I’ve got to give big ups to Hillary last night for that move towards Obama’s nomination by acclamation. Her strained smile and flat gaze reflected just how hard that proclamation was for her. Even Chelsea looked pained. Am I really surprised? No, of course not. Can you imagine standing amongst a crowd of 75,000 people cheering to nominate your rival – but gosh darnit, they have a whole lot of respect for you!
And poor Bill. Forced into professing his confidence in a man he once attacked. Forced to ignite the American public to vote against his own wife. I can’t remember any other campaign that has become this incestuous in years. Oh wait, wasn’t there something of a dynasty known as the Bush family?
I have always been a fan of Bill, and as a woman (because as much as you want to separate the two, you have to recognize the power of seeing yourself and your own struggle in a candidate) I have overwhelming respect for Hillary, but it’s time for their family to step out of the spotlight and go do something else for awhile. Give everyone a break. We can be sure that Chelsea will be inching back into the political foreground in just a matter of years anyway.
Whether it was going to be Hillary or Obama, one thing remains clear about this election year. History has been made and I have officially cried during a democratic convention. It was Michelle’s speech that did it – which I finally caught online – when she spoke about the American dream. Even though I am a white, middle-class female who has never had to truly battle poverty, it was mind-boggling to imagine a little bi-racial boy growing up in a single-parent family, just going to public school like me and my friends, becoming a presidential candidate. And so I cried.
Yet after my emotions subsided, I realized that Obama has not been the only one. Looking back over the years of presidential candidates, how many of them have actually grown up with a silver spoon in their mouths? I am no politico so I couldn’t give you the facts, but it seems to me that many candidates grew up just like Barack, in working-class families who complained about tax hikes and gas prices. Except that they were white, so perhaps the spoon was bronze and not silver, but it was still in the running for the gold.
What I keep asking myself is what we should be more proud of: a black candidate or a female candidate. Okay, so maybe I’m asking this question a little too late – we’ve been through this before – but it’s relevant if we’re going to spend the next two months celebrating Obama’s nomination because of his race. I suppose in the end, we’d do the same amount of partying for Hillary for reasons that are, as they say in Asia, “same same but different.” But I often wonder, who had it worse? Who struggled the most to succeed in the exclusive political world of the upper-class white man? And why this compelling need to elect the martyr?
It’s all relative, you see. Here in France, no one’s buying the whole “Barack had it bad” excuse. I’ve never had one French person exclaim that the Americans have really done it this time, electing a poor black man into office. Maybe, culturally, they just don’t understand. But the truth is, Barack did not grow up as the poor, oppressed black man. He grew up as a bi-racial, light-skinned black male in sunny Hawaii in a relatively stable environment. I’m not doubting that he has faced racism in his lifetime. Far from it. Just the other day, two men were arrested for plotting to assassinate him – bringing to light a great fear of mine and many people I know. The depth of this country’s racism is frankly shocking.
But to dwell on the fact that he has moved up in the world socially or racially in a truly astounding way is going a bit over the top. Maybe it’s my generation and the fact that race has not really played a part in my personal or professional relationships. Maybe this whole race question is more for the generation of my parents – who seem to be leading the discussion on the magnitude of Obama’s achievements. To me and my friends, he’s just another man (and an attractive one, at that) who has sparked our interest.
Still, his election takes nothing away from the plight of African-Americans and what has just been accomplished. Obama has opened the way for amazing things to happen in America’s future and given hope to everyone – black, white or otherwise, rich or poor. I still haven’t decided if we should be patting ourselves on the back for “coming so far” by electing a black man over a half century after MLK’s speech – is that a long or short amount of time? I can’t answer that. But it’s a hell of a start.
Perhaps the bigger accomplishment is that such a junior senator can rise to the heights of presidential candidacy based almost solely on charisma and hard work. Looking at how far he, not American race relations, has come professionally in such a short amount of time is what’s worth recognizing. That, I think, gives everyone hope, regardless of race or gender. Even if you can’t relate to Obama’s racial history or family upbringing, you can surely relate to his will to achieve great things in his life.
His story reminds me of a Fortis commercial I saw recently. It goes something like this: “One day, you were born into this world (insert woman pushing a baby carriage). And one day, you’ll leave this world (old lady hobbling down the street with a cane). But what you do in between is up to you.”
I’m not sure why, but every time I see it, I get goose bumps. What Obama has done is exactly the point this commercial, however simplistic, is trying to make. Everyone has a choice in how they direct their lives. They can choose to sit in the corner and feel sorry for themselves and their lot in life, or they can stand up and make a change. The decision is their’s.
So, what will you do today?