firm in Chicago. During his run for Congress in 2002, Emanuel broke ranks with the Democratic congressional delegation from Illinois and supported the authorization of war against Iraq, explicitly backing President Bush. Emanuel is a leader of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. As chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives since 2004, he has promoted pro-war and pro-business center-right candidates against anti-war and pro-labor candidates in the primaries. Emanuel's appointment has raised concerns for a balanced approach to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Emanuel's Zionist father, a Chicago pediatrician told the Israeli daily Ma'ariv : "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House." Such dehumanizing tribal arrogance was lamented by a Palestinian student page when I was in the SC State Senator in 1979. Like Emanuel, she was the daughter of a physician. She said many Israelis viewed all Palestinians as a sub-class of menial laborers much like US racists stereotype blacks.
Hopefully, Emanuel will execute, not make policy.
Obama is an extraordinarily eloquent, confident and organized leader who speaks of peace, hope and change, not fractious tribalism. His election is also a good thing for our country and the world because of his race and global family heritage.