2009 to 2017 - Barack Obama (Democratic Party)
The Victory of Barack Obama: An African-American "Grasping the Presidential Wreath"
Although I am perfectly satisfied that no human process can elevate the black man to an equality with the white--admitting that it could be done--are we prepared for the consequences which then must follow? Are the people of the North prepared to. . . place their political power on an equality with their own? Are we prepared to see them mingling in our legislatures? Is any portion of this country prepared to see them enter these halls and take their seats by our sides, in perfect equality with the white representatives of an Anglo-Saxon race--to see them fill that chair--to see them placed at the heads of your Departments; or to see, perhaps, some Othello, or Toussaint, or Boyer, gifted with genius and inspired by ambition, grasp the presidential wreath, and wield the destinies of this great republic? From such a picture I turn with irrepressible disgust.-- Congressman James Henry Hammond, 1836
Chanting, "Yes, We Did!" and, alternately, singing, "Olay, olay, olay. Olay, olay, olay. ..." repeatedly blending in with the "Obama, Obama,..." chants to a popular Caribbean rhythm, surging crowds tramped past the White House into the older downtown area near the totalitarian brutalist architecture of the FBI building. Wildly clapping, a few sang, "America the Beautiful" others, completely lost for words, exulted by screaming, yelling and frentically chanting Obama until it was distorted into a howling scream. Heavy-set women danced while a middle-age black man with a chipped tooth smile exclaimed emotionally, "We Got it Baby!" tears flowing from his eyes.
For many it seemed they were celebrating a second Emancipation Proclamation. While the Republicans and the Right were inconsolable, for African Americans it was an especially sweet moment partially so because it came seemingly out of nowhere. Even twenty months prior to that day, few would have thought the emerging Illinois senator could even make a strong showing in a Democratic presidential primary. The notion of an African American being elected president of the United States was thought to be in the unforeseeable future, perhaps a generation or more away. That way of thinking was history now, it would all have to be reconsidered in light of an unanticipated good fortune for African Americans at the national level.
After it became clear that Senator Barack Obama had become the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president a profound reassessment of American society on the part of African Americans began. Political generations are based on significant events, developments and other markers of particular historical periods. Obama's victory stimulated a collective reassessment of the possibilities for blacks in American society, an analysis of whether or to what extent the old barriers of race combined with class stand in the way of individual and collective progress. Politically it tore asunder some old ties and allegiances that were based on a prior assessment of the most significant political facts and realities. The old title that former president Bill Clinton bore proudly, "the first black president," failed to survive Obamamania. That was understandable but the brutality and savagery that characterized its demise was completely unanticipated.
The sudden and dramatic rise of Barack Obama reshaped American politics while changing the course of African American relationships with the presidency forever. The question: "How did Barack Obama grow to become one of the most significant figures in American and world history?" has been a pivotal one in terms of the political activity of Americans, across the political spectrum, from left to right. For the right, the notion of Barack Obama's "otherness," a concerted effort to rationally prove what they emotionally feel, has dominated their behavior. He is fundamentally un-American, a product of "Kenyan anti-colonial socialist thought" according to some on the right.
Contrary to the oft-repeated notion that Barack Obama's background was somehow unknown and shrouded in mystery suggests that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's legendary non-reading habits are more widespread than originally thought since Obama's books alone provide much more biographical background than almost any prior presidential candidate.
America's Obama and Obama's America: The Rise of a Master Politician
Barack Obama was shaped by a more diverse set of childhood and adolescent experiences than the norm for African American youth. Born to a white American mother and a black Kenyan father, raised in Hawaii but spending three of his key formative years in Indonesia, Barack Hussein Obama already had an unusually diverse and culturally-rich background by the age of eighteen. Influenced heavily by his maternal foreparents who, like other Americans, suffered impoverishment during and after the Great Depression, Obama didn't have an African American-influenced socialization during his childhood. Stanley Dunham, Barack Obama's maternal grandfather was expelled and branded "incorrigible" after hitting the school principal. For a period, he became one of the thousands of unemployed "hobo" youth riding the rails as so many did during the late 1930s. Later, at age 22 he met 18 year-old Madelyn Lee Payne, Barack's grandmother affectionately called "Toot." Although her parents were strict Methodists who frowned on drinking, card-playing, and, even dancing, their daughter defied them to enjoy the parties and clubs of the Big Band Era. Later in life she would point to her Cherokee blood and still count the infamous Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, as one of her slaveholding ancestors.
Barack Obama's grandfather, Stanley Armour Dunham, distraught after the birth of the child he had hoped would be a boy, somehow convinced his wife to name the baby girl, Stanley Ann. Following his discharge from the Army, Stanley enrolled in college on the GI Bill but dropped out after only six months. Still unsettled,the family returned to Kansas where he found employment as the manager of a furniture store while his wife Madelyn worked as a restaurant cashier. Later they moved on to Texas before settling down in Seattle. After Stanley jubilantly announced that he had gotten a job in Hawaii, the family moved yet again despite determined resistance from his wife and daughter. Soon, Stanley's daughter adamantly refused to use the name "Stanley" opting instead to use her middle name "Ann." Enrolling in college at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii in the fall of 1960, she soon met Barack Obama, a young graduate student from Kenya. The young man from the Luo ethnic group was well known as he gave newspaper interviews and spoke often at schools and churches about life in Kenya.
