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The Obama Presidency: What Does It Mean?

I asked my son this morning what the Obama presidency means to him. He looked at me and said, what do you mean dad? As I lost the battle of holding back my tears as I spoke to him, I explained to him some of the things that Obama’s presidency might mean to different people, cultures, sub-cultures, constituencies, counties and countries. I then realized that my perspective on the significance of the Obama presidency is limited and that if I really wanted to understand the significance I would be better served by asking others. So, what does this historic event mean to you as an individual, or the world that you live in?


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This election has been the only election in my lifetime that has mattered to me. Sure, you might consider that a sign of my political apathy, and I would agree with you to a certain extent. However, I would argue that it is easy to feel detached from our elections and politics when our vote, up until this point, has basically been for one white man or the other, one elitist or another. I am not saying that all white presidential candidates are poor choices for president. I am simply stating that the fact that all of our previous presidents have been white has some seriously racist implications, as you should understand. I would argue that by virtue of Obama's skin color alone he ought not be considered an elitist in the sense I previously referred. We come from a society where there historically has been no place for a dominant black man, let alone a PRESIDENT!

I am a 24 year old middle class white man and was brought to tears last night because of our election of a black man. I was for once happy about politics. I watched our President's speech in Chicago and for the first time felt like I saw a group of supporters representing the true diversity of America. I pray and hope that I am not unrealistically optimistic in believing this election represents a landmark in American and international History and is a catalyst for future reform and changes in our society, from racism to sexism, homophobia to classism, and every other ism you can imagine. I do not think that is an unrealistic aspiration.

I never thought I would live to see a black president. Yet the "American Conscious", as Obama stated, has spoken. I think now, more than ever, those who have not experienced the plight of blacks in America must make an effort to understand what that has entailed and still does. Yes, those who have not experienced such fierce racism can never truly know what it means to be black in America. Yet it is still worth trying to understand in order to break down the inherent racism in our society. I think this election could be indicative of a penetration into the cloak of blatant and covert racism in America. NOW LETS TRY AND RIP IT WIDE OPEN!!! Today, I am proud to be an American, as cliche as that sounds, today, I mean it.

*** Nick, considering how you self-describe yourself as a white man, it warms my heart to hear you describe the passion you have for what transpired when Obama ascended to the White House. Many don't understand or don't choose to consider how significant it may be for so many. What people really should ask themselves is why is it that so many people all over the world are celebrating this one man's presidency with such fervor. It isn't simple happenstance! There is a reason why the world has responded to Obama ascending to the presidency. What would that be? *** -- J.W.

I took a day or two to soak in the election of Barak Obama as the next President of the United States before deciding what it all really means. Sure there's the obvious - the first African American President elected in what was really the first 21st Century Campaign; the first time in several cycles where the winner will actually get more than 50% of the popular vote. The historic significance of Obama's win cannot be overstated.

Beyond the obvious historical milestones though I think this election marks a fundamental shift in who will be considered presidential material for several cycles to come. Smarts count. Competence is cool. The poll question "which candidate would you rather have a beer with" is no longer relevent. And good riddance. By all accounts, the Obama campaign, starting in its earliest stages, right through the primaries and on through the general election, was a study in discipline, even-handedness and genuine leadership. There were no scare tactics, no demonizing of the opponent, no wedge issues at all...which brings me to another shift.

The recent Republican strategy for winning elections has been to try to get 270 electoral votes and not a single vote more, even if that means NOT winning the popular vote. And then, once elected, Republicans have governed as if their victory entitled them to run roughshod over everyone who didn't agree with them. In their eyes, if you lost an election, you were just that - a loser, and your opinion didn't matter. You were opposition to be overcome. Your ideas didn't matter. You were only relevent to the extent you were standing in the way of what they wanted to do.
This president-elect will take a different approach. In a sober, deliberate, serrious "victory" speech, he noted that the support and loyalty of those who did NOT vote for him was something he had to EARN. He said he would be a President, not just for those who voted for him, but, for the entire country. He didn't just ask for support, but pleaded for help. And there was a thinly veiled message for the Democrat leadership in Washington as well. This victory does not mean that it's Democrats' turn to stick it to Republicans. Obama's entire campaign was premised on the idea that Americans are tired of that kind of attitude. Rather, one gets the sense that Obama will try to take the best ideas he can, regardless of the source, and use them to move the country forward.

