“Presumptive” is a word that rolls around every four years to fill out the gawky space between presidential primary and convention/coronation. Personally, I find it to be a prissy, legalistic word. We know he’s not officially the nominee because we haven’t had the convention blah blah blah. But it’s kind of like getting on an airplane and hearing the guy flying it describe himself as the “presumptive pilot” because it hasn’t taken off yet. (On a separate note, I imagine my fictional pilot’s name to be Chuck Majors because that seems like an excellent name for a fake pilot.)
I would prefer that, instead of “presumptive,” the news media adopt the sexier word “alleged.” It’s a little more edgy with its connotations of criminal behavior, and it just sounds a lot cooler to be an “alleged nominee” versus a “presumptive nominee.”
Last night, the Democrats finally got their shit together and pushed Barack Obama over the top. He is now the alleged Democratic nominee for President of the United States. As I was watching CNN with the sound off while playing poker at three in the morning last night, I kept being reminded of Geraldine Ferraro’s ugly remark a few months ago. This is what she said:
“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”
In other words, if he weren’t black, he’d be nobody.
At the time, those comments provoked the expected and deserved outrage because she appeared to be denigrating whatever accomplishments and qualifications Obama the person has, and saying instead that he is just Obama, the Negro straw man.
But what I never heard articulated from any of the punditry was the fact that, to a large degree, I think she’s right. We are caught up in the concept of an African-American presidential nominee. We do respond to the concept of his race the same way we were caught up in her gender when she was the first female Vice Presidential candidate. Would Geraldine Ferraro, an obscure Congresswoman from New York’s 9th district, have been selected to be Mondale’s running mate if she weren’t a woman? Me doubt it. Her gender was the point. Does that take away from the full portrait of the person? Of course not.
But I think that misses the larger point. To say that he wouldn’t be where he is today if he were a white man or a black woman is not only patronizing but it is also ludicrous. None of us would be where we are today if we weren’t who we are. It’s circular logic. To say that he wouldn’t be where he is if he wasn’t black is the same thing as saying he wouldn’t be who he is he was somebody else. It’s like that old saying, “If my aunt had a dick she’d be my uncle.”
Barack Obama is black. And that is important. Because his race, along with a host of other factors, contributed to the complete person that is Barack Obama, just like the fact that I am the white, Jewish, left-handed son of a lesbian made me who I am (which is to say, awesome).
I love that B.O. is black because I love that our country, by supporting his candidacy, is also attempting to move beyond the racial schism that divides so much of our nation. Yes, his race undoubtedly has played a helpful role in getting him to where he is, but that’s a good thing. Because in Barack, I think we see a symbol: a half-black, half-white, African-American (literally), who overcame a difficult home life to become the standard bearer for his political party and the face of his nation. In that, he represents what American on her good days is known for throughout the world – opportunity. From a symbolic point of view, isn’t that the kind of face we want representing America to ourselves and to the rest of the world?
Obama has said it himself; “ In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
Obviously, the Presidency is more than a symbolic position, but that does not diminish symbolism’s importance. America has always been rife with symbolism: the Statue of Liberty, the flag, David Hasselhoff. Symbolism is crucial to the American identity because America is as much an idea as it is a nation. That’s, I think, what we mean, when we talk about “American ideals.” You never hear anybody say anything about “Canadian ideals,” “Mexican ideals.” That’s not to say that Canadians and Mexicans aren’t idealistic, but the American ideal is so strongly felt at home and around the world because America itself is such a powerful symbol of human aspiration. Wouldn’t it say something profound to the world when the band strikes up “Hail to the Chief,” and President Barack Obama emerges from Air Force One? In a sense, to diminish the important symbolism of a black man becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party is to diminish the essential American ideal.
(The same could also be said of Hillary Clinton if she had gotten the nomination. So much of Clinton’s support is rooted in her symbolism: a woman attempting to become President. She would not be here today if she were not a woman, and I say that as a good thing.)
That said, obviously a President is more than just a pretty face, even a pretty black face. I mean, I don’t think America is so excited about Barack just because he’s black. If we just wanted to elect a black guy, Alan Keyes would be President today. When I go down the checklist of what I want in a President, Obama’s got it all: good judgment, good practical ideas, good communication skills, and a hot wife. Throw in a couple cute kids, and you’ve got yourself Camelot redux.
After eight years of the Imperial Presidency, a new face is exactly what America needs. Change is what America needs. My personal opinion is that, right now, Barack Obama is what America needs.
Yes, Barack Obama is black. And yes, he wouldn’t be in this position if he weren’t. Or maybe it would be better to say, it wouldn’t mean as much. But none of us would be where we are if we weren’t who we are. Just like George Clooney wouldn’t be where he is if he looked like this guy:
In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that I was playing poker with a conservative and presumptive alcoholic. While trying to articulate why he dislikes liberals and progressives, he said that they all hate America. He was wrong. I am a liberal, and the ascendancy of Barack Obama is one of many reasons why I love my country.