A lover of oratory, his unforgettable voice was said to be comparable to that of actor James Earl Jones. Said to carry himself he a regal manner, the father of the future president was raised as a Muslim but had later become an atheist. Hawaii was probably the most favorable American location for interracial marriage, one in five white women married Asian or Asian-American men during the fifties, but few African Americans lived in Hawaii, comprising less than one percent in 1960. Not withstanding this, the Dunhams were not happy when their pregnant daughter told them she intended to marry the Kenyan Barack Obama. Neither was the president's paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, who grew angry at the news. Obama's father had already been married as an eighteen year old in Kenya and had a son.
Offered a full scholarship by the New School in New York City to complete his Ph.D., the promising scholar had a choice of whether to attend that school or Harvard. Instead of taking the New School offer in which he could have brought his family along he accepted the Harvard offer which only promised support for him as a solidary individual. While at Harvard he began dating another woman and his wife Ann filed for divorce in 1964 charging him with the meting out "grievous mental suffering." Kenyan Founding Father Tom Mboya actually criticized the senior Obama for abandoning his wife and young son Barack.
While he was still a toddler, Ann married another student she met at the University of Hawaii, Lolo Soetoro, an even-tempered athletic Indonesian. "For two years," Obama wrote in Dreams From My Father, "from the time I was four until I was six" Lolo wrestled with him and played chess with his grandfather in Hawaii. Later, she told Barack that Lolo had proposed to her and they were going to move to Indonesia to live and after months of preparation they boarded a Pan-Am jet to the distant land. Immediately, the depth and richness of the Indonesia culture made an impression on the young African American boy. Not only learning hundreds of facts, large and small, but learning a language, cultural norms, and, in general, the incredible complexity of life in the modern world, quickened the pace of his personal development.
In Indonesia, it took young "Barry" less than six months to become familiar with the young nation's language nd culture, being schooled by his step-father Lolo. Obama experienced many of key formative years of development in Indonesia, immersed, for a period, in it. He wrote, "I had survived chicken pox, measles, and the sting of my teachers' bamboo switches. The children of farmers, servants, and low-level bureaucrats had become my best friends, and together we ran the streets morning and night, hustling odd jobs, catching crickets, battling swift kites with razor-sharp lines--the loser watched his kite soar off with the wind, and knew..."
His eye-opening experiences, witnessing disease, rampant poverty, and violence, triggered thoughts that served to help develop his political and social consciousness. The misery and suffering of everyday impoverished Indonesian so evident on the city streets must have shocked him. In Dreams Obama stresses how good a teacher Lolo was:
...So it was to Lolo that I turned for guidance and instruction. He didn't talk much, but he was easy to be with. With his family and friends he introduced me as his son, but he never pressed things beyond matter-of-fact advice or pretended that our relationship was more than it was. I appreciated this distance; it implied a manly trust. And his knowledge of the world seemed inexhaustible. Not just how to change a flat tire or open in chess. He knew more elusive things, ways of managing the emotions I felt, ways to explain fate's constant mysteries.
His mother and her new Indonesian husband Lolo Soetoro couldn't afford the tuition at the International School so they enrolled Obama into a local school regular people's kids attended and where he was officially regarded and treated as a Muslim at the school.
Stanley Ann Soetoro eventually found a position teaching at the United States embassy in Jakarta and gave birth to a baby girl, Maya, in August 1970. While her husband Lolo found a high status job at an American oil company he remained dissatisfied with his wife's independent ways.
After three years in Indonesia Barack Obama moved back to Hawaii leaving his mother in Indonesia. Stanley Dunham, Obama's grandfather, used personal ties to wedge young Barry into the exclusive Punahou school, founded in 1841 by American missionaries. Despite the fierce competition for admittance to the school his grandfather actually succeeded in getting Barry a full scholarship. The pressure to diversify also facilitated his admittance to the exclusive school. As a child, then, Barack Obama twice faced the barrier of a prohibitively high cost of tuition, the first time in Indonesia he was forced into the public school, the second time his grandfather's enjoyed the requisite connections and finagled his way into the exclusive Hawaiian private school.
During this same period of his life, his father's life was in sharp decline. Barack Obama, Sr. had bumped into his mentor, one Tom Mboya on a Nairobi street and joked with him briefly. Minutes later Mboya was gunned down. From that point on, reportedly, his life began to spiral out of control. He began to drink heavily and suffered a series of injuries due to automobile accidents leading to his death at the relatively young age of 46.
Meanwhile the Panahou school was a place where Barry excelled and, despite the long periods of time he was separated from his mother, he was relatively well-adjusted and happy. After returning for a period, his mother announced that she and his sister Maya intended to return to Indonesia to do anthropological field work. She would let him decide for himself on whether to accompany them or stay in Hawaii with her parents. The fourteen year-old decided to stay in Hawaii with his grandparents not wanting to have to start over in a new place once again. It didn't hurt that his grandparents gave him a degree of independence that he cherished.
