Now that Hillary Clinton has made it known that she’s winding down her campaign, will not take the fight for the nomination to the Democratic Convention and that she will formally endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy, now comes the character test. Has Obama demonstrated that he has the leadership qualities that America desperately needs at this juncture? Yes. Does he have the capacity to match wits with Senator John McCain? More than enough in my opinion (full disclosure: back in the early 90s, I debated Sen. McCain on the matter of US policy towards Haiti more than once and I don’t put much stock in his debating skills). Can he build party unity, infuse the electorate with a sense of purpose, and get it to understand that the stakes are bigger than one individual’s aspirations? Yes.
I am not referring to the content of his character. The question is whether voters can really see beyond the skin color of both Obama and McCain to base their decision on the content of their character. Will voters be able to pass their own character test?
Obama’s ascendance to the leadership of the Democratic Party is being celebrated as an historic first: the first African-American to be the nominee of a major political party in the US. Undoubtedly, he brings pride to African-Americans, and to other people of color who faced and continue to face discrimination and segregation, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I confess that I am very much aware at all times that I am seen as a black man first, or the black (Haitian) man who is the exception (that confirms the rule). So I also confess that his rise gives me pride as well.
However, as Obama himself has tried to point out subtly at the Xcel Convention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, he is neither white nor black: he’s a mutt. His first thank you went to his maternal grandmother. I get the feeling that had she been able to travel from Hawaii, he would have been sandwiched on the stage between her, and his wife Michelle. And that would have made for quite a symbol.
As much as the candidates may try to downplay the race issue, I am afraid that racism is still too deeply entrenched in America for it to not be a factor in the presidential contest. It’s been clear that Sen. Clinton tried to come back from the Super Tuesday shock of Obama’s victories by playing up the race card with the “white” working class. She did that, because most people still seem to not have reconciled with the fact that the blood that runs through everyone’s veins is simply made up of red and white blood cells. And that if one needs a blood transfusion, what matters is that the blood types are compatible, not that the blood itself is drawn from a man or woman from Mongolia, South Africa, Haiti, Canada, Norway, China or the US.
The worse part in this scheme is not that people are unable to leave behind their race-based biases or prejudices. I believe that they can. The worse part is that the pundits and reporters whose cacophony reverberates through the media may not let go of the race card. It’s just too juicy for the ratings.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe, just maybe, most Americans will take their cue from Obama’s leadership and force the talking-heads to stop the verbiage in order to focus on the challenges that we face together as citizens and immigrants, today and tomorrow.