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December 18, 2006

Considering Obama

Barack Obama is likely to announce his candidacy for President sometime this next month or so.  His presence in the race will be very welcome, no matter how far he is able to take the race.  There is no question Obama is a very appealing candidate.  I heard him at one of his campaign stops in Seattle earlier this fall and was impressed both by his message and delivery and by the welcome extended to him.   Here's a video-clip of him at a recent New Hampshire stop that illustrates this.

Initially I was concerned, like others, at his lack of experience at the national level but have since realized that his easy, healing manner is probably more important than the lack of experience.  A person without an enormous ego, and I think he fits that description, will bring in the right people to provide the necessary expertise and will then listen to them.

Both pundits and Obama himself have talked about the generational aspects of his candidacy.  In an interview in the latest Newsweek, Obama talks about the American people's desire to get beyond partisan politics.  He responds specifically to this question of the generational aspects of his possible candidacy.

Our politics has very much been grounded in debates over the '60s. There's the '60s, the backlash against the '60s, the counter-backlash within the Democratic Party against the '60s. We've been effectively talking about Vietnam, the sexual revolution, the civil-rights movement for a generation now, and it doesn't adequately describe the challenges we face today. My peer group, I think, finds many of those divisions unproductive. We see many of these problems differently, on race, faith, the economy, foreign policy and the role of the military.

Part of the reason the next generation can see things differently is because of the battles that the previous generation fought. But the next generation is to some degree liberated from what I call the either/or arguments around these issues. So on race, the classic '60s formulation was, "Is it society and institutional racism that's causing black poverty or is it black pathology and a culture of poverty?" And you couldn't choose "All of the above." It looks to me like both. [The younger generation] is much less caught up in these neatly packaged orthodoxies.

There's another aspect of Obama's appeal that interests me as well.  Obama was not raised by an American black parent.  He carries little or no internalized racism and the subsequent feelings that instills.  I heard a piece on NPR last week that brought that aspect of it up.  The commentator, Steven Barnes, whom I'm pretty sure is African American,  argued "that one of the reasons Sen. Barack Obama could be such an appealing candidate is that he doesn't carry the cultural baggage of slavery, since his father was an immigrant to the United States".  Barnes reminded us that Colin Powell, the other African-American who was seriously considered presidential material in the 90's, had a father from Jamaica. 

I recently read a book by a friend of a friend, Joy DeGruy Leary, a professor at Portland State University, entitled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, that reminds us of the impact of slavery on the post-slave generations an discusses the distress that African-Americans still carry around, through no fault of their own.  Someone like Obama, who carries less of that distress, may be an interesting bridge for us as a society in reconciling both our institutionalized and internalized racism as long as we realize that there are reasons he doesn't carry it in the same ways. 

Go Obama!  We need the healing.  We need the opportunity to talk openly about the rifts in our society and the impacts that it has had on us individually and collectively.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 18, 2006 at 10:05 AM in Candidate Races, National and International Politics | Permalink

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