Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama Nation? Try Obama World

Here's a snippet of a conversation Nicholas Kristof had with a friend in China (from today's NY Times):

She: Obama? But he’s the black man, isn’t he?

Me: Yes, exactly.

She: But surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States?

Me: It looks as if he’ll be elected.

She: But president? That’s such an important job! In America, I thought blacks were janitors and laborers.

Me: No, blacks have all kinds of jobs.

She: What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry?

Me: No, of course not! If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him.

[Long pause.]

She: Really? Unbelievable! What an amazing country!

I never think of Obama as being black, or being mixed, or whatever. For me, race was never a factor. I suspect that's true of most people who will end up voting for him, because here we are with 12 days to go and Barack Hussein Obama, a black first-term senator from Illinois, is the prohibitive favorite to become the next president.

If Obama is elected, I think it's truly one of the most significant occurrences - if not the most significant - in the history of Western politics, at least from a pure symbolic standpoint. Think about it: when Barack Obama was born, segregation still existed in many parts of this country. Obama is 47 years old. 46 years ago - in his lifetime - the University of Mississippi opened its doors to a man named James Meredith, becoming the first university in the South to admit a black man. Last month, that same university hosted a presidential debate in which a black man took part.

Unbelievable.

For a variety of reasons, these are extraordinary times. From a pure historical standpoint, it would make sense for America, in an unprecedented economic and international quagmire, to pin its fortunes on a young man, running on a platform of hope and unity, who symbolizes that maybe, just maybe, the American Dream is still possible - even in the unlikeliest of places.

This is no longer a Democratic thing, or a Republican thing, or whatever. This is about a huge step that America can take for itself and for the world. The excitement and exhilaration over an Obama victory would reverberate worldwide. A black man as president of the United States?

It could happen. And we'll find out for certain in 12 days.

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