I played golf Tuesday, as I do every Election Day. The hours on the course help consume the time between the opening and closing of the polls-hours when political consultants can’t do much except wait and worry. Yes, it’s true, we worry constantly, but until “E” Day we delude ourselves into thinking we can do something about whatever the hell the crisis of the minute happens to be.
So I golf because swinging and swearing makes the time move faster and it’s almost as aggravating as running a campaign.
After the round my golf buddies and I retired to a local bar to lie about our rounds and watch the early election returns. I alone was elated as it became apparent that Barack Obama was about to score an overwhelming victory. My joy was counterbalanced by the long faces of my playing partners, all middle aged, middle class, white businessmen whose race-based revulsion for Obama is, supposedly, more typical of the white working class.
As the results poured in they contemplated moving to Canada, Costa Rica, or Greenland in order to avoid the catastrophe that would accompany the election of the first:
(A) Muslim President
(B) Domestic terrorist President
(C) Alien-as in not an American citizen–President
(D) Communist President
(E) “Colored” President
(F) Black Panther President, or
(G) All of the Above and worse
Their reaction was not surprising. They had repeatedly expressed these and similarly outrageous thoughts over the past two months as Obama’s election assumed an air of inevitability.
My buddies wondered, how could Americans be so dumb, so gullible? Didn’t they listen to Rush, Hannity, or Savage, read the Drudge Report, or watch Fox News? Obama had done so many horrible things and yet he was going to be the president.
It wasn’t right. It couldn’t be.
Except it was unfolding before their eyes on one of the six huge TV screens that hung over the bar. Right there, sandwiched between a rerun of the Texas/Texas Tech game and an inane show on the Golf Channel, their America was slipping away-drowned by the blue wave washing over state after state, including Ohio.
Gone because we’d made a “colored guy” president.
And then I offered them some hope-words of consolation that helped them stop crying into their Blue Moons.
I told them that Obama’s victory, a true watershed moment in our nation’s history, the culmination of a struggle that began with slavery, ran through the Constitution’s declaring that slaves were three-fifths of a human being, through the Civil War, the Jim Crow era, across the Edmund Pettis Bridge, to the Reflecting Pool where Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream, to the passage of the Voting and Civil Rights Acts, was, ultimately, as much a dream come true for racists like them as it was for slimy liberals like me.
“How could that be?” they asked, ignoring the fact that I had called them racists because they are and they don’t care.
Simple, I answered. From now on whenever someone like me has the nerve to say that discrimination or racism or lack of equal opportunity still exists, you can say “That’s bullshit. A colored guy’s president, which means if you get off your lazy ass, go to school, stop taking drugs, and quit having illegitimate kids for the welfare money, you can do anything.”
And therein lies one of the serious dilemmas created by Obama’s victory. He’s proven that the American Dream can indeed become a reality-that anyone, anyone, can be elected President. But in so doing he’s forever changed the dialogue about race and opportunity in our country.
On one hand, those of us who view Obama’s victory as validation of government programs and policies that provide, protect, and enhance equality of opportunity for all will argue that we should do more.
Those who have always opposed such programs will, on the other hand, almost certainly argue that his victory means we no longer need to do anything at all. They will say that equality is obviously a fait accompli. Need more money for urban schools? Ridiculous, a black guy’s president. Need more protection against discrimination in the workplace? Forget about it, a black guy’s president. Need to invest more in our inner cities to create economic opportunity? Forget about it, a black guy’s president. Which, in their minds will be concrete evidence that we’ve actually done way too much-after all, a black guy’s president.
And that means that those of us who recognize Obama’s election for what it really is — merely the end of the beginning of the struggle for equality and opportunity — must not become complacent.
In order to prevail in this struggle we must use his victory as an example of what can happen when a man or a woman regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or class has the opportunity to succeed. We must use it to frame the impending policy debates on issues like education, health care, workers’ rights, taxes, immigration, and regulation. We must assert that by creating more opportunity for all we will create more Obamas in the years ahead.
And that is, after all, our ultimate goal: creating a nation in which electing an African-American, woman, Latino, or disabled person president is no big deal to anyone at all. If we can use Barack Obama’s election to achieve that goal, his victory will truly be a triumph for the entire nation and not just for one man.
Leo Jennings, guest blogger
Jennings is a political consultant who has working with the Center for Working-Class Studies on research about working-class voters