It's been widely reported that Obama has no time for whinners or drama queens or harsh partisans of any stripe. It will be his responsibility to make sure that those of his own party who may be predisposed to those personality traits don't have too much to say about running the country, and, I think he has pledged to do as much. The question now for Republicans in Washington is, how will you behave? Will you oppose the new President at every turn simply for the sake of opposing a president not of your party, even when you don't necessarily find his proposals all that objectionable? Will you search for reasons (maybe even make some up) to vote against this bill, or that legislation, because it may not be EVERYTHING you want, or, may be marginally against your ideology? Are you already looking toward 2012? Or, will you work with this new president, putting forward your best ideas to help accomplish common goals like energy independence, health care for all Americans, the defeat of terrorism, and the eradication of poverty? Will you let the new president try to earn your support or have you already committed yourself to opposing him at every turn? Before he's even in office, he's already invited you to the table. Care to sit down?

*** Card Buddy, I am ready to vote for you for a political office after that inspiring call to arms. I totally agree though. Will people who won't see their candidate in office pout, gripe, groan, or open their minds to the possibility that Barack could be the greatest president we've ever had. After all, at the beginning of all of their careers, doesn't every president have that potential? More importantly, for those who consider themselves "true Americans," any negative type of thought about our presidents-elect might be construed as un-American! *** -- J.W.

Tuesday night was an exciting night...the significance of which we likely won't be able to fully grasp for quite some time. I'm glad that I was one of those who stayed up WAY past my bedtime to take it all in, and witness the electric atmosphere in Chicago.

But in direct response to your post...the significance to me is not really heightened by the fact that Barack is black. He's a good man. And more importantly to me...he appears to be a good father and husband. And while I may disagree with his politics, he's MY President, and I'm optimistic that his ability to energize the country during the campaign will translate into his ability to lead us over the next four years.

JW...I have a question for you (or anyone else willing to respond). With all the discussion we've had here in regard to do you reconcile Obama's rise to the Presidency as a symbol for Black Americans with his obviously privileged upbringing (parents with college degrees, world traveler as a child, Columbia and Harvard educated)?

And just to be clear....please don't take this question as any slight toward Obama. I'm just curious how consistent the "privilege" discussion is now that Obama is our President. He DID get there because he was privileged, right? How could it be any other way?

*** I like you Whaler for many reasons, none more than your ability to engage in discourse that may be contrary to your world view, but nonetheless healthy. Most people miss the opportunities that varying opinions give us to grow. Additionally most people run from opinions that challenge theirs. Okay, enough with the compliments...

I like hearing you say Obama is your president, especially knowing you didn't vote for him. Too often when what we would have preferred to see happen doesn't occur, we tune out or disappear. I know I have done this and struggle often to not succumb to it.

To answer your question my response to Obama's privilege, of which he has much, is praise, at least at this point, for his recognition of the privilege he has and what I interpret as his commitment to engage various privileges that exist in American society that often are unfairly accentuated at the expense of others. Obama's consciousness about health care originates from the fact that his economic privilege came too late to make a difference with his mother's fatal illness (if it could have at all). The racism that he experienced/endured in his lifetime and the socio-economic classism that he and his single mother had to navigate around has also contributed to him being justifiably preoccupied with assisting the underclass. His commitment to do just this is what provided the McCain campaign with the fodder to frame his as a socialist, because he dares to tweak capitalism enough to situate the Have-nots with some chances at having. So, having privilege isn't necessarily a bad thing. The problem lies in having privilege and denying possessing it as well as benefiting from it. More so, perhaps the only thing worse than having privilege that you didn't earn is not doing anything with it to assist others in tasting what you've eaten all your life, for free! *** -- J.W.

Am I one of the few individuals who didn’t cry over this historic “moment”?

