Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Barack Obama: Upstart Young Whippersnapper?

While researching an earlier post, I found an eye-opening op-ed piece in the International Herald-Tribune. This blog is not political, but I think that one aspect of the 2008 American presidential election is more historical and cultural, than strictly political.

That's the success of Barack Obama, Democratic nominee for the American presidency.

While researching a post about what is most likely a bunch of meth-heads with a drugged and possibly delusional plan to assassinate Barack Obama, I found this:
"Obama is the face of change in black politics"
International Herald Tribune (August 10, 2008)

"...But while Democratic black voters embraced Obama by ratios of 8 or 9 to 1 in a lot of districts, the 42 House members in the Congressional Black Caucus, for a time, split more or less down the middle between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the country's leading black ministers and mayors trended toward the Clinton camp. Clyburn himself declined until the very end to endorse a candidate in this year's primaries, saying that his leadership role required him to remain neutral.

"It is hard for any outsider to fully understand the thinking that led many older black leaders to spurn Obama's candidacy. On a surface level, those who backed Clinton did so largely out of a combination of familiarity and fatalism. If you were a longtime black leader or activist at the end of 2007, you probably believed, based on your own life experience, that no black man was going to win the nomination, let alone the presidency. You knew the Clintons personally, or at least you knew their allies in the community...." [emphasis mine]
The split in the Congressional Black Caucus was news to me. It may have been reported in the American news media: but I missed it.

But, on consideration, it doesn't surprise me.

The reason for this split, as discussed in "Obama is the face of change in black politics," is quite plausible. To me, at least.

Quite a lot has happened in America, since the sixties. I can easily understand how people who remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed might have trouble adjusting to the world we live in today.

I remember that day, myself. It was a very stressful time, and one which made a deep impact on many people. I still remember much of the song that ended with, "I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill / With Abraham, Martin and John."

Very moving.

Also, something that happened about forty years ago. That doesn't make it unimportant, but it does mean that assumptions formed about society in the late sixties may need a little updating.

That International Herald Tribune piece says that young American blacks don't see a black American president as such an impossibility. I'm inclined to agree with them: I saw the first Irish American president elected. That must have seemed unlikely-to-impossible to quite a number of my forebears.

Times change. And the last forty years have seen quite a bit of change in America.

On the other hand, some things don't seem to change all that much. Another excerpt from the same article. Remember - the "I" in the next paragraph is the author of the article, not me.
"...This point about whether Obama was 'black enough' came up often in my discussions. It referred to the perception among some black leaders that he hadn't shared the African-American experience, period. Obama's father was a Kenyan academic; his family came to America on scholarship, not in chains...."
(International Herald Tribune)
I think I can see the point. I've run into people who were quite willing to tell me that I couldn't possibly understand, because I hadn't been through the Depression, or served in World War II, or shared some other experience with them.

The 'not like us' feeling toward newcomers is certainly not a monopoly of American black leaders. The Daughters of the American Revolution are quite strict about limiting membership to those who can prove direct blood descent from someone who had a hand in the American Revolution.

Back when I was growing up, fiction and humor often included a character who was acutely aware of his or her descent from the people on the Mayflower, or some other deep-rooted group.

I have nothing against people who decide to limit membership in their organizations to some particular sort of person. That's their decision. I wouldn't be too interested in becoming a DAR, anyway.

"The Art of the Possible"

Politics has been described as "the art of the possible" (Otto Von Bismark, via R. A. Butler). I think it's time for quite a few people in this country to decide whether Barack Obama is an impertinent young whippersnapper, or whether he's someone who is living in today's America.

Obama, Culture, and the War on Terror

The difficulty that some Americans have, accepting the idea of a black man getting this close to the presidency, shows how deeply entrenched ideas can be.

And, it shows how important it is to keep up with a changing world.

In my youth, some people were still getting used to the idea that Japan was a major trade partner with America, and that society had changed since the end of WWII. Their inability to keep up with the rest of the world was an annoyance, at least, to others. It also made it difficult, or impossible, to take the occasional good idea they had seriously.

It's been just over forty years since Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. This isn't the sixties any more. As an American, I'm concerned that some of our nation's leaders seem to be unaware of the changes they helped bring about.


Brigid said...

All very true. I'm still not voting for him, but it has nothing to do with any of the points mentioned here. I just don't agree with him on a few key points.

I do wish him well in his candidacy, though.

Brian H. Gill said...


Well said. Today, Barack Obama became the first black (or is African-American the correct thing to say this month?) American to be nominated by a major political party, for the office of president.

I'm glad that I've lived long enough to see this: but I'm not surprised that it happened. Something almost as remarkable happened in my youth: some Irishman was nominated to run for president. And won!

Times change.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.