Saturday, May 25, 2024

Becoming an Obamacan…

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( *Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama recently found himself in some hot water when he was heard to compliment former President Ronald Reagan.

During an interview, the Illinois senator said, “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.” He was immediately attacked by his opponents and other new liberals that view as heresy the mention of Reagan’s name with anything but disdain.

Later, while addressing an enthusiastic audience, Obama clarified his remarks for those that obviously missed the point the first time. “Reagan”, he said, “was able to tap into the discontent of the American people and he was able to get Democrats to vote Republican – they were called Reagan Democrats.” He continued, “We, as Democrats right now, should tap into the discontent of Republicans. I want some Obama Republicans!” Or Obamacans!

Obama’s point may have been a bit too academic for a primary campaign. He was, however, correct. Reagan was an optimist and was able to bridge the partisan divide by articulating a vision of American strength. It was a vision of smaller, less intrusive government and lower taxes. It was a vision that swept him into office with two landslide victories. It was, alas, also a vision at odds with Obama’s message of higher taxes, bigger government and international mollification. If he is looking for Republican defections, he will have to offer more than soaring rhetoric. Like Reagan, he will need a message grounded in the same sense of American exceptionalism that Reagan preached in 1980.

Obama, however, has something else to offer that, for some, might just outweigh his policy shortcomings. That something is the allure of history.

Hillary Clinton is running with a similar promise of history. However, a White woman riding into the White House on the coattails of her husband is not only a feminist’s nightmare, but it also fails to capture the imagination in the same way as that of a Black man being sworn into our nation’s highest office.

Though I am a member of the opposition party, I must admit to feeling a genuine excitement when Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses and to an equally fantastic sense of deflation when he later lost the New Hampshire primary and split the state of Nevada. (As of this writing, the results from the primary in South Carolina are not in.) In this way, I don’t think I am too very different from thousands of other Black folk across this country that hold viewing parties on primary nights and root for Obama, holding their breath with each update. They sense something real and historical happening in this country; they believe that like Reagan, Obama will not only change the political conversation in this country but our socio/cultural conversations as well. This is more than just a flashback to 1984 when I stood in a union hall in New York City chanting “run, Jesse, run!” Even in the naiveté of my youth, I never really believed Jesse could win. Obama, however, is something different. The country is different.

For Black people of my parent’s generation, a Black man becoming president was a sign that somehow we as a people would have arrived wherever it was we had been headed. What would my parents say today? How much does America change the morning after Obama is sworn in as president? Will the ghosts of our nation’s past finally be exorcised? Will this nation finally be absolved from its original sin? Will we finally take the last step in realizing the remarkable ideals articulated by this nation’s founders? What is it worth to find out?

There are millions of voters across the country that couldn’t disagree more with Obama’s new liberal vision for America. There are some, however, — voters both black and white — that feel the tug of history more than they do the pull of ideology. Obamacans will be those that step into the quiet anonymity of the polling booth and wonder if perhaps this is the moment that America changes for good.

Written By Joseph C. Phillips

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