The Strongest Leader We Could Have Elected Now

Reverend Kevin J. Agee

On January 20, 2009, 80 years after the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nearly 41 years after his assassination and 45½ years after the “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to trivialize the significance of what President Obama has accomplished.

In the year he was born, he would not have been able to vote in many of the states that he won in the 2008 election because of his race. Many African Americans, including me, did not think we would live to see this day. How powerful it was to witness Mr. Obama paraphrase Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech as he rendered his acceptance speech. Just as powerful was the sight of icons of the Civil Rights Movement shedding tears of joy. While this historic event has the potential to advance race relations in this country by light years, we must clearly understand that we have not yet reached the Promised Land. The bitter battles of both the primary with Senator Hillary Clinton and the general election with Senator John McCain have demonstrated that racism is alive and well in the US.

Race is not the only factor that makes this election so significant. President Obama’s experience and skills as a community organizer enabled him to raise more campaign funds than any political candidate in history. Refusing to accept any public money, he did not rely primarily on wealthy corporate types and special interest groups to raise his funds. Instead, those donations came primarily from ordinary people who may have only been able to afford gifts of $5, $10 or $25.

Mr. Obama’s campaign strategy sent a clear message that all people are important and that perhaps there is a possibility that we may one day see a government that is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people.” His election sends a strong message that all people, regardless of their background or standing in life, have hope. Yes, we can far exceed the expectations of others.

While I do believe we have elected the strongest leader we could have elected at this point in history, I also believe we must be careful not to have unrealistic expectations. Mr. Obama will be more closely scrutinized than any prior President, simply because he will be the first African American to serve in that capacity. However, we must remember that he is inheriting a colossal mess. Not the least of his concerns will be an abysmal economy and two wars. Mr. Obama appears to have taken great care to put together his cabinet. He began working on a plan for the economy before taking office. Still, it is imperative that all US citizens bear something in mind. These problems did not develop overnight nor can we expect our new President to solve them overnight. We have elected a President, not a Savior.

Rev. Agee is Pastor of Hopps Memorial CME Church and President of the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS).


We All Need to be Counted

Louise Poindexter holding forth on the bus during the Syracuse stop of the 2006 Equal Justice for All tour. Photo: Carol Baum

Louise Poindexter

President Obama’s election is certainly something historical, and that is a fact we should neither forget nor dwell upon as we move forward. I only wish him the best as he begins his presidency and tries to move us out of the mess we find our country and world in. Before looking towards the future, we all need to reflect on the past eight years to learn valuable lessons.

George W. Bush left us in a pathetic mess. It is no wonder we were driven down when our leaders let their own selfish interests come before those of other citizens of the US and the world. This was all perfectly evident in Bush’s final press conference. His attitude was clearly “what did you want me to do?” as he reflected on the past eight years and made light of the mistakes that cost so many people their lives and livelihoods.

Hurricane Katrina is an accurate portrayal of the ineptitude that President Obama will have to overcome. Where was the “bailout” when so many suffered amid Katrina’s devastation? The banks and car companies got their money quickly.

Finally, people got tired, some people did wake up, and the outcome was Obama’s election. By that point, people knew something was not right – they did not want to head further into the dump.

While I am happy that Obama was elected President, I do not stand very hopeful because of the difficult state of affairs he faces. I also fear that US citizens want the quick fix and will get frustrated when things don’t change quickly. I believe President Obama understands how things are supposed to run; I only pray and hope that we all provide the space and allow him the opportunity to mend our tattered nation and globe.

We all need to learn from the recent past. We have witnessed so many hardships and government blunders – Katrina, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a faltering economy, etc. – and we need to ask how this became normal and why we were not outraged. Were we brain dead? Many of us were outraged, but not enough of us. President Obama is trying to hold all of us accountable and responsible to move forward and bring forth the change needed. We need to listen to that and react when something feels wrong, not wait until we hit the bottom. We all need to be counted and our voices must be heard.

