To fulfill his promise of change, Obama must go beyond politics

November 06, 2008

Perhaps this election was not as significant to the people who did not live through the civil rights movement of the '60s or, further back, the time when blacks were not permitted to use the same restrooms as whites.

But how significant must it be to those older people of both races who grew up with a great divide of color, a great divide between the people in power and those who perhaps never hoped to achieve it?

In some respects, the greatest thing about this election was how little color mattered. Those who opposed Barack Obama tended to do so on the issues more than skin color. This might not have been possible a scant quarter of a century ago.

Truly, anyone can grow up to be president of the United States, even those whose ancestors may have arrived on our shores in the hold of a slave ship. A century and a half ago, Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney wrote that blacks were an "inferior order" that had no rights that a white man was bound to respect.


On Tuesday, the people of Taney's home state of Maryland were voting for a black man in droves. Men and women who know our history wept.

But the vote was about something larger, and this is Obama's challenge. Throughout his campaign, Obama promoted himself as a unifier, not a divider. In this context, race dissolves into nothing, as it should.

A decade ago, President Bill Clinton ran the country well enough, but had a talent for making enemies along the way. President George Bush has only added to this divide.

It is Obama's challenge to mend the tears in our society that have been created by politics as usual. We face crises today that have not been seen since the days when Russia was putting missiles in Cuba, we were frittering away our respectability in Vietnam and we battled rampant inflation.

Banks are crashing, people are losing their homes, we are in wars of questionable purpose and retirement accounts are evaporating. We must return the nation to stability and that will take the efforts of men and women on both sides of the aisle. It will be Obama's mission to bring these two sides together.

To solve these critical problems, politics must be put aside. Obama's talent has been to mesh people of different races, but now he must do something more. That means reaching out to Republicans. And, as important, the opposition needs to let him.

In a sense, the days when we could worry about issues as frivolous as flag burning and whittling the Lord's Prayer onto public monuments would almost be a relief. We don't have those luxuries now. Our problems are deeper and more critical to our pursuit of being the greatest, most fair and most prosperous nation on earth.

When Obama is sworn in, he will stand on steps that were laid by slave labor. It would be good to remember this. And it would be good to remember that history also has provided us with promise, with examples of when men and women, blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans have come together to solve pressing problems when the going got tough.

The past can make a person shudder and it can make a person proud. Now is the time to learn from both and build upon its lessons.

President-elect Obama was right; this election was about hope and change. We support that hope and change and urge that all involved can help make them real.

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