America ready for a black president? This has always been the ultimate question
that not just Americans, but many people across the world have pondered for so
many years. Would a black man ever become a president of the United States?
Even though the likelihood of this happening was very slim, many still doubted
that they would live long enough to witness it in their lifetime. The
underlying cause is not a puzzle for someone even bothering to raise the
question. The obvious response has been woven into the fabric of the American
society, mostly known as a racially divided country. But on November 4, 2008,
Barack Hussein Obama, far beyond any expectations, "breaks the ultimate
U.S racial Barrier"
by becoming the first African American President elected. I will try in this
article to see whether or not race was a determining factor in the outcome of
this election by thoroughly examining the main issues raised during the
In this 2008 election, the country is faced with two wars which
affect American people in all walks of life; one domestic, which concerns a
failing economy, and another, which is the war against terrorism in Iraq and
In these troubling periods of uncertainty, one man, with one slogan, "yes
we can", brought back to my mind the famous poetry of Wendell Berry:
the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover."
man, with a funny-sounding name, Barack Hussein Obama, reached out across the
nation, in the midst of these crises, to call on the great conscience of the
American spirit to transcend the crucial issue of race and ethnicity which has
divided the country for so long, and to come together as one nation. “E pluribus unum”: "Out of many,
In the 2004 Democratic National Convention held in Boston, Senator
Obama seized the opportunity, as the key note speaker, to deliver an
astonishing speech summing up his profound call for unity.
"Now even as we speak, there are
those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters,
the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ’anything goes’. Well, I
say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America
-- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a
White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States
pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and
Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve
got news for them, too. We worship an ‘awesome God’ in the Blue States, and we
don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We
coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in
the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are
patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging
allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of
The ghost of division was around to
haunt the 2008 American election, despite his 2004 call. As in past elections, the
race factor, playing a significant role in the process of decision- making, is
still a strong argument in many instances. Highlighting
the different contenders in the primary with respect to their racial and gender
characteristics can easily lead us to draw the conclusion that the battle was
going to turn into a debate about race and gender. The making of the three
candidates with Barack Obama, an African American, and Hilary Clinton and John
Edwards, both white, already set the tone of the match where the contenders are
divided along the color and gender lines.
the underdog in this race, he remarkably won the heart of many Americans with
an unmatched charisma and incredible ability of capturing his audience - and,
surprisingly, he started winning state after state. In the case of South
Carolina, a reporter wrote:
the most telling factor that swept Obama to victory was delineation by race,
where the Senator received 78% of the black vote. Edwards received 40% of the
(and only 2% of the black vote), with Obama getting 24% (Clinton received 36%).
Black men supported Obama by a crushing 80%. Black women voted almost as strong
with 78%. White men supported Edwards (45%). White women voted for Clinton
These numbers speak so clearly about the race factor as accounting for the
overwhelming black vote cast for the African American candidate, Barack Obama
(78%). Even black women, despite their gender, turned their back against Hilary
Clinton by giving Senator Obama 78%. On the other hand, votes for the two white
candidates totaled 76% of the white vote leaving only 24% for Obama.
The division of the race was so obvious in the split vote
between whites and blacks,to the point where the
white candidate, Hilary Clinton, argued in one of her interviews with USA
Today, that she has "a much broader base to build a winning coalition
She did not hesitate, for the purpose, to even cite an Associated Press analysis
"that found how Senator Obama's support among working, hard working
Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states
who had not completed college were supporting me." It is eminently clear
that Hillary's key argument to the super delegates was an exploitation of
racial division to position herself as the candidate best suited to face the
white Republican candidate, John McCain, in the fall. This racially divisive
tactic implicitly aimed at excluding Obama as a serious strong contender
because of the color of his skin. It fed the argument that a black man does not
have any chance of winning over a white candidate because of the traditional
white voting preferences. Throughout the whole campaign, Obama's contenders
made every attempt to turn the race issues into smears and a negative campaign.
They first tried to connect him with his pastor, the
Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whom he knew for 20 years, by
bringing to light Wright’s negative comments about the American government. In
a series of clips broadcasted by Fox News, Wright has accused the American
government of "starting the AIDS virus" and being the "number one
killer in the world." In one of the sermons he delivered, he stated that "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means
of genocide against people of color."
And, he" called on God to damn America." Under these circumstances, Obama was compelled to give a
speech about race. In the speech he eloquently delivered, Obama distanced
himself from his pastor by characterizing his remarks as being divisive "We've
heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to
express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but
views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that
rightly offend white and black alike."
He continued his speech by stating that the urgency is elsewhere, and what the
country mostly needed in this period of hardship is unity to overcome the
challenges and the adversities.
"Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive,
divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need
to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist
threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially
devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino
or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."