The Barack Obama the world would know in a few decades was taking shape on the campus, on the street, and, significantly, on the basketball court. His play on the court, earned him the nickname "Barry O'Bomber." In his last year of high school he made the varsity team, testifying to his improvement as a player. On the street, he sometimes hung out with a tougher more diverse crowd and occasionally got involved in minor violence and periodic drug use. Yet, all the while he was changing, while at Occidental College he hung out with a group of African American students but also Pakistanis and East Indians but began expressing a desire to go into public service to help the disadvantaged. Transferring to Columbia and seeking a fresh start, Obama's life took a more serious and disciplined turn. He stopped using drugs, gave up meat, and studied more intensively while he attended Columbia. Signs of a budding progressive political consciousness emerged as Obama became concerned about the poor globally and the lack of effort on the part of the West to help resolve the problem. Obama's trip to Pakistan during this period had a important influence on his political development as he witnessed the feudal-like oppression of Pakistan's rural masses.
By 1983 obama had decided to embark upon a community organizing career. His view of the state of black politics was that every path had been tried since the success of the civil rightrs movement, but had failed to yield positive results. His visit to Columbia university to hear famed Black Power advocate and civil rights leader, now black nationalist, Kwame Toure aka Stokely Carmichael, found him reflecting upon the state of the movement.
...The movement had died years ago, shattered into a thousand fragments. Every path to change was well trodden, every strategy exhausted. and with each defeat, even those with the best of intentions could end up further removed from the struggles of those they purported to serve.
Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer experience in low-income communities fighting for survival was key to his political growth and development. Through his work with people from all walks of life he learned to listen, and fight for community issues. He became acquainted with problems of everyday people, an understanding key to the emergence of competent policy-makers and politicians. The unusual breadth of his life experience, despite his relative youth, served him well when relating to ordinary low- and moderate-income working people. At the same time, his experiences relating to non-blacks and to diverse cultures allowed him to quickly learn and adapt his community organizing work in an effective way.
Barack Obama's Great Leap Forward
Increasingly self-confident, it was at Harvard, a university that his father graduated from, where Barack Obama first gained national attention when in February 1990 he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Later, a $150,000 book advance helped him financially and further legitimized his promising career.
In his first bid for elective office, a race for the a seat in the Illinois State Senate, Obama eliminated all of his opponents by closely checking their nominating petitions. One-by-one they were knocked off leaving him unopposed in the election. While in the State Senate he nearly came to blows with fellow state legislator Rickey Hendon, an African American representing Chicago's west side. This and similar conflicts with other African Americans legislators in the state senate stemmed partly from his incessant courting of Republicans. At the same time, he distanced himself from other African American senators from Chicago, it was with the overhelmingly white Republican senators from the suburban and rural areas of Illinois that he began increasingly to play poker, and, later, golf.
The emerging politician suffered a serious, if temporary setback, when he lost to Congressman Bobby Rush, a well-known former Black Panther Party leader. While his lack of deep roots in Chicago's African American community played a part in his crushing defeat, his refusal to end his Hawaii vacation and return for a key vote on gun control legislation were thought by many to have been decisive factors making in his defeat.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and Osama Bin-Laden became the nation's number one enemy, for a brief moment Obama became more pessimistic about his political future. Spurred by his wife Michelle's worry over the striking similarity of the name "Obama" to "Osama," he thought for a very brief period that it was a game-changer, and that the name "Obama" might doom or seriously limit his political future. When he snapped out of it he realized that the incumbent United States Senator Peter Fitzgerald was vulnerable after having deviated from the mainstream Republican policies sufficiently to disillusion other Republican stalwarts. Viewing Fitzgerald's low approval ratings Obama began to see this as an opportunity for him and the Democrats to reclaim the seat lost by Carol Moseley Braun in 1998. The problem was that most of the people he consulted on the possibility of running for the seat didn't feel he had a chance.
This changed after he heeded his advisers' advice and won over key figures among the wealthy, including billionaire heiress Penny Pritzer. During the campaign he came out against the war in Iraq and stressing the point that he was not against all wars, just this "dumb" Iraq war. Winning 53 percent of the vote in a four-way primary he faced Republican Jack Ryan in the general election. Behind in the polls, good fortune came Obama's way once again when a sex scandal knocked Ryan out of the race. Wild-eyed African American ultra-conservative Alan Keyes entered the race although he clearly had been residing out of the state. While his entry provided levity during the campaign he was no match for Obama losing by a landslide.
Barack Obama's Campaign for the Presidency
On his second appearance on the most important of the Sunday news shows, "Meet the Press," in mid-January 2006 Meet, host Tim Russert asked the Illinois senator whether he would run for president or vice-president in 2008. Obama replied that he would not be in the running for either office in that year. Yet, Obama began preparing for a possible run reorganizing his fund-raising apparatus, and using his growing fame and reputation as a speaker strategically. The constant requests to help Democratic candidates all across the nation added up to dozens of iou's later, or "chits" that could be called in if and when Obama decided to seek the presidency. His ability to inspire leaders, political operatives, potential staff, and veteran politicians was as important as his ability to move crowds of ordinary Americans. At one point, Senator Harry Reid summoned Obama to his office. Obama assumed that he had done something Reid wanted to be corrected or another misstep by the freshmanm senator. Not so, Reid merely wanted to give him further encouragement to run for president. Reid later said that he didn't take sides between Hillary and Obama and that he merely told Obama that he could be president. He was greatly impressed by Obama's oratorical ability and thought that the nation was ready for a "light-skinned" African American who could speak "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Hillary Clinton had begun to take heading the 2008 Democratic Party's presidential ticket for granted. Few disagreed that with her war chest, political experience, national campaign network, growing celebrity, and past history as the nation's First Lady would play to her advantage in the upcoming Democratic nomination battle. Until Iowa she had felt secure that the candidacy of her emerging opponent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama would peter out and she would assume her rightful place at the top of the Democratic presidential ticket. Obama's victory, however, had left her campaign in shock and disarray as the key staffers angrily sought the reasons for her dismal showing. Losing was one thing, but the way the lost, losing to Obama among women, Obama won the votes of independents, women, the rich and the poor. Suddenly, she was no longer the front-runner.