What does this moment mean to me? Nothing. I didn’t vote for Obama but rather for the individual I believed is more capable of protecting our country rather than selling it out to the crazies in this world. The masses have spoke, this moment is over, and we’ll see how long the next moments last. America is wonderful: you can respect the position but in no way are obligated to respect the individual holding it. It’s not a multiple choice question, Obama has to perform and deliver. Any short comings in leadership or character and the media is going to pounce on him. So he can either strive to lead or set our civil rights back a hundred years.

This moment has already started us off on the wrong foot: we elected our first “African-American” president. Per the media, we didn’t elect an American as president, we elected a “hyphenated” American as president. Will our first Haitian-Cuban-American president receive the same rousing reception? Hence a fundamental challenge for a diverse country: how do you drop the hyphen and unit? Pride in you heritage aside, you’re LEGALLY living on American soil, speaking English and not Pressing "1" to hear it, being paid in American dollars (or collecting an American welfare check) and hopefully pursuing the American dream (notice that it’s not called the Iranian dream or any other such nonsense) then by the rights invested in the American constitution you are hereby declared an AMERICAN. So drop the hyphen and move on!

One positive aspect of this new presidential election night hysteria is the resurgence of mandatory corporate and scholastic diversity courses. You know this dreaded class is on the horizon. We, as a diverse country, (or corporation) need to address and forgive any past transgressions so as to clear our collective conscience. Then we can offer to pay the offended individuals for suppressing them for the past millennium. Sounds reasonable. Course enrollments should skyrocket in the predominately pigmentally challenged North Country. It's a real thrill for these folks. Ah yes, more touchy feely sessions where we are encouraged to respect, understand, be thoughtful and giving of those different than us and yet we are not offered the same treatment in kind.

Now everyone join hands for a round of Kum By Ya.

*** Steve, are you a bit perturbed by the Obama presidency? Let's see, unless I'm mistaken you framed Obama as someone who would sell out America to the crazies of the world. Wow! Then you state that you voted for the individual who "is more capable of protecting our country." I liked McCain prior to the campaign and really respected his concession speech, but frankly am tired of people asserting that someone who graduated 894 out of 899, who a short time after his return divorced the wife that waited all those years for him (who was also coincidentally disabled in a car accident a short time prior to his return) and soon thereafter married Cindy would have been such a great president. The only way any of us can confidently assume someone will be a great president would be to gauge that assumption on their prior experience as president. Since neither Obama or McCain had prior presidential experience, it was all a shot from the hip. From what I understand McCain the war hero was shot down three times. Yes he survived, but is it possible that while he was a pilot he may have been relatively inept which led him to being shot down three times? Now frankly, I don't know if any of this is the case, and really don't care. On the other hand, this is the type of argument that you and so many others are comfortable using against Obama's credibility as a presidential candidate. Ironically people dismissed his community organizing and that community organizing is probably what won him the election.

I would say that it will be quite intriguing to see who the real Americans are now. It could definitely be argued that so-called Real Americans will give this new president a chance to succeed instead of waiting in the wings hoping he will fail because they are pining/whining over McCain's loss, or Obama's Blackness, though they won't admit it. Are you a real American Steve?

Steve, go sit down and have a conversation with someone that you respect--who will talk real with you--about these matters. It would benefit you. When you speak so angrily about initiatives that help people understand, respect, and yes, love one another more, you just tell the world that you could have benefited from more love yourself, hence why you are angry. Catch your breath Steve. If you give people a chance, they will love you!

Oh, lastly, I imagine that African-Americans and other hyphenated Americans would enjoy losing the hyphen as much as you challenge us to lose it. When America begins to treat all of its citizens equally in policy and procedure, we will be well on the road to doing that. The Obama presidency represents steps in that direction. *** -- J.W.

