Albeit more symbolism than substance, the election of a black or a woman to the White House could be very significant, indeed -- a defining year in America's political history. What can be more exciting than the possibility of breaking a longstanding stigma against certain groups of persons in this country -- a stigma that says they cannot be elected to the highest office in this land, at least in the near future? That has been the thinking, generation after generation. However, that does not have to continue beyond this November.
BEING PRESIDENT is like no other job. One does not train for it. And one does not walk into it knowing what in the world to do, for sure. At best, all one can do, if elected, is to surround himself or herself with competent people who are good at what they do; have the interest of the country ahead of the interest of special groups; and are willing to serve to that end. Of course, the buck stops at his or her feet, where a decisions is made.
Since no incumbent is running, experience for the office is a non-issue in this race, I would think. There is no guarantee what a candidate can or will do, if elected to office. That has always been the case, and most likely will continue to be. For instance, we have experience in the White House now. Does this tell us something about experience and how much it counts? If this is what experience gives us, then spare us from experience, and just give us somebody we can believe in, in addition to somebody who has a sound mind; a strong love for this country; a willingness to protect it; and an understanding that we do not live on an island separated from the rest of the world.
The other candidates, be they Republican, Democrat or independent, also fit the bill to serve in the highest office of the land. The election of any of them would be a breath of fresh air to who is in the White House now. However, the election of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would have a special affect on the lives of so many Americans in ways we cannot yet comprehend.
I am naÃve enough to think that either Clinton or Obama will be the next president of the United States. I believe this because, so far, no one has offered any compelling reasons, other than philosophical differences, why this should not happen. Except for race and gender, Clinton and Obama are not unlike any of their contenders. Now, whether either of them ends up being a good president remains to be seen, as it has been with every president we have had. I see no reason to put unreasonable demands on their candidacies.
NONE OF THE women and blacks who have run for president before was viable. And they had no illusions about winning. Let us say they were just testing the waters. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm, A U.S. representative from New York, became the first black woman with some standing to run for president. She ran under the slogan "Unbought and unbossed." When she arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Miami, she had 151 delegates pledged to her, and was given a coveted speaking slot. That was the extent of her campaign.
Most of the black candidates who have run for president have come from the civil rights activist rolls rather than from political office. Comedian Dick Gregory ran a write-in campaign in 1968 and received 47,000 votes. Lenora Fulani and Al Sharpton did not fare well in their bids. Jesse Jackson was the most successful up until now. In 1984, he won five Democratic caucuses and primaries. This set the stage for a more ambitious run for president later in 1988, and also paved the way for Obama to run this time.
In this election year, "change" is the buzzword. Even Republican candidates are using it. This is not so strange, considering the many lost opportunities our current president has squandered to move this country forward. Change could be good or bad, depending on whom change will affect and how. This election, like no other in this country's 222-year history, would give us the opportunity to turn a page and destroy the glass ceiling that has hung over the heads of non-whites and women alike, and has kept them from the highest office in government: the presidency. This could be the greatest change of 2008. How could we pass up such an opportunity? Just think of the legacy we would leave future generations. I plan to be a part of this history, and hope you will as well.
However, I am mindful that there are people who are unwilling to take this risk. The reasons range from the sublime to the absurd. Most come out of fear -- fear of the unknown. It is sort of like overcoming the fear of water and learning how to swim. One cannot get rid of that fear until he or she gets into the water. Just thinking about it will not change a thing.
Most interesting, though, is the fact that polls tell us that blacks are more pessimistic about a black becoming president than either whites or Hispanics, or America as a whole. Could it be that we are not only pessimistic, but also fearful? Is it a fear borne out of knowing how we have treated one another when in power? For some of us, it's just plain old jealousy. What a sad state of affairs it is when others have more faith in us than we have in ourselves.
FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I am proud of the progress this country has made in my lifetime, and I am optimistic that we can overcome this present fear. Early on in my childhood, it was unthinkable that a black -- or a woman, for that matter -- would be or could be elected to local office, let alone national office. We have crossed that threshold and many others.
Electing a woman or a person of color to the office of president would move this country to new heights. What makes this so exciting is the fact that we can make this happen this year.
(The writer is a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc. He lives in Martinez.)