Seemingly overnight, African Americans, the nation, and the rest of the world, realized that it was highly possible, indeed, even probable, that the next chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth would be an African American. From that moment new forces in American history were set into motion as old emotions, passions, hatreds churned within individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions as they began to reassess the new situation and adjust their behavior accordingly. The historic specter of full black participation in American politics and society appeared on the horizon frightening some and empowering others. Not too many believed that the onset of an Obama administration signified the realization of full level of black social, political and economic equality but the array of new possibilities of progress on these fronts excited and inspired many.
The wise and learned figures who had seriously analyzed black politics for decades and were unable to foresee a black presidency before decades of the twenty-first century had passed were startled as much as they were pleased with the development. The Illinois senator's path to the Democratic presidential nomination, however, was not smooth. Reality intervened with issues and events presenting new challenges for the Democratic frontrunner. Events intruded upon the Obama campaign's careful plans. He was forced to confront the political quandary presented by a situation stemming from a harsh treatment of six black youth following a violent incident in a high school in Jena, Louisiana. In groping to find an approach to a local racial crisis that balanced his campaign's needs and minimized its vulnerablilities Obama found himself criticized by Jesse Jackson for "acting like he's white," a quote Jackson protested was taken out of context and for which he quickly apologized. Obama eventually lodged a militant -sounding statement on the Jena situation. "On this day when we are outraged over the disparities of treatment in the criminal justice system, in a time when in Jena we are puzzled over by how it is that a schoolyard fight gets charged with attempted murder, we wonder how it is Scooter Libby doesn't get any jailtime, and you’ve got young men in a fight getting charged with attempted murder," Obama said.
Senator Hillary Clinton, the wife of the man dubbed the "first black president," was emotionally upset by the rocket-like rise of Obama. Her anger was compounded by the feeling that the young Illinois senator was an ingrate and so inexperienced that he had no right to challenge her for the Democratic nomination. This perhaps helped her reach the conclusion that he had used his race to gain an unfair advantage. The fact that Obama gained the political allegiance of most of the nation's blacks as soon as they realized he had a serious chance to win seemed to her, from her uniquely subjective position of being the front-runner up to that point, seemed patently unjust. Most analysts didn't discern significant policy differences that separated the two Democratic politicians, and agreed that she had more experience. Given how desperate she had become it is perhaps understandable that she made a few desperate awkward, and, unprincipled, appeals to working class whites to support her.
Both of the Clintons were emotionally unhinged by the upsurge of support for Senator Barack Obama. So comfortable were they in her front-runner status they seemed to be able to afford some level of inefficiency in their campaign staff. The stunning defeat by Obama in Iowa, however, changed all of that. Hillary Clinton's successful biography, the lack of serious early challengers, her fund-raising, and her high poll approval numbers made her convinced that she could sail to win the Democratic nomination, and then defeat the any successor to the unpopular Republican President George W. Bush in the fall.
Earlier she had also pledged that she would serve her full six-year term in the Senate for her adopted state of New York. She ultimately decided not to run in 2004, which led to Senator John Kerry's entry into the race for the Democratic nomination. A strange media focus on a sudden surge of rational exuberance by the front runner for the nomination, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, subsequently known as the "Dean Scream," doomed the puzzled candidate leaving the way open for Kerry. After the Massachusetts senator sealed the nomination with a overwhelming victory on Super Tuesday the stage was for him to present Barack Obama with the opportunity of being the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention.
Hillary Clinton felt that Kerry and Dean were not tough enough to defeat the GOP in November of 2008. The swiftboating of Kerry would have never happened to her. Yet, she was plagued by enemies and alienated former supporters and allies who were not so sure she was the ideal candidate for the Democrats. Future senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri was featured in an article in The New Yorker article in which she said that any future candidacy of Hillary Clinton for president would lead to substantial losses for the Democrats in 2008. McCaskill told Russert in response to a question that while Bill Clinton had been a great president she would keep her daughter away from him. When Hillary was informed of McCaskill's remarks she was incredulous, and after the aide read the quote again, Hillary she dismissed it with an expletive and promptly cancelled the fund-raiser planned for her. McCaskill had apologized for the The New Yorker piece and claimed that she had been misquoted, and afterwards Bill Clinton flew to St. Louis to do a fund-raiser for the future Missouri senator. Hillary had been on her way to do another fund-raiser for her when she was informed of McCaskill's Meet the Press comments. The exact quote McCaskill uttered was "I think he's been a great leader, but I don't want my daughter near him."