Obama admitted in his speech on race that race is an issue in the campaign. He mentioned the fact that his identity was put in
"This is not to say that race has not
been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some
commentators have deemed me either too black or not black enough. We saw racial
tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina
primary. The press scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial
polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as
taking a strong stand on race relations, the polls showed Obama taking a lead
on his rival Hilary Clinton, and successfully becoming, at the end of the
primaries, the first African American nominee for the Democratic Party. He
succeeded by conveying his message so eloquently to Americans regardless of
their skin color, their ethnicity, their age and political background.
In the presidential race, Senator
John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, tried unsuccessfully to tie Obama with
Bill Ayers, a founder of a radical movement involved in a plot of bombing the
Capitol and the Pentagon. "Our opponent though, is someone who sees
America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with
terrorists who would target their own country."
Another attempt tried to connect Obama with Rashid Khalidi, an anti-Israel
activist. This consistent pattern of character destruction was clearly geared
to spread confusion and fear in the white voters' minds. It was also a
diversion from the real issues facing the country.
is interesting to note that these ugly tactics are not new in American
politics. In the 1988 presidential race, Michael Dukakis was blamed for
granting ‘week-end passes’ to convicted felons such as the African American,
Willie R. Horton, who was serving life in a Massachusetts prison. Horton ended
up committing a double murder after violating his 48 hour furlough, backed by
Massachusetts Governor, Michael Dukakis. According to Steve Holland, "An
attack ad on television played a role in defeating Dukakis in 1988 and showed
how effective negative campaigning can be."
Senator Obama has learned well his
lesson by taking, as opposed to Dukakis, a very strong and pro-active reaction
against these smears. When his pastor's controversial speech was brought to
light, for example, Obama took a stand by making his race speech in which he
condemned the divisive rhetoric of his long time friend and pastor Jeremiah
Wright. And when the terrorist connection was raised, he quickly demarcated
himself from it in the debate.
Barack Obama also learned from the mistakes made by Jesse Jackson, who turned
everything into race issues. Obama’s strategy, by contrast, consisted of unity
and reconciliation for the common goods. He presented himself not so much as
the black candidate, but a candidate who happens to be black with the main goal
of closing the gap by uniting the country for one purpose. "I reject a
politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual
orientation or victimhood generally," he said in his speech. As far as his
identity was concerned, he identified himself as "the son of a black man
from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas" with "brothers, sisters,
nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered
across three continents.”
These words revealed that his approach was universal. So, his appeals to a
young and a new generation of voters did not go unheard. Not merely were they
excited about Obama. Far more, they also passionately rode along with him all
the way to the voting booth, making sure that victory would be elegantly granted
to their candidate.
examining briefly "CNN exit polls,"
it is clear that the young voters, the color blind generation, were
instrumental in the outcome of the election. They turned out in large numbers
and cast 66% of their vote for Obama. An
overwhelming majority of Hispanics (67%) and African Americans (95%) voted for
also won on major issues, like the economy, the war in Iraq and health care.
But the economy, by far, overshadowed all the other issues. Consequently,
Senator Barack Obama connected the 72 years old Senator McCain with the current
president George W. Bush, whose popularity drastically declined because of his
poor performance in the White House. When Obama stated that McCain "voted
in the Senate more than 90% for Bush", McCain retorted that "I am not
President Bush; If you want to run again President Bush, you should have run four
Unfortunately for McCain, this pertinent response was uttered too late. It
could have weakened Obama's effort for connecting him to Bush if used earlier
in the campaign. It was clear that the American did not want four more years of
In regards to the Wall Street market
crisis, Senator McCain made the following declaration "The fundamentals of
our economy are strong."
It is commonly known that, in politics, mistakes are not forgivable. That is
why the senator struggled unsuccessfully to correct his inaccurate statement.
As a counter move, Obama seized the opportunity to state that McCain was
fundamentally wrong. Instead of giving a break to Wall Street, as suggested by
McCain, Obama proposed a tax increase to people making over $250.000 and a
break to those making less.
His income tax plan appealed more for mainstream America. "Instead of
handing out giveaways to corporations that don't need them and didn't ask for
them, it's time we started giving a hand up to families who are trying to pay
their medical bills and send their children to college"
The war was also another key issue in which
the two candidates had different views. McCain, wholeheartedly defended his position that the surge was working, while
the majority of the Americans were condemning the war. Obama, as opposed to
McCain argued that the war was costly in term of resources and human lives. He
promised, if elected, that an early withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq
would be his priority.
though the race card was played in the campaign, it did not greatly impact the
outcome of the 2008 election. It is clear, in the final analysis, that its
effect was minimal. It's undeniable that the race issue made it into the race.
However, it did not have enough of a vibrant influence to stop Senator Barak
Obama from becoming the 44th president of the United States of America.
Americans, in their majority and contrary to all evidence, decided that the
economy was the driving issue, followed by the war. Obama's victory is a symbol
expressing the triumph of the American dream embedded in the belief that
race, color and ethnicity.
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