The Next 2000 Days: God & Man in Obama Two
The dilemma was plain.
The promise had been that these candidates would extract some kind of benefits from the winners and the black cause would be advanced. That turned out to be less true than they had hoped. Obama was disappointed that black leaders did not rally to him in greater numbers, but in Iowa he was engaged in a much more immediate project—to prove himself capable of winning white votes.
Obama was extremely careful about racial politics. He spoke out on a prolonged and ugly racial conflict in Jena, Louisiana, but did not join a march. Obama comes from the mainstream electoral tradition, the Doug Wilder tradition. On January 3, , Obama won Iowa. His victory speech that night was emblematic of the subtle way that he would treat race:. You know, they said this day would never come.
They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. We are one people. And our time for change has come.
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An astonishing rhetorical move: Obama calls on the familiar cadences and syntax of the black church. He gestures toward what everyone is thinking about—the launching of a campaign that could lead to the first African-American President. We know that he means racial barriers—we can feel it—but the invocation is more powerful for being unspoken. Hope—hope is what led me here today. The civil-rights struggle is deftly recast in terms not of national guilt but of national progress: the rise of the Joshua generation.
Obama proved that he had a chance, and the black vote started to migrate steadily in his direction. A coalition in the Democratic Party, between antiwar whites and blacks—perhaps something even wider than that—was now conceivable. Them and me. Until that moment, how many African-Americans—how many Americans—allowed themselves to believe that a black President was possible? Had the world really changed that much? Obama won overwhelmingly in South Carolina, taking about a quarter of the white vote and nearly all the black vote.
African-American leaders started to reconsider their loyalties as their constituencies abandoned the Clintons. He phoned Bill and Hillary Clinton to tell them that he loved them but now he was going with Barack Obama. Don Rose, a Chicago political strategist who is close to David Axelrod, is sure that the Obama campaign intended to deal with race the way his client Jane Byrne dealt with gender in her campaign for mayor, in She had bad hair, which had been dyed and dried over a lifetime, and she sometimes had it fixed twice a day. We had her wear a dowdy wig to look as plain as possible.
We discouraged feminist organizations from endorsing her. We knew that women who would identify with her, the gender-centric vote, would come our way without anyone raising it. It was not by accident that Jackson, Sharpton, and other potentially polarizing figures were seen so rarely on platforms with Obama during the campaign.
Jesse Jackson, Jr. But Jesse, Sr. The less said, the better. In fact, when Sharpton first encountered him, Obama was running for the Senate. They met before appearing at a session of the black caucus of the Democratic National Committee and divided up their rhetorical responsibilities. Once the Presidential campaign accelerated, Obama explicitly addressed the subject of race mainly when it was demanded of him.
While he was campaigning at a town meeting in Carson City, Nevada, a woman in her late sixties named Christy Tews told him that she wanted to vote for a Democrat who would win in November.
Then Obama normalized the question, somehow, and thus normalized the prospects of his winning. But the question is, can we get a majority of the American people to give us a fair hearing? God damn America! The Clinton campaign wondered how its own opposition-research operation had failed to uncover the tapes earlier, when, they told themselves, they could have put a quick end to the Obama campaign.
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His jeremiads were meant to rouse, to accuse, to shake off dejection. At times, he called on the familiar metaphor of American blacks as modern-day equivalents of the ancient Hebrews, a people marked by terrible suffering and displacement.
Wright was part of a tradition well known to millions of churchgoing African-Americans. But that would never be explained adequately on cable television. Underneath his welcoming demeanor, was he like a cartoon version of Wright, full of condemnation and loyal only to his race? It was plain that damage control, in the form of sound bites and surrogate interviews, would not work. For three days, Obama campaigned by day and then dictated and wrote the speech until the early-morning hours.
But he refused to condemn him outright:. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother—a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love. Obama was in the midst of a high-stakes rhetorical balancing act. Obama allowed that black anger about past and present wrongs was counterproductive; he also pointed to the way that American politics had been shaped since the Nixon era by the exploitation of white anger in the South and elsewhere.
