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The Audacity of Obama’s Hope

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This article is part of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience. 

With the Democratic primaries in full swing, Barack Obama, in his bid for the U.S presidency, joins a short list of prominent African-American contenders (Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Alan Keyes, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton) — all of whom, in the prism of time, had their hopes dashed by the realities of American politics.

While the viability of a black presidential candidate is up for debate, Barack Obama, unlike his forbears, has the most likely chance of winning the Democratic nomination and, consequently, has a real bid for the U.S. presidency. Of the former Democratic contenders, Chisholm, Jackson, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton, each mistakenly placed — at least for mainstream support — race (or gender or class, in the context of race) at the center of their platform. And each, with the reality of their status setting in, eventually conceded, with words or deeds, that their bids were largely to bring African-American issues to the national media's attention rather than to win mainstream support.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Four years later, Chisholm became the first African-American woman to run for President of the United States. As a Brooklyn native, Chisholm sought to improve the social and economic opportunities of inner-city residents, and was also a fervent advocate of social, educational, and health-related programs. Given the time of her candidacy, Chisholm was well aware of the limitations that society and American politics had in place for a woman — especially a black woman. Chisholm, nevertheless, noted that, "in spite of hopeless odds," she needed "to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo."

In 1972, Chisholm won 151 delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

Jesse Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. Jackson, an ardent supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr., was the national director of Operation Breadbasket, an organization supported by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) that sought to improve the economic conditions of black communities. He would later go on to found PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) in 1971 and the Rainbow Coalition in 1984. Both organizations would merge in 1996, under the moniker Rainbow/PUSH. As the head of Rainbow/PUSH, Jesse Jackson would gain national prominence and widespread support. The organization garnered its fair share of critics as well, for Jackson's vocal charges of racism and organization of public protests.

In 1984, Jackson won five primaries and caucuses (the District of Columbia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia and one of two held in Mississippi). In 1988, Jackson's political fortunes doubled, as he won eleven primaries and caucuses (Alabama, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia).

In 2004, twenty years after Jesse Jackson's initial bid, two African-Americans emerged as Democratic presidential nominees: Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network (NAN), and Carol Moseley Braun, who was the first woman elected to the Senate from Illinois, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, and the first African-American (within the Democratic Party) elected to the Senate. The backgrounds of Sharpton, as a civil rights activist, and Moseley Braun, as a former Assistant United States Attorney, led them to champion causes surrounding civil rights, education, and government reform. Both of their campaigns were short-lived, however. Moseley Braun dropped out of the nomination race four days before the Iowa caucuses, on January 15, 2004. Two months later, on March 15, 2004, Al Sharpton announced his endorsement of leading Democratic candidate John Kerry.

As Sharpton and Moseley Braun faded from the political spotlight in 2004, the year also saw the emergence of Barack Obama, an Illinois state legislator. Obama was selected to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and, by the year’s end, he became the fifth African-American Senator in U.S. history. Twenty-seven months later, on February 10, 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for the 2008 U.S. presidential election, as he stood before the Old State Capital building in Springfield, Illinois.

Labeled by political pundits as the candidate of "change," Barack Obama has garnered the hearts of many Americans, who know — without a shadow of doubt — that he is black, by shedding the rhetoric of race. Having a Kenyan father and American mother, Obama is well aware of his international heritage. Nevertheless, despite harsh criticism, Obama refused to get bogged down with racial politics — a stark contrast to the campaigns of his African-American forbears. In the preface of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Obama hoped that the story of his family "might speak in some way to the fissures of race that have characterized the American experience, as well as the fluid state of identity — the leaps through time, the collision of cultures — that mark our modern life."

On January 3, 2008, Barack Obama became the first African-American to win the Democratic Iowa caucuses — securing 38% of the vote. In his victory speech, Obama faced his supporters, saying: "On this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do. We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America."

