Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Race to the Finish

I watched Obama's speech on Tuesday on Youtube while I sat in a very comfy chair at Busboys and Poets. I drank a skim latte and ate some soy yogurt and granola mixed with your normal cafe fruit cup. It was good.

I am 28 years old. Old enough to have had some experience with the political system, maybe more than most since I have a degree in Political Science. I've volunteered on local campaigns and read the articles candidates write for Foreign Affairs journal. I can't outline their entire platforms and often do not read the comparsion articles publications like USA today run in the last stretch of Fall. But I do work in an industry that closely monitors the daily output of our government and particularly high profile politicians.

I understand that what these politicians are saying on Youtube and with Anderson Cooper isn't who they really are and so as sad as it is for me as a scholar of politics and as an activist, I am pretty comfortable knowing there is no good choice. I can not look at the 'liberal' candidates and think 'wow I have a real tough decision ahead of me this year'. Because I don't. And I really doubt I ever will.

I think this year is an amazing year in politics and I am extremely honored to be involved. A woman and a black man are the candidates I have to choose from. And yes, this could be a Margaret Thatcher moment for America, I still think we deserve this choice. And I think that it says something for America and for Clinton and Obama to have gotten to the place that they have.

So . . . I watched Obama's speech and I thought god damn it. I got to watch a black man running for president talk about racism in a way this country could understand and my parents watched the Arkansas National Guard make a safe path for 9 high school students in 1957 and my grandfather threw out disgusting racial slurs at christmas dinner every year I knew him.

I am living in a different United States.

I have friends who are Clinton supporters. They cry 'we don't need hope we need help'. They support her at such a degree that it is impossible to have a conversation with them about what the differences between a Clinton Administration (Part 2) and a Obama Administration would look like. I doubt there would be many differences myself. But I think the real questions is: What would the country look like?

Obama is making people feel like our country has changed, that it has finally evolved, that it has grown up from the times of race riots and Contract with America. The fact that a poetic, educated black man can have this type of success in politics, in mainstream politics, means something. It means that maybe we can be a different America.

I don't want to say these things without acknowdleging how far women have come in this country as well. We have a Speaker of the House and a promising candidate for president and that means something too. And it is worth celebrating.

I truly think that speech was one of the most honest discussions of race I have ever heard on national television. Because of the work I do I have heard honest discussions on race and I understand how isolating and hurtful they can be. Discussions on race can stymie relationships and ruin institutions. But I think he spoke as honestly as he could and in a way that could make everyone feel he was speaking directly to their situation and experiences.

I'm pretty sure Obama will not be the best President our country could have, I doubt he will end the Iraq war like he promises or solve the problems within our education system or provide affordable health care to those who really need it, but I do think that he can make people feel like our country is heading in the right direction. And I think real change comes from this type of hope. You have to dream it before you can touch it.

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