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Just as important as the message was the tone of the messenger. You are under too much pressure to actually adopt a persona. If he were angry, it would have come out. Studs Terkel, who compiled oral histories about race and the Depression and was, at ninety-six, a Chicago institution, spoke to me a week before his death. The speech in Philadelphia did more than change the subject. It was daring in its ambition, as it not only contextualized the Reverend Wright—at least, for those who were willing to be persuaded—but also posed Obama himself as the break with history, the focal point of a new era, embracing America itself for all its tribes, for all its historical enmities and possibilities.
In effect, it congratulated the country for getting behind him. Wright, Jackson—they were leaders of the old vanguard. Obama would lead the new vanguard, the Joshua generation. Obama has proved to be not only a skilled campaigner but a lucky one—a requirement for victory. In July, good fortune, in the person of Jesse Jackson, handed him an incident that would provide him some useful distance from the past. According to black leaders who know both men well, Jackson resented that a younger, more moderate politician, a man with no experience of the civil-rights struggle and with an unusual entry into African-American life, was heading toward the office that he had twice failed to reach.
African-Americans are No. Fox played the tape on the air, and Jackson had to apologize. This, in turn, allowed Obama to accept the apology. Jackson looked petty and jealous, Obama looked magnanimous. He was a pragmatist, a politician. In , Colin Powell, after his reputation was burnished by the first Gulf War—and long before his reputation was tarnished by the second—was uniquely positioned to become the first African-American President. For a few weeks, as his book sat atop the best-seller list, Powell discussed a run for the Republican nomination with his family and his inner circle of aides and friends.
This is not you. It had nothing to do with race. It had to do with who I am, a professional soldier, who really has no instinct or gut passion for political life. And do you really want to do it? Since leaving the Administration of George W. Bush, in , after serving as Secretary of State, Powell has showed his political hand with care, sometimes through background interviews with favored journalists, sometimes through former aides.
Obama's main assignment as an organizer was to launch the church-funded Developing Communities Project and, in particular, to organize residents of Altgeld Gardens to pressure Chicago's city hall to improve conditions in the poorly maintained public housing project. In , Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he excelled as a student, graduating magna cum laude and winning election as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review for the academic year As the first African American president in the long history of the law review, Obama drew widespread media attention and a contract from Random House to write a book about race relations.
The book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance , turned out to be mostly a personal memoir, focusing in particular on his struggle to come to terms with his identity as a black man raised by whites in the absence of his African father. He wooed her ardently as memorialized in another movie, Southside with You , and after a four-year courtship they married in The Obamas settled in Chicago's racially integrated, middle-class Hyde Park neighborhood, where their first daughter, Malia Ann, was born in and their second daughter, Natasha called Sasha , was born in After directing Illinois Project Vote, a voter registration drive aimed at increasing black turnout in the election, Obama accepted positions as an attorney with the civil rights law firm of Miner, Barnhill and Galland and as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.
When Palmer's congressional campaign faltered, she decided to run for reelection instead. Republicans controlled the state senate, and many of his black Democratic colleagues resented th hardball tactics he had employed against Palmer.
But he adapted, developing cordial personal relations with legislators of both parties and cultivating Senate Democratic leader Emil Jones Jr. Obama was able to get campaign finance reform and crime legislation enacted even when his party was in the minority, and after , when the Democrats won control of the Senate, he became a leading legislator on a wide range of issues, passing nearly bills aimed at helping children, old people, labor unions, and the poor.
A History of President Obama’s 8 Years in Office
Rush remained in the House; he was reelected to his thirteenth consecutive term in Returning to the state senate, Obama began eyeing a race for the US Senate seat held by Peter Fitzgerald, an unpopular first-term Republican who decided not to run for reelection. Bush to launch a war to depose the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Obama spoke at an antiwar rally in Chicago.
What I am opposed to is a rash war. Advised by political consultant David Axelrod, who had a strong record of helping black candidates succeed in majority-white constituencies, Obama assembled a coalition of African Americans and white liberals to win the Democratic Senate primary with 53 percent of the vote, more than all five of his opponents combined.
McCain meanwhile managed a small victory over Huckabee in South Carolina ,  setting him up for a larger and more important victory over Romney in Florida , which held a closed primary on January This gave him a significant boost in the polls for the state's primary,  which awarded the greatest number of delegates of all the states. He also won nearly all of California's delegates, the largest of the Super Tuesday prizes. McCain also scored wins in seven other states, picking up delegates.