Prior to the Iowa contest a memo recommending that Clinton skip Iowa and not risk defeat there surfaced. This made it difficult to get out of the race setting the stage for her third-place finish behind both Edwards and Obama. The Clintons had been shocked when they learned that their own people expected them to finish Iowa third, behind Edwards and Obama. They had known they were weak in Iowa and had poured more resources in it and felt confident about the outcome on the eve of the caucuses they felt confident.
Later their shock upon defeat turned into anger, their anger being focused on the enormous sums of money poured into Iowa, their own polling, and the ads their staff ran. The high turnout surprised them leading them to irrationally conclude that cheating must have occurred. The former president even wildly suggested that Obama supporters had been bussed in from Illinois.
Later, a furious Bill Clinton railed at Bill Richardson then the govenor of New Mexico. He accused Richardson of giving Obama supporters assurances of endorsement after agreeing that he would not make any backroom deals with them. He now felt that the two-time Clinton appointee had stabbed them in the back. For days an outraged Bill Clinton railed at a media for for their harsh treatment of Hillary contrasted to their uncritical approach to Obama. The anger of Hillary and William Jefferson Clinton in the aftermath of the Obama victory in Iowa set the tone for the remainder of the Democratic primary season. The disorganization, incompetence and emotional tenor of the Clinton campaign seemed to fit into an old pattern of Barack Obama's political opponents self-destructing.
The campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton for president was not over, however. Her resurgence to win in New Hampshire left a puzzled Obama campaign searching for answers, but the comeback fell short, and, soon, Clinton faced calls to end her campaign to prevent damage to the Obama campaign's effort in the general election in November. Suddenly behind after months of front-runner status Clinton's campaign descended into a state panicked desperation magnifying the inner workings of what had always been an inefficient and relatively disorganized campaign effort. A glaring example was its emphasis it placed on an "essay" written by a four- or five-year-old Barack Obama entitled, "I want to be president" aiming to demonstrate that Obama was more ambitious than he made out to be. Obama shrugged it off saying it was "silly season," and "I understand she's been quoting my kindergarten teacher in Indonesia." Clinton, for her part, was fortunate to escape more media scrutiny for her bizarre distortion of one visit to Bosnia while she was First Lady in which she alleged that she had landed under sniper fire they were told "basically to run to our cars." Under these adverse circumstances she told audiences there could be no formal greeting ceremonies. Later, this tall tale was exposed as a video was widely available online that clearly showed a smiling Clinton being formally greeted upon landing in Bosnia
During this phase Clinton seemed to have become unhinged. Despite the loyalty and support of many veteran African-American Democratic political figures, such as Congressman John Lewis, many had defected since the emergence of Senator Obama as a presidential contender. After Clinton supporter BET founder Robert Johnson went after Obama's youthful drug use, Clinton's desperation seemed increasingly obvious. The two leading Democratic presidential rivals ran into each other at Reagan National Airport, and, despite Hillary Clinton's apology for attacks on his past drug use, they soon found themselves exchanging heated words. The discussion escalated into an argument after Obama pointed to another issue: some questionable emails her staffers sent out in Iowa. They argued in animated fashion for several minutes, with Hillary reportedly being the most out-of-control before they finally left to catch their flights.
Senator Obama's surge during the first part of 2008 nevertheless left him with an important obstacle to overcome before he could attain his goal of the Democratic presidential nomination. That obstable was, once again, one involving race. Reverend Jeremiah Wright was instrumental in legitimizing the young Hawaiian-born politician. Attending a black nationalist-oriented church undoubtedly aided Obama's effort to style himself as a man of the people, creating a more left-wing and black nationalist or militant image while allowing the candidate the luxury of not committing actual words or rhetoric to their most important concerns. With Clinton down, hanging on but refusing to quit the race, the greatest risk to his candidacy was the widely-reported unpredictable rhetoric of the senator's pastor. No longer an asset, Reverend Jeremiah Wright had become an enemy of the Obama campaign, especially as it sought to win over white voters tempted by his message or repelled by the long hard eight years of the George W. Bush presidency.
This problem prompted Candidate Obama to deliver what he anticipated to be a widely-publicized, and, even, historic speech on race. The speech was designed to quickly disassociate himself from the fiery rhetoric of his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Wright, an highly-acclaimed minister of the Church of Christ, spouted an uncompromising and ecletic brand of African American liberation theology that simply contradicted the politics of the Democratic establishment. Obama's strategy was, in part, to stress the conservative elements of Wright's ministry. Reverend Wright preached black self-reliance, Obama stressed, by urging African Americans to demand "more from our fathers, and spending more time with out children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny."
