The Straightaway

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A New America

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A New America

Twenty-two months ago, on the very steps on which one great president and Illinois legislator announced his candidacy, another Illinois legislator – the audacious first-term United States senator from Chicago – turned some heads and drew some laughter by announcing his own bid for the presidency of the United States of America. On November 4, 2008, what started as a distant dream in Springfield, Illinois has become veritable fact. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill) will become the 44th president of the United States of America.

Obama’s victory, which was once unthinkable but seemingly inevitable as the campaign drew to a close, sent shockwaves throughout the world. People in places as far removed as Hong Kong, Sydney, and a little village in Kenya rejoiced when the news broke. World leaders as diverse as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Iranian leader Mahmoud Amhadinejad sent words of congratulations.

The joy felt around the world was ten-fold in the United States. When the major news networks delivered the projection of Obama’s victory, men, women, and children across the land burst into exuberant celebration. Tears fell from even the eyes of grown men – the image of civil rights champion, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, with tears streaming down his face will endure as one of the most touching images of the 21st century.

Politics is by its very nature melodramatic – a political victory usually means much less than it made out to. The election of Barack Obama is an exception, like the election of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa (and the future election of a female American president). Any way you slice it, electing an African American to the most powerful office in a land where they were once legally enslaved is significant. The tears of the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it all.

But the great thing about Barack Obama is that he cannot simply be pegged as the black candidate. A greater percentage of white voters chose Obama than the white Democratic nominees in past years, such as Al Gore, John Kerry, and even Bill Clinton in 1992. Being black helped Obama win, but it was not the main reason, and it will not define his presidency.

Obama didn’t win because of the color of his skin, or because of where he is from; honestly, he didn’t entirely win because of the issues. His charisma and oratorical skills certainly helped, as did the false steps of the McCain campaign, including the unconscionable blunder of choosing Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee. These reasons, however, do not tell the whole story.

Obama won because Americans of all ideologies – liberal, moderate, conservative, apathetic – saw something in Obama they yearned to find within themselves again: hope. They saw in Obama the promise of a better tomorrow, a better America.

Perhaps such cliché sentiments should not decide the outcome of political contests. But they did. The conditions of the American political and economic atmosphere were ideal for someone like Obama – an unpopular president, a long overseas conflict, a sagging economy, historically low political efficacy.

Now, an inexperienced, untested chief executive inhabits the most powerful office in the land. Obama remains an enigma, despite almost two years in the political spotlight – no one really knows what to expect from the Obama presidency. America has chosen a leader it seems to know little about.

Despite this, it is clear that Barack Obama has the capacity to become a great president. Only a leader of great potential can enthrall a nation as he has. One of the most important qualities of a leader is their ability to inspire those they seek to lead. It is impossible to say that Obama has not inspired America. People from all walks of life – old, young, rich, poor – have fought for Obama in perhaps the most massive political campaign in the history of mankind, in terms of organization, manpower, and money. People believe in Obama more than any politician of our generation.

Obama has promised to lead America wisely. His promise to exercise tact before tactical missiles will be a welcome change from the imprudently aggressive foreign policy of past Republican and Democratic presidents. His promise to promote diplomacy will help restore America’s image in the world arena. His promise to help the poor and disenfranchised, as he did when he was a community organizer in the slums of Chicago, will restore the faith in government of the average American. If Obama keeps his promises to America, great things will happen.

However, promises are just promises. The truth is that the difficult situation at home and abroad, the unpopularity of the Bush administration, and the high rhetoric of the campaign has leveled unbelievable amounts of expectation on the shoulders of President-elect Barack Obama. Everyone expects everything of him – it will be difficult for him to live up to the expectations. Obama will sometimes say the wrong thing, make errors, or fail. Such is the life of any person, whether they are a president or a store clerk.

Expectations and conditions have crushed leaders of great hope in the past. The ouster of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the democratic election of President Corazon Aquino was a time of great hope for the Filipino people. Filipinos around the world flocked home, hoping that their new leader would turn the Philippines into a first-class country. Despite her best efforts, Aquino failed. More than twenty years after her election, the Philippines is still impoverished and corrupt.

