Waves of euphoria greeted the news that Barack Obama had become president of the United States. However, reaction ranged all the way from joy and grudging acceptance, to disappointment and disgust–all reflected in the exceptionally close popular vote. The momentous campaign was fueled by record-setting funds and a persona whose message resonated worldwide.
Nonetheless, racial animus is still alive and arguably, Obama may have lost the election but for the economic downturn, spiked by the biggest financial crisis in a century. No longer able to rationalize their steadily draining pocketbooks, many "Joe the plumbers" reluctantly switched to Obama; reality soaked in–they, too were victims of George Bush's domestic policies and John McCain represented an extension of those policies.
Obama's position on major issues like health care, education, taxes, energy, Afghanistan, Iraq and foreign trade are fairly well known and who knows how they will be implemented or modified. (This is where faith comes in.) Like all other presidents, Obama's core values will be evidenced in his cabinet, staff and other appointments. It's entirely possible, that given an aging U.S. Supreme Court, Obama could appoint as many as three Justices, resulting in a profound change in the present Court's conservatism. Similarly, Obama's presidency will significantly affect other federal judgeships–only 25 of Bush's 324 judicial appointments were Black.
The new president's stamp will be felt in every area, from civil/voting rights to foreign policy. A major challenge will be restoring Americans' confidence in their own government, that will include rescinding draconian terrorists-fighting initiatives like the U.S. Patriot Act, unauthorized, (illegal) search warrants and anti-civil rights surveillance mechanisms.
The scope of Obama's victory was vividly captured by an awed Tanzanian who said this election promoted democracy far more effectively than anything the United States could say or do; and in this country, by an 8-year-old announcing the morning after the election, his new career goal: To be America's first Latino president.
Hopefully, although admittedly a stretch, Obama's election will trigger reassessment and new thinking by Black leadership at all levels. Most Black leaders seem conditioned to emulate their White counterparts without comparable access or sustainable benefit. Steeped in individualism and materialism, they often tend to perpetuate rather than alleviate practices and conditions inimical to their own constituents' best interests.
In Los Angeles, the election of State Senator, Mark Ridley-Thomas, to the 2nd Supervisorial District affords us the chance to witness a leadership model substantially different from the traditionalism of his predecessor. Sadly, there are relatively few examples of Black leadership generally, not only elected officials, that consistently give sufficient weight to the concerns of their constituents. Ridley-Thomas's community-oriented record portends a substantively different direction that accords top priority to constituents' needs–many 2nd district residents have long suffered from institutional neglect.
Improving Black/Latino relations is another important area needing focus. (Unfortunately, during the campaign, Obama did not articulate a clear position on this critically important issue.) Blacks cannot successfully collaborate with Latinos or any other group except from a position of strength, but continually attempt to do so. New leadership must be built in order to develop such internal strength.
Huge financial problems face several states, including California, and forward thinking, planning, and unaccustomed risk-taking by the leadership and Black communities themselves is crucial for meeting not only this but all other major challenges as well…
Whether Obama's ascendancy to the nation's (and the world's) highest office has a sustained positive impact on Blacks is obviously an open question, likely as not to be answered in the negative. To successfully navigate current challenges, reassessment of both values and political priorities is necessary in these ever-changing, increasingly competitive domestic and global environments.
Barack Obama is actually the latest link in Black's chain of progress; his election symbolizes, but does ensure, a new day–that's up to us. But his presidency poignantly signals the possibility for real reform designed to improve the quality of life for ordinary people. His success depends, in no small measure, on White Americans seeing his policies as being in their best interest. For Blacks, Obama's success will be more a function of what they present to him than what he initiates on their behalf; it is highly unlikely that he will initiate action targeting Blacks or any other special interest group.
Obama will be sternly challenged to embed in his policies the extraordinary idealism he inspired during his campaign. This might even cause die hard skeptics to join in a different refrain: "Yes he did."
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.