In his speech, the Illinois senator contended that the "profound mistake" of Wright's views was that it portrayed American society as if it were "static as if no progress has been made" noting his own candidacy's viability as one indication of this progress. While he didn't believe his candidacy would heal the nation's racial wounds, he nevertheless expressed the firm conviction that "in no other country on earth is my story even possible." Candidate Obama said that Reverend Wright, motivated by "past" injustices, "sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam." Issues dear to the African American community such as the disproportionate incarceration of blacks, were virtually totally ignored by Obama when he was a candidate. Like his rival Hillary Clinton Obama bent over backward to appeal to what Clinton called, "hard-working white people." This appeal to white lower- and middle-income Americans in key states such as Ohio and Iowa meant that some issues would be put on the back burner. Tacking to the right, in one speech Obama referred to "all of the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s" while praising Ronald Reagan who "tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to the sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing." More generally, Senator Obama argued that the authors of the Constitution, "meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated." This political union might never be perfected, Obama maintained, but each successive generation can and should endeavor to perfect it. This can happen, however, only if people focus on the goals that unite as opposed to divisive issues.
In a Denver stadium on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," Senator Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for president. On that August 28th some 80,000 people heard Obama return to the familiar theme of American exceptionalism, detailing the example of his own parents and their belief that "in America their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to." Obama went on to say, "It is that promise that's always set this county apart." Obama went on to say, "The promise of America [is] the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now."
Seemingly promising a radical departure from the Bush administration's policies that preceded him, Obama harshly criticized the state of affairs that had resulted in homeless veterans sleeping on the streets, millions of newly poor families, massive suffering bordering on criminal negligence during the Hurricane Katrina crisis in New Orleans, and the general cruelty inherent in "trickle-down" economics and pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps ideology.
The unprecedented 2008 financial crisis dominated the campaign during the fall helping create an atmosphere that suggested the weakened nation was limping to the end of the Republican administration of President George W. Bush that was both corrupt and inept. Senator McCain's decision to abruptly "suspend" his campaign and head back to Washington seemed both erratic and desperate to many but did suggest some continuity. When he called a meeting of some of the most powerful figures of the Western world and then failed to lead it, allowing others, including his rival Senator Barack Obama, to dominate it, his chances for election grew dimmer.
The Presidency of Barack Obama
The 2008 Obama inaugural ceremonies were an notable historical occasion featuring celebrities galore despite the harsh weather. A diverse crowd in excess of a million gathered on the National Mall despite the bitter cold of a wind chill of 17 degrees.
"Obama's larger theme was 'the new era of responsibility.' He refused to scapegoat the Wall Street money changers, as FDR had done in his Inaugural...."Calling on Scripture (1 Corinthians 13:11), as he had when addressing African American fathers on Father's Day, he admonished, 'The time has come to set aside childish things.' That sound bite from Saint Paul became among the most quoted in the Inaugural,..."
Although the most popular sound bite was, "The time has come to set aside childish things," President Obama borrowed from the Republican playbook to replicate their defensive and emotional stance toward the rest of the world while bashing the straw men created by the unabashed recipients of millions in revenue from the massive military-industrial complex. The newly inaugurated president snarls at one point that: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. You cannot outlast us and we will defeat you." He was apparently addressing a small, small proportion of the planet, the few thousand or even few million aggressive "Islamic extremists" who had violent designs toward America and Americans, and who are willing to leave their homelands to carry out offensive actions against the United States. Toward the end of the speech Obama said: "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed--why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."
Despite the rapid vanishing of the hope for any substantial changes in direction of economic equality on the part of many Obama supporters, the first African American president maintained a consistent proportion of support from the American public, particularly blacks. During the first weeks, it was no wonder that disillusionment was widespread since the ruins of the Bush presidency were everywhere to be seen. Tariq Ali writes, that a "[s]tern reality interrupted the celebrations. The situation at home and abroad was bleak. The first hundred days revealed that no regeneration was in sight." Ali concluded that, "Rarely has self-interested mythology--or well-meaning gullibility--been more quickly exposed. There was no fundamental break in foreign policy, as opposed to diplomatic mood music, between the Bush One, Clinton and Bush Two administrations; there has been none between the Bush and Obama regimes..."
President Obama inherited an incredible series of crises from President Bush who also presided over an incompetent and corrupt administration. Despite the high value President Obama indicates he places on "empathy" there is little to indicate this is infused into his policy priorities. After taking office, the unemployment problem was not Obama's priority concern despite the fact that during the campaign he implied that he would implement a massive jobs program. After the feared total financial collapse had been averted many expected that, at a minimum, a mini-New Deal type of jobs program would have been initiated. With his weak will and persistent intimidation from the Republican Party, President Obama dampened hopes for a second stimulus even after it was clear that the first stimulus didn't provide the kind of boost it was intended to give the economy. The president said that it was sheerly a matter of the money not being available for such programs, weak and ineffectual as they were. For most people, the trillions spent months before on rescuing corrupted financial institutions was not a distant memory. Once again, Obama resembled not so much a Democrat, much less a typical African American Democrat, but a Republican, one as conservative in some ways than Richard M. Nixon.
Portrayed during the campaign as someone who, if not actually an environmentalist, nevertheless cared deeply about the health of the planet. Yet, in March 2010 President Obama stunned the nation by announcing that he was opening vast new offshore areas to oil drilling and exploration. He had embraced his 2008 opponents, McCain and Palin's slogan, "drill, baby, drill!" Only weeks later, however, the biggest oil spill in the nation's history occurred after a British Petroleum oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. For months the ocean's waters were subject to a river of oil ruining its habitats while Obama and his administration coddled oil officials fearful that they were pushing them too hard. Soon it became apparent that Obama had merely continued, if not stepped up, the cozy relationship between the oil industry and the agency charged with regulating it, the MMS (Minerals Management Service).