Louise is a community activist in the city of Syracuse and the world in general. She is a concerned citizen that wants people to stand up for their rights and the rights of others.

How Barack Obama Became President
Bruce R. Hare

Photo: KTJCM on

When President Barack H. Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, America took a giant step toward becoming a post racial “deracialized” society.

The elevation of an African American/“black” man to the highest office in the land is an event of historic proportion that many thought impossible. His election has elicited renewed hope, tears of joy and affirmed for an aging civil rights generation and the ancestors that their blood, sweat and tears were not shed in vain.

Few people saw this moment coming. It seemed an overnight sensation, as if it came out of the clear blue sky. I offer seven factors, each of which I believe alone, or in combination, could have altered the outcome of this election.

1) The Obama Factor
Rarely in US history has there been a candidate with such a combination of charisma and credential. President Obama’s stellar credentials include: Harvard Law School graduate and former editor of the Harvard Law Review. His personal biography is compelling. He climbed as a political insider from the Illinois Senate through the US Senate to the Presidency, rather than emerging out of the civil rights movement as other “black” politicians historically have. Not since President Kennedy has there been such a young and highly educated, charismatic presidential candidate. This charisma, a personality gift, inspired followers and disproportionately attracted the youth to Obama.

2) The Bush Factor
Candidate Obama’s opportunity came as a result of the failed presidency of George W. Bush. An unpopular war and a crashing economy brought forth a deep American hunger for hope and change. His unpopular Iraq war, assault on civil liberties, administrative corruption and his seeming disconnectedness left him with among the lowest favorable ratings of any president in US History. In the end even many “Joe Sixpacks” found their economic reality check at the local store when they could only afford four cans of beer and a quarter tank of gas for their pickup trucks. They voted their wallet over race.

3) The McCain/Palin Factor
John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate may have doomed his presidential quest. Had McCain selected a better qualified running mate he might have won.

4) The Hillary Clinton Factor
Had Senator Hillary Clinton chosen to feed the hurt and resentment that many women felt after she lost the Democratic nomination and not actively campaigned for Obama, McCain might have won despite the Palin factor.

5) The al-Qaida Factor
McCain promised more war in Iraq while Obama promised to end the war. Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida remained silent. Having successfully attacked two US embassies in Africa and the U.S.S. Cole before the Twin Towers, al-Qaida clearly had the capacity to attack an American interest somewhere in the world during the election season. Such an attack would likely have re-elevated national security in the election and got McCain elected president. Whether under pressure from moderate Arab states, the possibility of negotiations with a new US administration or other reasons, the thundering silence of al-Qaida was loud. It allowed the economic crisis, Obama’s strong suit, to remain the primary concern of American voters, leading to Obama’s election.

6) The Grandmother Factor
The death of Obama’s grandmother within two weeks of the election provided US voters with the opportunity to witness the genuine connection between them. He suspended his campaign to return to her ailing bedside in Hawaii. The repeated televising of the face of his kindly-looking, dare I say “white” grandmother, reminded America that Obama was not solely, only “black.” However subconsciously, I believe this gave some white Americans an affirming hook on which to identify with Barack Obama and reduced the power of the Reverend Wright-associated, angry black man attacks.

7) The Youth Factor
While Americans voted roughly 53% to 47% for Obama over McCain, youth 30 and under voted two to one (66% to 33%) for Obama. Many young white voters broke with or convinced their parents to do the same. This demonstrates the emergence of a new generation who proved to be far less racialized/racist then their parents and elders. I think this pattern will continue and is a fruit of the civil rights movement. It is also a fruit of the school desegregation movement which has significantly increased multiethnic/multiracial interaction among youth and made them more accepting and less vulnerable to stereotypes of their schoolmates. I believe this development bodes well for the future of the US, as she evolves from having been a slave state, then a segregated state, then a desegregated state on the road to a deracialized, integrated, multiethnic and pluralistic state where people are truly judged as individuals on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

Bruce is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University and Adjunct Professor of Social Science at Onondaga Community College.