Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The election That LBJ Won

This morning's editorial by Richard Cohen had the following quote:

Rosa Parks sat in 1955, Martin Luther King walked in 1963, Barack Obama ran in 2008, that all our children might fly.

I love that quote and it illustrates how far we have come in attitudes. America is growing up and there is hope that racism will be eradicated someday.

Years ago my husband and I were on a vacation trip to Puerto Rico and our guide told us a story. (I hope I have the correct name of the black man in the story, but memory often fails me now. If I am wrong, please correct me. Wickpedia was no help.)

The story goes that after failing to stir up hatred in New York, Adam Clayton Powell, a black politician and activist, went to Puerto Rico to try to stir up trouble against the whites. It didn't work simply because there is no racism there. Puerto Rican's , like Barack Obama, are of mixed racial heritage. In their case, they have Spanish, African, and White (English and Dutch) blood. There is no racism and the Puerto Rican's were immune to Powell's brand of mischief.

My point is, when we recognize that we are, as Barack said, all Americans the divisions that are still there will fade. I believe that one of the most important benefits of the election of Barack Obama is that the scars that have harmed this nation since it's inception will begin to fade.

And now for another election please read Richard Cohen's editorial. It ties into our current election and my opening comments.

Richard Cohen
Tuesday, November 4, 2008; Page A17

If the polls are right, if it don't rain and the creek don't rise, the winner of the presidential election is sure to be . . . Lyndon Baines Johnson. When he signed the epochal Civil Rights Act of 1964, Johnson knew he was also signing away the South and, with it, much of the white vote elsewhere as well. "We have lost the South for a generation," he supposedly said back then. For that generation, time's up.

Barack Obama is often called a transformational figure, and this election, it then follows, is a transformational one. I beg to quibble. Barack Obama is a confirmational figure, and this election confirms what has been gradually occurring in American society ever since that July day when Johnson virtually outlawed most forms of racial segregation in America. We've been transforming ever since.

My colleague David Broder dates to Dec. 8, 2007, the moment he knew "this presidential campaign was going to be the best" he'd ever covered. That was when about 18,000 people crammed into Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines to see Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and you knew, if you were there -- and I was -- that something momentous was happening. There, on the stage, were Obama, his wife, Michelle, and Winfrey. I turned to my friend Joe Klein of Time magazine and said we were immeasurably lucky. We were witnessing history being made.

There, you see, was an immense throng of white people, with an occasional nonwhite face, sometimes Asian or Hispanic. It was a fairly young crowd, and no matter what their age or their race or their sex, they were drawn to this event by two black people -- Obama and Winfrey -- and it was hard to tell then who mattered more. At least in that place and at that time, the post-racial society had arrived.

I am not naive. Pockets of racism exist, and depending on the issue -- crime, for instance -- they can swell. But the country has changed. It has done so because of personalities, policies and actions that at the time might have been questionable. The civil rights acts of the Johnson era compelled whites to eat with blacks in the same restaurants and to share the same motels and hotels. Affirmative action accustomed whites to seeing blacks in positions from which they had, by custom or by law, been excluded. Blacks and whites could, in fact, work together. The racists were wrong.

Constant pressure on the entertainment industry to feature more African Americans paid off handsomely. Some of the top American entertainers are black -- Denzel Washington and Chris Rock, for instance -- and their audiences are multiracial. Still, it seems that certain themes do not do well. Washington's very good film "The Great Debaters," the story of the 1935 Wiley College debate team, was no box-office smash, maybe because it had a mostly black cast and was about a black college, or maybe because it had no car chases; probably, both.

Somewhere beyond the gaze of Karl Rove, America was changing. You could see it on TV all the time. Oprah -- not some white, Andy Griffith-type, as the 1957 Elia Kazan movie "A Face in the Crowd" envisioned -- had become the most powerful figure in the medium. Ellen DeGeneres also has a daytime talk show. She's a lesbian -- not reputed to be or reported to be, but proud to be. She's a hit, too.

America is a changed country. Blacks have been the mayors of majority-white cities and the governors of majority-white states (Massachusetts, for instance). The governor of Louisiana is Bobby Jindal, an Indian American, the senatorial contest in Minnesota is between two Jews -- one a former comedian, for crying out loud -- and the governor of California cannot even pronounce the name of the state.

The wedding pages of our newspapers announce the unions -- civil or otherwise -- of gay men and lesbians. The governor of Alaska accepted the vice presidential nomination of the family-values party accompanied by her pregnant, unmarried teenage daughter -- and (almost) no one batted an eye. Maybe this was because a recent president had extramarital sexual relations in the Oval Office and left the presidency with an approval rating in the mid-60s. It was the economy, stupid.

Just as John F. Kennedy was only incidentally a Catholic, so is Obama only incidentally a black man. It is not just that he is post-racial; so is the nation he is generationally primed to lead. This, of course, was the dream of the man who is buried on his beloved ranch -- the unheralded winner of this election. As he would put it: My fellow Americans, we have overcome.



Linda said...

This is a fantastic post. I'm so glad you put this together. I have such hope for our young people and Obama.

Sylvia K said...

Great post as always, Darlene. His job won't be easy and no one knows that better than him, but it is the "hope" for a better country for all of our people that sets him apart.

Darlene said...

Thank you Linda and Sylvia. Hope is the operative word now I think.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I think you might enjoy a little rhyme of mine later in the week; it follows your train of thought. (I can't remember which day!)

Kay Dennison said...

Excellent post!!!!!!!

I don't think of Obama as black. I try never to forget the good people who were his family and laid the basis for the manb he has become: his mother and grandparents who are not black. His skin might be black but he is also white. Why does everyone ignore this?

Joy Des Jardins said...

This is a really wonderful post Darlene...thanks so much. It is amazing how people forget that Barack Obama is of a mixed cultural background...both black and white heritage, and just an exceptional human being.

Anonymous said...

There were actually three transformational presidents, when it comes to civil rights for people of color: Abraham Lincoln (Emancipation Proclamation), Harry Truman (integrated the armed forces), and Lyndon Johnson (reasons mentioned in the posting). I agree that Obama with be a confirmatory president.

Kay echoes the thinking that I've had since Obama burst upon the national political scene: he is 1/2 black and 1/2 white. Why he, and others, have chosen to cast Obama as "black" is beyond me. But then, I never understood the theory that one drop of blood "tainted" a person, either. Obama's strength is that he is bi-racial, thus we may all "claim" and relate to him. Now, if the news people would just get off of his back and let him do the planning and implimentation in peace for the next several weeks....
Cop Car

Darlene said...

Cop Car, Thank you for visiting and your comment. I may be wrong, but I dimly remember reading that it was Barack who chose to identify with his black side instead of his white side. I would guess that it might have been because he looks black or it could have been because he wanted to identify with his missing father.

Darlene said...

Rinkly rimes, I am looking forward to your rhyme.

Kay, it's funny but I don't think of Barack as black either. That is the way racism will be eliminated; when we stop thinking about the color of aomeone's skin just as now we don't think of the color of their hair.

Joy, Thank you, you are so kind.

joared said...

Excellent thoughts here, Darlene.