I love the idea of change and I understand the historicness of Pres.-elect Obama, but isn't the Dream that it is "not buy the color of the skin"? You have proclaimed this and is one of the reasons I read your blog and columns. The prejudice must stop! Martin Luther King Jr.'s son said this is not the dream yet, but it is a start. Why are we putting up the walls we are trying to tare down? Why did you really vote for Him? To create history, or because he is the right man for the job? If it were for the history, then why did you not stand up for Alan Keyes for the last 12 years? He is a brilliant man of color, moral in character, who is more qualified then all the candidates combined, has the tenacity of a bull. I am one who believes the change to come is not what we really want. But it seems, for histories sake, people voted for Pres.-elect Obama. I did not vote for him because he is much to liberal. There was a lot more at stake this election than the economy. I guess I am one who wants the dream to come true for everyone.

*** Dan, I don't vote for candidates only because of their race, gender, etc. Like you I vote for the candidate that I think will do the best job. However, anyone who has voted over the years for our country's top position who doesn't realize that they have voted in terms of race and gender is kidding themselves. No one is capable of stepping away from their biases completely but those who understand this fact at least are better situated to attempt to engage their blind spots. Like you I want the dream to come true for everyone as well. Unlike you though, I don't automatically dismiss our new president of being the one who might be able to better approach making the American dream more accessible simply because going into election day he wasn't your candidate. If McCain had won I would have taken a deep breath and hoped he would find ways to "do the right thing." I did this with Clarence Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court, to no avail. As a optimist I probably do this to a fault. Your point about Alan Keyes is an interesting one. However, please note that Obama would have been Keyes-like for me if it hadn't been for his grace under fire, charisma, and organizational skills. Going into the democratic primary campaigning I was deeply immersed in the Clinton camp. Obama won me over. If you give him a chance (as we should any of our president-elects) perhaps he will exceed your expectations also. What do you have to lose? *** -- J.W.

JW - As a past/ current/ and future student of yours, I would just like to tell you that it is wonderful to read your opinions, while I am studying in Costa Rica. I knew you had a huge positive impact on my views of the world, but until last night when I happened to stumble onto your blog, I had not realized how greatly you helped mold my mind to the place where I am quite content that it is at today. The past two months, here, I have had many discussions with people from all over the United States and all over the world (in English and Spanish) about race, religion, politics, abortion, and many other topics. And to the best of my ability I have tried to put everyone I spoke with in the shoes of the people whose lives are being affected by the topics I have discussed, anyone from Hugo Chavez to a pregnant woman to a member of FARC. But I constantly, to the best of my ability, try to step back and analyze and understand a persons actions or options without judging them. But I, like you, try to combine humor with discussions about serious and important topics, so that the discussion does not lead into a debate or an argument and so that people leave the discussion thinking about my extreme or unconventional views, instead of leaving the discussion with hate or anger towards someone with a different view (not to say that I do not do that). However, when I found myself reading your responses to the comments people leave on your blog, it was like hearing a great voice of reason. I am not sure how to describe it but it was nice to hear someone whose ideas and views I could almost completely agree with and someone who could challenge people in a considerate way whose ideas appear to be opposite from yours. Anyway I do not want to get that head completely filled with compliments, but I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate having you as a professor and it is nice to be able to hear your voice from a few miles away from Plattsburgh.

Anyway, being a young citizen of the United States, I am thrilled about the election of Barack Obama. As a man who not only portrays himself as a strong, confident leader, he has always expressed his views in terms of reason and steps of action he will take, but he also give me hope that the United States will be in a better position after his term is over. His plans of strengthening the middle class and expanding the healthcare system and working to develop new jobs in our country, show me that he has a mind that understands that capitalism needs to be regulated by our government in order for a more equal, democratic society.

Now in discussing his race, I, as a white man, feel that people were forced to look past Obama's race because of the horrible state our government is in today. Now by saying this, many steps our country has taken in the past to help rid society of racism, have not always been true compassionate, good-hearted actions. There have been many factors that pressure our society to instill changes. For example, many governmental institutions were either desegregated or began accepting people of color during the early years of the cold war, when we needed to "prove"to the world that our democratic society is a "free" and "equal" place for all people. So I do feel this election is a huge step in United States history, which will have a (probably slow) impact upon African-American citizens. However, I, as a white man, cannot understand or feel the true impact Obama can have on the millions of African Americans and millions of other minority citizens in our country. I hope that Barack will be an inspiring role model for all people but especially for oppressed citizens of our country who lack similar political faces.

