Tomorrow morning, the whole world will be watching as the nation’s 44th and first black president finally takes the oath of the highest office in the land. For many Americans, particularly those of a certain age and skin color who can still clearly recall the days when people who look like Barack Hussein Obama couldn’t vote, never mind run for political office, or those who struggled to get a decent enough education that would allow them to become homeowners and provide greater opportunities for their own children, it has been a long time coming. If, that is, they actually dared to dream such a thing was even possible.
“It will be an enormously significant day. I suspect that just as on election night, we will see not just young people, but also older people, with tears in their eyes because so many people really did believe that they’d never see this in their lifetimes,” says political analyst Michelle Bernard. There was a time, she recalls, when many older blacks believed that Obama was chasing an illusive and impossible dream and they considered him to be simply a spoiler for then Sen. Hillary Clinton. After the Iowa caucus, however, they began to look at him differently.
“They started thinking he can actually do this, the tides are changing, and there are white people who will actually vote for a black candidate. That’s when you began to see more black support for Obama,” Bernard adds. “And I think for this older generation who had become accustomed to having to look for a white candidate who would fight for equal rights for African Americans, it’s still stunning and unbelievable.”
In many ways, Obama’s ascension has redefined America, particularly with regard to the politics of race. Alabama Rep. Artur Davis, who entered Harvard Law School when Obama was also a student there, believes that there has been a psychological breakthrough among whites in this country that will benefit the future efforts of other blacks seeking elected office.
“Seeing a black American govern the country and be the dominant figure in our politics will have an impact on how white voters think about the prospects of blacks who may seek other offices,” says Davis. “Obama also has the potential to be the kind of president who is able to transcend a lot of the bitter divisions that has been part of American political life in the last 20 years. There will always be divisions but if he can change the way we Americans relate to each other and help us move to a dialogue where people are more respectful of our differences and that lacks the bitterness, it will be a significant achievement.”
Obama’s largely smooth and successful transition period has already raised the bar for future incoming commanders in chief. The circumstances under which his administration will begin have forced him to act presidential weeks before he is actually sworn in.
“We’ve never seen anything like