The Obama administration transformed the call for universal healthcare into universal health insurance and, then, to a significant expansion of health care coverage that will enormously benefit the corporate sector. At best this expansion is only temporary since costs and its inherent clunkiness will probably doom it in the long run. The health reform bill passed in mid-March 2010 prohibits the government from negotiating prices with drug companies and from importing drugs from other countries. It maintains the exemption held by the insurance companies from anti-trust laws, while restricting abortion coverage, and denying coverage to "illegal immigrants." President Obama's former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel admitted the the bill was "very similar" to one sponsored by the Republicans in 1993 and that it was a "market-based." The whole of the massive health care industry greeted news of the passage with glee. Former congressman turned super-lobbyist Billy Tauzin soon revealed that Obama had bargained away most of the anticipated improvements or reforms behind closed doors with the health care industry giants early on in the process.
The Politics of Denial and Obstruction
For millions of Americans, African American, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, pacific Islander, and other ethnicities the sudden rise to the presidency by an African American was a stunning development. For African Americans and whites, for centuries locked in a complex racial conflict spanning modes of production, region, and culture, the onset of an Obama presidency signalled a long awaited and long-dreaded change. For the classic racist it was the fruit of an emancipation and the beginning of a nightmare of black rule and seeming revenge (get quote). From this perspective, perpetual servitude, exploitation, and political segregation of blacks would have prevented this outcome. With this anticipated and feared change whites and blacks would gradually be forced to compete on relatively equal footing for the scarce resources of the area or region. In reality, the ascension of Obama symbolized a process of political, social and economic inclusion that, while slow, uneven, and halting, had been gaining steam especially since the post-World War Two civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The newly inaugurated president had a clear idea from the beginning of his monumental quest of some of the most impactful consequences his becoming president would have on the national African American community. His longtime adviser David Axelrod asked Obama early on, "What exactly do you think you can accomplish by getting the presidency?" The Illinois senator answered, "[W]ell, there are a lot of things I think I can accomplish, but two things I know. The first is, when I raise my hand and take that oath of office, there are millions of kids around this country who don't believe that it would be possible for them to be president of the United States. And for them, the world would change on that day." Beyond the youth, Obama's victory legitimized the United States, in a very important political-spiritual sense, for African Americans giving millions a sense of a greater stake in politics in the nation. With an increased sense of efficacy, a sense that change is possible, political involvement began to come easier to millions of people. For many, a new sense of optimism, a tendency to see racial prejudice as less an obstacle, and a more nuanced view of whites was now easier to realize.
The faith that Barack Obama as a candidate for office placed in whites' sense of fairness and justice was repaid with his resounding historic victory in 2008. Notwithstanding this, as a candidate, he bent over backwards to make American whites comfortable with his campaign and to ensure that it would not be viewed as a "black" campaign nor he as a "black" candidate.
The impact of the victory of Barack Obama appears to have been profound in the case of he GOP. A graphic example of this followed President Obama's rousing July 2012 speech supporting the notion that government does some things better and that, often, government aid is key to private businesses success. Obama's message was summed up in the now-famous line, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that" a reference to the massive public works such as the Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge. The 2012 GOP convention in Tampa was thematically structured around the distorted notion that Obama somehow denied that they themselves had worked to build their individual businesses. Speaker after speaker opportunistically used this willful distortion to declare either, "I built it," or "we built it." A country singer, Lane Turner, sang a song he wrote for that special occasion, "I Built It."
Well before the 2012 Republican convention many became aware that a line had been crossed. Whether due to what was termed "Obama Derangement Syndrome" or other causes, it was now clear that the GOP was having difficultly framing reality in a truthful manner. From the widely-mouthed support for "birtherism," to the claim of Paul Ryan that Obama shut down a Wisconsin auto factory in his area, the party morphed into "the post-truth party", as one observer termed it. Increasingly, Republicans seemed contemptuous of the truth openly scorning those who would check the actual "facts." When, at the convention, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke of his sincere "wish" that Obama had "succeeded," millions knew that his party had waged a campaign of total resistance against anything that President Obama proposed or supported. Indeed, "gridlock" in the Obama Era took on a special meaning, and, was especially effective.
Birtherism: Making the First Black President Show his ID
Birtherism is a curious phenomenon it being only a halfway serious belief that includes a taunt built within it. It is taunting in its lighthearted willingness to deny any factual documents or rational logic. Its sneering insistence that the first African American president was not born in the United States and therefore cannot be a legitimate president of the nation smacks of their indigenous crude form of "total resistance" to the notion that a black is legally able to occupy the Oval Office. The rise of an African American to the office of the Chief Executive was too powerful a blow to absorb only generations after the trauma of desegregation.
Barack Obama's attempts to mollify his birther critics seemed to only encourage them to spin wilder "theories" of his origins. Aside from the criticism he has faced for having a wild Christian black militant pastor, millions of Americans also believe he is a loyal Islamic supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood while simultaneously adhering to the tenets of a godless socialism.