But beyond our borders, people will now look at the United States as a country that can have a President that does not shine white. And this will show the people of the world that we can actually look at people who are not white and see them as equal. Countries around the world will hopefully have a new look at us and at our President in a positive and respectful way and hopefully Obama will change the habits the US has had in foreign affairs.

Hey Now Wiley,Report on BROKEN BENCH ,this subject still exist in your area ,and across this country.This is also related to the Black people's strugle

To me the most significant thing about Obama's victory is that at last, someone has won the Presidency in part based on his intelligence and willingness to use it in public, rather than on his skill at hiding it. This says something about the American people that I'm afraid I've never believed before ... that they will, in fact, choose the best candidate regardless of race, gender (I think Hillary came close to proving that one), or of any other distractions that might prevent it. I keep coming back to this ... I remember worrying that names like Dukakis and Tsongas might be a bit too weird for a US President. Yet, we just elected a person named Barack Obama to be President of the United States. When you think about it, as superficial as it is, it is really amazing and encouraging.

Andrew...I can't let your comments on intelligence go unchallenged. It's just in my nature. :)

What are your criteria for saying that finally "someone has won the Presidency based on intelligence?"

Is it because Obama is Harvard and Columbia educated? If so, then you'd have to agree that GHW Bush and GW Bush were both intelligent because they were Yale educated. How about Clinton (Georgetown)? And Jimmy Carter (US Naval Academy)? And Gerald Ford (Yale Law School)? And Richard Nixon (Duke Law)? Lyndon Johnson (Georgetown Law)? Kennedy (Harvard)? Eisenhower (West Point)?

Or is your criteria based on the fact that Obama is so articulate? Then you would have to concede that Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and JFK were clearly some of the most articulate and moving speakers.

Between the two lists I've given, I think each President we have elected back to the 50's can be considered intelligent based on either their educational background or their ability to articulate their point of view in moving and memorable ways.

Frankly, I think it's somewhat condescending to claim these past President's were elected solely because they were crafty and good politicians.

I agree with you that Obama is an intelligent man...and I look forward to seeing how he may impact the direction of our country. But it sounds like your politics (your like of Obama) has clouded your ability to make an honest assessment of those who preceeded him in the office he will occupy this January.

Obama is impressive enough on his own...we don't need to bring down those around him to make him stand tall.

Whaler --

First of all, where Obama got his degrees has nothing to do with my assessment.

Second, I will concede that it's probably impossible to achieve the Presidency without being intelligent in some way.

Third, I was trying to say that I think it has been a very long time since a candidate won the Presidency without in some way hiding or distracting from his intelligence. Reagan I think had intuitive intelligence, but people liked him for his folksiness and grandfatherly reassurance. Carter touted his newness moral cleanliness. Clinton is probably brilliant, but he wouldn't have gone nearly as far without also being a "down home" southerner. Nixon was probably brilliant, too, but at times ran against the very notion of being smarter than others. Bush Sr. never quite figured out the right combination of smart guy and "regular" guy. His son ... I'm really not sure what he was up to, but he, too, laid on the "regular guy" paint pretty thick.

Obama did not run away from his own intelligence and thoughtfulness. Probably because it is his main selling point. He made the best of it and at the same time didn't have to try to hard to also be relatable. Voters I think know he is relatively cerebral and - for better or for worse - thinks profound thoughts. Maybe it's the times we live in, which seem to call for a sophisticated mind as well as an inspiring persona, but it is still rare that voters opted for the "smart guy" over those who tried to make his intelligence seem worrisome and alienating.

That's what I find remarkable.

And yes, I'm influenced by my politics. Time will tell how blinded I am by them!

It means we are on the right track; or at least, have made a step in the right direction.

It means that slowly, we may be winning the war on ignorance, hatred, bigotry and all the related evils and injustices that such negative things bring about.

It means that maybe, hopefully, the dream Dr. King had, can come true in my lifetime.

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