Feb 5, 2008

Barack Obama: The dream of equality

by John Davis
In first grade, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Always thinking analytically, I paused and told her I wanted to work for a cheese company. She responded positively and told me if I put my mind to it, I could be the president of the United States. I thought it would be much more rewarding to work with cheese all day. As a young black man growing up in the still racially charged South, I never had the goal or dream of becoming the first black president. At that time in the 1980s, it was inconceivable. Barack Obama is as close as any African-American has been to achieving the goal of becoming president. Having an African-American on the ballot influences an election in ways that many people may not realize. First, many Americans have taken time to think about the possibility that Barack Obama could be leading our country in the coming year. I have heard people dispute his moral stance and even question his credibility. I was having lunch in the Campus North food court on Thursday when a group of students were having a very scholarly conversation about the election. One person commented that Obama is only a good presidential candidate because he is a decoy for the next Democratic nominee to use the motivation Obama has injected into the black community to power the election in 2012. For those who think this will not be a racially influenced election, all they have to do is look at the spin that the media is putting on it. On Jan. 10, a Washington Post article made Obama seem like a criminal due to his 15-year association with Tony Rezko. Rezko has since been indicted on charges of corruption by a federal grand jury. The story stated that Rezko had a hand in helping Obama purchase a home by buying the piece of adjacent land to satisfy the seller’s request. After the article was published, the Obama campaign produced a copy of the tape that came from that interview with the Post. “I’ve known him for 15 years. He had never asked me to do anything, had never behaved in any untoward way with me,” replied Obama on the tape. “…I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about these various issues that he was involved with.” The backlash from both the media and common voters shows that Obama’s candidacy will continue to cause a stir throughout the duration of the election. Nevertheless, the black community historically has less than a 20 percent voter turnout. Amid all the competition in the Democratic Party, it is unlikely that voter turnout this year would have any lasting effects on future elections, which disproves arguments that Obama is only a decoy for future nominees. According to a 2006 study done on all 50 states by the National Bureau of Economic Research, both black and white voter turnout increases two to three percentage points with each black Democrat on the ballot. In a January Newsweek article, Earl Hutchinson, an African-American political analyst, said that he found that “one way or another, racial and ethnic factors are a constant undercurrent of the American political debate.” These factors, whether highlighted by the media or not, will continue to affect Obama or any African-American running this year or in years to come. Whether or not Obama wins the nomination, his run will serve as a constant reminder that barriers are broken everyday. When my son is asked in front of his first grade class what he wants to be when he grows up, I hope he can stand with confidence and say, “I want to be president.” Contact John Davis at jhdavis@liberty.edu.
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