The true test for Obama will be whether he can overcome the adversity he will surely face and continue to lead efficiently and virtuously. Obama has the skills necessary to succeed – the charisma of Kennedy, the eloquence of Lincoln, a strong intellect and seemingly sound judgment. He also has a brilliant, experienced second-in-command in Vice President-elect Joe Biden who will be a great asset for him.

What is audacious about hope is the fact that hope is considered audacious at all. Hundreds of millions of hopeful Americans have elected a young President who represents the hope they wish to feel, the change they wish to make. The election of President Barack Obama is not an end, but simply a means. As Obama said in his acceptance speech, “this victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance to make that change.” The capacity for change, and greatness, is there, but the result remains unseen. President Obama has so much yet to prove.

The only certainty is that from this moment on, for better or for worse, this is a new America.

Sarah Palooza

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Republican presidential nominee John McCain set off a media frenzy today by choosing Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. News of the Palin Decision led 95 percent of America to ask – Sarah Who?

Sarah Palin, currently the governor of Alaska, is a 44-year old former beauty queen and mayor of a small town in Alaska. She had been casually mentioned as a possible VP choice for McCain, but was thought to be well behind other hopefuls in the running, such as Independent/Democrat Joe Lieberman, Mitt Romney, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Is this dark horse a good pick for McCain? I think Ed Rollins of CNN said it best – the choice is “brilliant but risky.”

Choosing Palin has started a media circus that has been successful in taking away a lot of the buzz from Barack Obama’s monumental acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. She’s a fresh face, much like Obama was, and will be severely scrutinized coming into next week’s Republican National Convention in Minnesota.

Palin is young – just 44 – evening out the aged McCain ticket. She is also a woman (a likeable one) that may very well steal away some Hillary supporters who were already thinking about voting for McCain. Ingeniously, McCain has subdued Obama’s History Train. Now, whoever wins this fall will surely make history, putting either the first African-American or woman president/vice president in power.

Palin has been described as both “maverick” and “very conservative,” two terms that usually don’t go together. However, they fit here, much like the “maverick” yet “very liberal” tag might fit Obama – Palin is a Washington outsider who is not afraid to lock horns with the Republican establishment. However, she is also staunchly pro-life, which may lure many social conservatives who have been weary about McCain into actually casting a ballot for him this fall.

Now, the risky side of Palin: she is even greener than Obama. She has been governor less than two years, has no experience at the national domestic level and on foreign policy issues. When asked earlier if she would like to be vice president, she answered that she wasn’t even really sure what responsibilities the vice president held. Any “inexperience” knives that the McCain camp tries to throw at Obama now can be deflected and returned, perhaps in greater force.

Obama has accused the Republicans constantly of resorting to the “politics of fear” to steer people away from voting from Obama. The Democrats have potentially been handed their own fear-mongering “gift issue” if the dare us it. Imagine this revised version of the 3 AM Red Phone Call Ad:

It’s dark. 3 AM. The red phone is ringing. The executive must make a crucial security choice. But John McCain isn’t there to answer it – he has been incapacitated. It is up to young Vice President Palin to answer the call and save America. Do you trust her, if need be, to answer the 3 AM call? Do you trust her enough to put America in her hands?

It would be a despicable move, something that might tarnish the reputation of the Democratic machine forever. But it just might work, drawing away the centrist blue-collar folks in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio away from this attractive new McCain-Palin ticket and into the comforting arms of Obama-Biden. And it’s not an entirely fantastical situation – often in American history, for one reason or another, the vice president has had to take over the president’s duty, either on a temporary or permanent basis. (Vice President Dick Cheney had presidential power vested in him at least once during this term, when President George W. Bush was undergoing a medical procedure).

McCain has made a shrewd choice, dampening Obamamania a bit while adding a little fanfare to his ticket at the same time. It will either turn out to be a brilliant strategic move, or an irreparable blunder.

We’ve got 68 days ’til we find out which one it will be.

Written by acs2008

August 30, 2008 at 4:40 am