The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu received a standing ovation from Congress before his address. This was a special brand of humiliation dished out to President Obama, as United States Senators and Congressmen gave the Israeli president over two dozen standing ovations. In his speech, he rejected President Obama's call for the return to the 1967 borders, the right of return for displaced Palestinians, and said that Jerusalem could not be the capital for both Israelis and Palestinians. The president had recently termed the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as not "helpful" to the prospect of attaining peace, the contempt shown this request by the Israelis led by Netanyahu was vindicated by the latter's warm reception in Congress.
A Year-Long Travelling Circus: The 2012 GOP Presidential Quest
For many the highlight of the 2012 presidential campaign was the famous Rick Perry gaffe in which he was unable to remember the third of the three agencies he would slash once he was elected president. For others, however, it was Romney's politically suicidal "47 Percent" remark, but, either way, both underlined the incredibly low quality of both the GOP campaign and its candidates. From the perspective of a long view of the political career of one Barack Obama, it meant that, once again, either through luck or good political strategy, or a combination of both, he was blessed with opponents who possessed personal political qualities, pathologies, and habits that severely hampered their effort to win an election. Throughout the long Republican primary season what in the past would have been regarded as flawed candidates rose up, soared briefly in popularity, then were exposed as a complete fool, lightweight or imbecile, and sink back as quickly as they had risen.
During a November 2011 debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry boldly declared, "I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see." He couldn't remember, drawing comedic interjections from the other candidates leading Perry and the others to break down in laughter. Despite the seriousness and widespread implications of slashing an entire agency of the federal government, Perry failed to remember its name or purpose. The implicit irresponsibility is staggering since it was reasonable to presume that a tremendous amount of research, study and thought would or should be involved in policies creating, reforming, or eliminating governmental agencies. Being unable to recall the agency itself implies that the demand to eliminate it was not thought out but merely memorized as a political point. His casual attitude during and after his gaffe required the moderator to ask him pointedly amid the laughter, "Was it EPA?" "Seriously", the moderator asks, was EPA the one he was talking about? Perry replies no. The moderator then asks, "...But you can't name a third one?" forcing Perry to again try to remember. He looks down and again rather slowly reinterates that he was talking about the agencies he would eliminate, and begins again haltingly, "the third agency of government I would do away with, the Education, ...the ah ah, Commerce (after someone helps him again) "Commerce and, let's see,. ..."I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops."
During the GOP primary and following the nomination of Mitt Romney, one thing was a constant: Republican obstruction featuring "hostage-taking" and government shutdowns remained the order of the day. Republican activists were unable to restrain their animus toward the administration. Crisis after crisis, showdown after showdown, occurred as Republicans repeatedly called for lower taxes, drastic cuts and elimination of social programs, and other key changes in the social contract. From the early days of the Obama administration when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the paramount goal of the GOP was to ensure that Obama's presidency fails and that he is not re-elected. Vice President Joe Biden also said that McConnell told him that for this term nothing would be able be done. Nevertheless, only a few could foresee a point in time when Republicans would be willing to risk permanent damage to the nation's economy in an effort to damage a Democratic presidency. It proved to be total resistance along the lines of the mid-1950s southern resistance against school integration. They would rather see the system shut down, and risk permanent damage to their country rather than tolerate the relative progress of a stable Democratic administration headed by a black man named Barack Obama.
Republicans had managed to convince themselves that the presidential election of 2008 was an aberration, a fluke. Somehow Obama had managed to fool or hoodwink the American people and, in the context of the confusion created by two unpopular foreign conflicts, an unprecedented economic crisis and a failed Bush presidency, he had managed to win. All of the GOP's "experts", including Rove, premised their optimism for 2012 on the assumption that the 2008 outcome was so anomalous that it was impossible to repeat. Displaying a heady optimism up to election day, Romney and reality were still on parallel tracks. This detachment from reality was characteristic of die-hard Republicans during the campaign season of 2012. They had long awaited this day when they would sweep Obama and his legions of leftists, socialists, liberals, and moochers from power. They contemptuously dismissed polls and facts suggesting anything but a smashing victory on that day was in store for them that day. For them, Obama's reserved and subdued performance during his first debate with Romney was proof that the man was a first-class phony, a fraud that was unmasked as soon as you took his teleprompter away.
This optimism ultimately set the stage for the famously viral video, "Karl Rove's Public Meltdown on Fox." The GOP-supporting network had called Ohio for Obama eliciting Rove's immediate objection leading the reporter to stroll with Rove down to the office where the Republicans were crunching the numbers. She is told that they are, indeed, 99.5% sure that the state of Ohio has went to Obama. The camera panned back to Rove where he was frantically writing something and frantically doing calculations by hand, but at the same time, the anchor, Bret Baier, informed his audience, "We're going to 'tee' the graphic there. 'Barack Obama Re-Elected President.' That's our call...." noting the cheering crowd in front of the White House. Akwardly, Rove managed to eke out a weak protest, calling for "a little bit of caution." Mark Danner noted that Rove had once stressed that his thing was to "create our own reality." Later Rove strangely claimed that Obama was 'suppressing the vote" by negative ads on Romney painting him as an insensitive plutocrat who didn't care at all about the loss of people's jobs or, even worse, profited from them being shipped overseas.