Three weeks later, on January 26, 2008, Barack Obama won South Carolina's Democratic primary with 55% of the votes. Obama's landslide victory was a big win — giving his campaign much-need momentum for Super Tuesday (February 5, 2008). Obama’s total vote count (~295,000) was comparable to the total turnout for the 2004 Democratic primary and he received double the votes of his most formidable opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, who earned 27% of the vote. Once the polls closed and victory was securely intact, Obama turned to his supporters, once again, declaring: "Over two weeks ago, we saw the people of Iowa proclaim that our time for change has come. But there were those who doubted this country's desire for something new — who said Iowa was a fluke not to be repeated again. Well, tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina."

Do Obama’s victories in Iowa and South Carolina prove America is changing? Only time will tell. Despite the outcome of Obama's presidential bid, one thing is for sure: history is being written, one state at a time. For now, the audacity of Obama's hope shines bright, as he continues his quest to reclaim the American Dream:

A government that truly represents these Americans—that truly serves these Americans—will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won't be prepackaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we'll need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break. — Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

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About Clayton Perry

  • Ayofemi

    Excellent job Clayton. Very well written and I appreciate the little-known historical background you offered on African-American candidates running in presidential elections.

    I love how following Obama’s win Bill Clinton chose to compare Obama to Jesse Jackson, saying that Jesse too ran “good campaigns” in the ’80s.

    Obama continues to seek unity along all differences that make this country what it is, and yet his opponent, excuse me opponent’s husband, still chooses to strategically place race at the forefront. Why couldn’t he compare Obama to any of the hundreds of candidates through history? Clinton continues to be cheap in his criticisms and his comments and because of that, he continues to cheapen his wife’s campaign and unfortunately his own legacy.

    But as you wrote, only time will tell if this country is truly ready to progress in rebranding ourselves internally and externally. With what could be and what has somewhat already been the biggest shift in America’s relationship with race, Obama could be what takes this country to the next level in seeing and promoting people and causes based on integrity and character, opposed to superficial characteristics.

    By any means it is time for a change in this country, and with this election I am convinced all change is good. And I am pround to say that I am even more convinced that the kind of change Obama has already brought and will bring to the table will be even better.

  • JustOneMan

    “Obama’s victories in Iowa and South Carolina prove America is changing?”

    Maybe but it is shining a light on the Dumbocrats as being an exremely racists and devisive party….in order for the “Dumbocrats = Clintons” to hold power they have to keep minorities down and in there place!

    Its amazing how a former white US president gets a free ride from the media for such racists remarks amd tactics!

    JOM
    “McCain – A Figment of The Media’s Imagination”

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    It would be nice to see a black man nominated for the presidency by one of the parties in the United States. It would mark a real change from the racist legacy of slavery in America, and finally indicate that blacks are indeed equal to whites in the United States.

    I speak as an ex-pat, and from my own point of view, Obama Hussein Barack would not be the best man to serve, but that has nothing to do with his race, but rather with his likely policies towards my country were he elected president. But my feelings regarding the benefits to my own nation do not change what I’ve said at first, at the top of this comment.

    Unfortunately, one thing is related to the other. One cannot separate the man from his likely policies.

  • Chandra

    I recall the presidential debates of 2000. This is what George W said…

    1. If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us.

    2. I think we ought to be forgiving Third World debt under certain conditions

    3. And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.

    4. I’m worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. You mentioned Haiti. I wouldn’t have sent troops to Haiti. I didn’t think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation building mission, and it was not very successful. It cost us billions, a couple billions of dollars, and I’m not so sure democracy is any better off in Haiti than it was before

    We are at the beginning of a possible recession and we know that the massive debt and low interest rates contributed to this. Now we have another pretender who is promising this change…..the cycle will go on..All American Presidents CHANGE once they reach washington………the country and the world get screwed!!!

  • Clavos

    Good article.

    Obama needs to be very careful of the Clinton co-candidacy.

