Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Day: Barack Obama, President-Elect

What a historic moment, a historic day.

It is a new day for America.

Barack Obama is the new president elect. The nation was and is at once divided and united--Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike; a diverse people across racial, class, religious, regional, gender and generational backgrounds. And so this was the backdrop of this past year’s presidential race—a race of the 21st century.

Races in the past were divided along lines of political stances on the issues at hand. In this new era the race was one about building bridges, respecting difference, and yet building a momentum toward a collective whole. It was about finding ways to unite a divided country—not simply divided across political issues, but across different social locations. And in the 21st century, social differences was the key to Obama’s success. He knew that this was a critical componet of the race—that it wasn’t just about the issues but the *people* (a diverse people) who were affected by the issues. It was the person who could speak to these diverse audiences that would become the next president of the United States. Would it be a woman (Clinton), a black man (Obama) or white veteran who represented stability of the old school? It was a race of the 21st century, one that redefined how politics is understood, presided and administered. It was a race that resulted in a record numbers of American voter participation. It was a race unlike one history has seen before.

With it’s political philosophy of power, conquer, force, determination and domination, the Vietnam War era has not produced a President (as seen in the last 3 elections). The Civil Rights ideals of unity, diversity and political and social pluralism, has produced the new President (Obama). The Vietnam and Civil Rights Era overlap, and yet the political frameworks sit in different camps. The Civil Rights Movement stressed voices from the ground up, equality and civility of humanity, and a desire to be heard and seen (Women’s Rights, Black/Brown/Yellow Power movments), a position from which Obama works.

Obama is a politician of the new generation. He will use a bi-partisan approach to running the country. He will build bridges across racial and class lines. And he will work well with old school politicians while brining into the White House progressive, out-of-the-box thinkers.

His speech tonight in particular was brilliant—politically and rhetorically speaking. In my opinion, Obama is one of the greatest orators of the 21st century. He has mastered the spoken word well. Tonight’s speech was about building bridges across generations in particular. He did this tonight by drawing upon quotes and references to the Kennedys—a smart move to call out to the baby boomers, and the white middle class Americans of an era that ushered in hope and prosperity for the nation. He referenced without name, Martin Luther King, Jr., as a nod to his African American supporters who struggled through oppression and discrimination yet who have seen King’s hope and vision come to a reality tonight. He called to notions of “progress” rhetoric from the historical modern era of politicians pre-WWI and WWII, acknowledging disappointed Republicans, linking the past to the present change American is witnessing through the election of the nation’s first Black (i.e. bi-racial) president. He also spoke to the technology and intelligence of the nation through the landing of the man on the moon—a notion alluding to the U.S.’s ability to achieve seemingly “unachievable” dreams. Tonight’s victory therefore reflecting another “impossible” possible dream achieved. It was a brilliant speech, right up there next to MLK’s “Dream” speech, echoing the same Black preaching influences—the cadence, the call-and-response format (“yes we can”), and the ability to draw and emotional connection, offer hope, and yet speak of the difficulty and patience that will be needed to bring change in the economy, war, and crisis on the home front. Obama eloquently asked for the nation’s support tonight “we can’t do it in one year, maybe not even in one term” he honestly stated. (my paraphrase).

Latinos came out to vote in record number, particular outside of the traditionally Latino voiting sates of California and Florida. This time they represented New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada with 66% supporting Obama. 41% of Asian Americans were predicted to vote for Barack Obama. It will be interesting to see what their actual voting results were. My colleague and political scientist advisor is an expert on Asian American and Latino voting patterns, particularly how religion, and especially evangelicalism, affects voting participation. She has returned from a trip to DC and is hurriedly writing up her findings especially per today’s election. I myself produce scholarship on the ways in which race and religion (American evangelicalism) affects American social politics and civic engagement. While electoral politics is not my specialty, I have seen that 2nd-5th generation upwardly mobile Asian Americans are able, like Barack Obama, to cross lines generational, class, racial and gender lines to achieve political mobilization for social change. Asian American's position in their geographical space and in the political climate of the 21st century has allowed them to navigate across social barriers and lines of social difference. In the same way, Barack Obama, has mastered the ability to navigate within the political, social, economic, and spiritual contours of the incredible diverse landscape of the United States.

Tonight was a historic moment for America. What an honor it has been to be a part of the generation that has witnessed and ushered in social and political change. It will be a moment talked about for generations to come. May God bless America—and I say this not as a civil religion term (i.e. a political or apolitical statement), but from a spiritual perspective. With overt racism still at hand, and with a large number of individuals frightened of rapid change, there will continue to be unrest, strife, and fear that spreads across the nation.

On a down side, tonight Barack accepted a death wish. He cannot deny the possibility that he may be assassinated. But his election has made a lasting statement to the younger generation—that change has come, that there will be new opportunities for women and people of color in national politics and elsewhere…and that America is truly a land of optimism and hope. It is the values that the nation was founded on. American history has been about expansion, progress and upward movement toward limitless possibility. I feared that America had seen it’s hay day, wondering if China will, in several decades, become the new powerhouse in the global system. But America has proven itself once again to be a nation of change, a place where the voices and values of the people truly matter, and where change can come from the bottom up…that ordinary people like you and I can make a positive difference in the world. No matter what political side you are on, tonight was a testimony to hope and to possibility brought about by a collective people. The nation truly shined its best tonight.

1 comment:

Saul Goode said...


For fans of Jones Soda, order your "Yes We Can" Cola.