Obama and Election History Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3598 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Obama and Election

History was made in November 2008, not just American history, but world history as the United States elected its first African-American President. but, the election of a Black man as President, as unheard of as it might have been just 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago, was history because it was a national catharsis -- a repudiation of the greed, avarice, and selfishness that had so characterized American society for the past eight years. Obama's election was a referendum on a new America -- a younger America with an optimistic, but not Pollyannaish, view of the grave and serious problems faced; but a dramatic change from past politicians in that Obama stands for a more open government, dialog with international persons who might disagree with our policies, a standard of excellence and of honesty that he himself has embedded, and the genuine desire to change the way government is, to how government "can be" (Glasrud and Wintz, eds., 2009). Some have postulated that there was a racial aspect to the Obama election. In its most basic form, of course race was a factor -- he is African-American. But rather than seeing that as the reason for election, it is really less that Obama was African-American, and more that Obama spoke to the electorate in new ways and coveted younger, more vital voters through the use of technology and social networking systems (Franklin, 2009).

However, it was not the Black vote that put Obama in office -- only 13% of the electorate were of African-American descent; nor was it just the liberal Democrats, rather it was a number of Americans who said, upon exiting the polls that they had "had enough" of the way the Bush administration lied to them, and wanted someone who, if we paraphrase John Locke three centuries prior, existed to grant "a social contract to the people of America in a manner in which they are able to pursue their own inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and self-actualization. Additionally, this campaign, like no other before it, utilized social networking groups and software to put the candidate in touch with the constituents. For the first time in history, the candidate was more than a voice on television -- he was accessible, he commented regularly, and he was "just like the rest of us" (Ifill, 2009).

Literature & Historical Review - for the academic, this election represents some very interesting cultural and political trends within the body politic of the United States. Within American society, the sociological struggle for Civil Rights for not just Black Americans, but all Americans, has been part and parcel of the national trend since the end of the Civil War (Franklin, 2005, 118-21). The story of Civil Rights is really the early history of the Obama campaign, and the problems and concerns of society that were part of his campaign were part of this struggle. Indeed, the campaign of Obama cannot be understood without understanding the Civil Rights movement as a whole. The five decades comprising the 1950s to the millennium were, in United States History, both tumultuous and exciting. There were so many changes in the social, political, and technological areas; the World War II Era now seems quite primitive. Since 1950 we have had a major cultural revolution, at least four major military conflicts (depending on who defines), rapid technological growth, new and virulent diseases, a President who resigned rather than face impeachment and jail, the fall of the Soviet Union, telecommunications and transportation improvements that are vast, and several economic challenges (Gross, 2008).

The 1950s were an Era of dramatic change. America had been on the winning side of the war, and the resultant economic boom and political situation pushed the United States into the limelight. America was "rich," and expected to help other countries, but was going through its own crises at home and growing pains socially and economically. Several large trends occurred during the 1950s, the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R. developed, Africa began to be decolonialized throwing the economic and political situation out of balance, the Korean War brought the United States into another global conflict, tensions heated up in Egypt (the Suez Canal Crisis) and Cuba (Castro and the Cuban Revolution), and America went through a turbulent time with Anti-Communist feelings and Senator Joseph McCarthy's accusations and focus on "reds in the State Department" (Halberstam, 1994, intro.)

The Civil Rights Movement, far from beginning in the 1950s, did have some rather impressive gains. The gains occurred not because of one person or one group, but of a movement that seemed to coalesce and solidify even through adversity. Perhaps it was the right time -- Blacks had served in World War II, exposing some White Americans to race issues for the first time; the country was focused on anti-communism, so race may have taken a second seat. It is also important to remember that it was not just brave African-Americans who led the fight for justice, but college students and religious leaders of many races. In fact, these activities often employed legal challenges, civil protests, and other initiatives to bring the issue of race into the living rooms of middle-class Americans. Not all African-Americans agreed with the manner in which the struggle should be put in place: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a primary advocate of peaceful change -- reasonable dialog, and taking the arguments of Thoreau and Gandhi to heart. King believed if enough people openly disobeyed, albeit peacefully, unjust laws and actions, those laws would fail. (Vanoue, 2002, 14-18). In contrast, though, as millions of African-Americans migrated from the rural South to the North and West seeking new jobs, they demanded higher pay and a more egalitarian system. This, combined with more mechanization of agriculture in the South, moved the African-American into a wider dispersion in the country. It is also interesting to note that most Americans, politicians especially, supported the decolonization of the African nations and equal government and rights for those populations -- but then, in their own backyard, had differing views. Legal challenges abounded, the most famous was the 1954 decision "Brown vs. Board of Education," in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. By denying anyone the right to an education, the Court said, many institutions in the South were denying basic Constitutional rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

However, while the ruling was a major victory, when, in 1957 the little Rock Arkansas School District was ordered to desegregate, its Governor Fabus refused, arguing that the States had the right to administer their schools. In the Fall of 1957, Fabus called out the National Guard to prevent African-Americans from entering Little Rock High School -- and, media coverage in its infancy, Americans were still shocked to see White mobs attacking Black children.

With the world's eyes watching America, and President Eisenhower desperate to regain control over the States, Federal Troops were called in to protect African-Americans, and Governor Fabus closed the schools in 1958 and 1959. Still, the Movement accentuated the idea of peaceful coexistence and the establishment of legal authority for members of all races. What possibly made the Civil Right's Movement of the 1950s so important is not necessarily what battles were won, but what preparations were made as the decade drew to a close. (Jackson, 2006, inclusive).

These basic issues of "Brown v Board," Martin Luther King, and the way the American population viewed minorities are what made the Obama victory so historic. For so many African-Americans in politics or who have led the way -- without the struggles and the legacy of the 1950s, the story would not have unfolded this way. We use this guide of the past as an outline of the struggle -- and of what happens when individual character changes the fabric of society to prepare it for something new. For society, Obama "had the right temperament; her ran not 'as the black candidate, but as a candidate for President who happened to be black" he showed that white votes "were willing to embrace a black man who did not make them feel guilty about race" (Ifill, 2009).

And, for society as a whole, Obama is admittedly intelligent and yet knows that Americans are as well -- he believes:

… the country recognizes that the challenges we face aren't amenable to sound-bite solutions. People are looking for serious solutions to complex problems. I don't think we need more moderation per se -- I think we should be bolder in promoting universal health care, or dealing with global warming. We just need to understand that actually solving these problems won't be easy, and that whatever solutions we come up with will require consensus among groups with divergent interests. That means everybody has to listen, and everybody has to give a little. That's not easy to do (Obama, 2008).

Sociologically, Barack Obama's run for president touched something profound in America, awakening… [END OF PREVIEW]

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