    As you point out, Senator Obama has been careful not to repeat his predecessor’s mistake of casting themselves as “Black” candidates. This is such an excellent tactic, that Bill Clinton realized that he and Hillary had to do two things to beat Obama; they had to re-cast him as the “Black” candidate, and they had to bring him down from his well thought out position as the candidate who is NOT of the Washington establishment; the candidate who, as a new face in Presidential politics offers a real possibility for change, as opposed to the same-old, same-old the Clintons represent.

    These two goals are at the root of Bill’s prolonged and vicious attacks on Obama in the weeks leading up to the SC primary.

    As I pointed out in this article a few days ago, these tactics had the potential to backfire on the Clintons, and did, at least in SC.

    But Obama and his campaign advisers need to remain hyper-alert to what the Clintons do next; they are among the most clever and Machiavellian of American politicians, and they are determined to return to the White House.

    They will learn from their mistakes in SC, and they will not give up.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Not that you’d expect any sort of cogent political analysis from JOM, but his comment #2 illustrates just how skewed the perspective of Republican zombies like him is, especially with regard to the media.

    Clinton getting a free ride?? Where does he think all these ‘playing the race card’ stories are coming from?

    Thank goodness there are at least some on the right with more than one brain cell…

  • Clavos

    Huh?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Did you lend yours to the President, Clav?

    😉

  • Clavos

    Well, it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it…

  • JustOneMan

    Duhh….

    Ya morons dont listen…the media will not agressively call him out for being a racists! All they say that “its dissapointing” or “his remarks could lead one to believe”…..the fat old “Great Stain Maker” is no different than a Klansman!!

    Why arent the talking heads turning up the heat like they do to anyone right of center?

    JOM
    “Left wing loons and dumbocrats = politically correct racists”

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Ya morons dont listen…the media will not agressively call him out for being a racists!

    Ever heard of a thing called libel, JOM?

  • JustOneMan

    Libel??? Gee I thought it was all about reporting the truth!

    JOM
    “Left wing loons and dumbocrats = politically correct racists”

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Not that you’d expect any sort of cogent political analysis from JOM, but his comment #2 illustrates just how skewed the perspective of Republican zombies like him is, especially with regard to the media.

    To be fair, there are just as many democrat/leftist zombies and maybe more, and they are certainly just as idiotic and dogmatic as JoM. Go take a brose around Democratic Underground sometime.

    Dave

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I don’t doubt it, Dave, but they’re not dumping their verbal diarrhea here for me to respond to.

    There he goes again, just above your last comment.

  • JustOneMan

    [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

    JOM

    And Dave…you dont believe the Clintons are being racists and the media isnt calling them out? hmmmmm Dave?

  • JustOneMan

    Even Kennedy agrees with JOM!

    Kennedy For Obama: Intends to campaign aggressively with Western trip this week, followed by appearances in Northeast… Kennedy upset over attempts by Clinton campaign to highlight Obama’s race and distortions of statements, record…

    Note to Obama -What ever you do dont let Ted drive!!!

    JOM

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Nice citation, JOM…

    HTML is just something that happens to other people, isn’t it?

    I’m just curious… where did you see that report on Kennedy? Could it have been… let me see now… THE MEDIA??!!??!!

  • Baronius

    Clayton – You mentioned Keyes in passing, but didn’t discuss his candidacy. I don’t think he ever pushed a black agenda. For the record, post-Jim Crow, I don’t think there is such a thing as a black agenda.

  • Chandra

    MSM coverage of HRC is sick and one sided.

  • Chandra

    Chandra

    BO wins a majority of black vote and a quarter of white vote. JE does well amongst white males. Alternative to anti-obama vote? He needs to breach 40% of white vote to really portray himself as a national alternative….

    Good to hear Kerry and Kennedy are with BO!! That will bring in a lot of ‘change’ :-). When will Kerry realise that he is a joker and that only a quarter of voters care for ted kennedy….