In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois, the great thinker and Pan-Africanist, said this about activist educator Booker T. Washington: “Easily the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876 is the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington.”
If Du Bois, with his keen understanding of culture, politics and economics, were around today he would probably wax just as eloquently about the emergence of Sen. Barack Obama.
Since he rode on an oratorical rocket into the living rooms of America in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention, Obama has produced a ripple effect in just about every sinecure of society. The wave of enthusiasm following his meteoric rise, particularly his historic victory in the presidential Democratic primaries and becoming the nation’s first African-American to lead a major party, has left pundits baffled. Obama has been like a comet, causing all kinds of perturbations and unexplained eruptions in the political and social firmament.
The electorate as a whole is not sure what to make of this phenomenon and what long-term impact he will have on race relations, foreign affairs and the political-economic landscape.
Predicting the outcome of his race against Sen. John McCain is even more problematic nowadays, with his easing back from policies and principles put forth at the beginning of his campaign. Change has been the mantra of his campaign, but his followers are not pleased that some of the “change” may come as a necessity if he’s to win the Oval Office. Obama has said repeatedly that the move to the center is not a retreat on his basic promises, but pragmatic moves necessary to win over those voters still undecided about the candidates.
Yes, he moonwalked a bit on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which caused some rancor. But his position on Iraq has been consistent, insisting on a withdrawal timetable. When the government is spending $10 billion a month on a pointless war, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how the nation would benefit from funds earmarked to deal with the pressing issues of the environment, employment, education and health.
Nor has Obama waffled on national security, promising to step up on the placement of more troops in Afghanistan and to go after Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Surprisingly, however, President Bush’s foreign policies turned toward Obama’s positions earlier this year as it shifted gears on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Recently, Obama outlined his energy program and discussed details of his educational initiative. His plans to tax the rich and to cut taxes for the middle class are hopeful signs, if he can overcome the current surge in the Republican ranks and resume a lead in the important polls in battleground states.
What Du Bois said about Booker T. Washington was prophetic, and Washington went on to become even more powerful. Like Washington, Obama has exhibited an ability to convince white America that he is trustworthy. We will have to wait and see if more than half of those whites take these sentiments to the voting booth with them in November.
One thing is certain: By using the Internet as a fundraising tool, the Obama campaign has democratized political financing, turning the tables, as many agree, on the kind of money politics that dominated America for so long.