The Next Four Years

(cc) Mark Skrobola - Flickr

(cc) Mark Skrobola – Flickr

One week ago, the United States of America elected its 44th President, Barack Obama. He will be the first African-American in the history of our country to serve in that capacity. Election Day 2008 was truly a historic day in many ways … some good, some bad. Here are my thoughts.

I love my country

I am proud to be an American. Always have been. I sing the National Anthem out loud at football games. I have an American Flag standing in my office. When I served as a Scout Leader with the Boy Scouts of America, I spent time learning, and then teaching our Scouts, the proper way to display our nation’s colors and to conduct a flag ceremony to begin our meetings. When the appointed day came for our Cub Scout Pack to conduct a Flag Retirement Ceremony, it was a deeply meaningful and moving experience to watch our little guys, decked out in their BSA uniforms with Old Glory sewn on their shirt sleeves, show utmost respect for our great nation and her symbol of freedom as we ceremonially retired a number of old, worn-out flags by burning them in the prescribed manner, respectfully saluting each one as its tour of duty came to an end. I love my country. My blood bleeds red, white, and blue. I am proud of everything that those colors stand for.

I feel blessed and privileged to have witnessed such a historic event as the election of America’s first Black President (Bill Clinton notwithstanding [1]). I find that especially noteworthy and meaningful against the backdrop of American civil rights history.

Historical perspective

“On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), approved the Declaration of Independence, severing the colonies’ ties to the British Crown.” [2] That granddaddy of all American historical documents, the Declaration of Independence, states clearly the intent of our Founding Fathers concerning the unalienable rights of all human beings.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

– United States Declaration of Independence [3]

However, it wasn’t until 1870 (almost a century after we declared ourselves an independent nation established upon the ideal of all men being created equal) that the Fifteenth Amendment granted African-Americans the right to vote [4]. It took nearly another century for that promise to actually be realized through the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Finally, after 189 years of American history, our dark-skinned brothers and sisters could actually cast their votes to help shape their own destiny, to help weave the fabric of our future as a society.

Now, only 43 years after that victory that took nearly two centuries to claim, America has elected a Black man to serve in the highest office in the land. I am not a Black man, but I am proud that my Black fellow Americans are able to experience the unprecedented thrill of seeing “one of their own” win such a monumental victory. In that sense, November 4 was truly a great day for America. We are witnesses to history.

My concerns

I did not vote for Barack Obama. It has nothing to do with the color of his skin, or the color of my skin, or the color of anyone else’s skin. It has everything to do with political ideology.

I hold deeply conservative values, both politically and spiritually. Senator Obama has the distinction of being named 2007’s most liberal Senator in the United States Congress [5]. I am concerned about the changes that could take place in our country over the next four years with the White House occupied by a man with such deeply liberal values and tendencies, backed by a Democratic Congress whose leaders are also among the most liberal legislators in the land.

  • I am concerned about who Obama might appoint to serve on the Supreme Court, with at least two (and perhaps more) seats potentially being vacated in the next four years.
  • I am concerned with some of the statements Senator Obama has made in regards to his views on National Security and how he would deal with the leaders of rogue nations.
  • I am concerned how our new President will handle the pull-out from Iraq, and what the results will be in terms of the stability or instability of the region, and even how that might impact our own security in terms of future terrorist threats.
  • The potential for movement towards a national, socialized health care system also concerns me.

To be fair, I have read some of Obama’s statements regarding the issues, as posted on his official website, and I am encouraged by some of those statements. I find some of his ideas refreshing.

I believe Barack Obama is a good person. He is obviously a good husband and father. I will hold out hope that we will see more positive changes over the next four years than negative changes (realizing that such judgments are subject to individual interpretation based on one’s own ideologies and personal perspectives). I will maintain a healthy level of concern, based on my ideologies and personal perspective, but I will hope nonetheless. Time will tell.

Getting back to the dream

As proud and I am to have witnessed history on Tuesday of last week, there is something else about the whole process that really bothers me … a lot. Let me preface my next remarks by reiterating that I am not Black and never have been. So there is no way that I can understand, on an emotional level, what it is like to be a Black American. There is no way I can possibly relate to the racial discrimination and even bitter hatred that many of my fellow Americans have had to endure simply because their skin is a darker color. I detest the fact that such evil has been a part of the history of my beloved country, but I acknowledge that it has been.

I believe we have made a lot of progress over the last 200-plus years, but we have much more work still to do. I don’t think we will ever actually rid the world of racial bigotry, because the world will always be occupied by people, and people are, by their very nature, imperfect. Sometimes that imperfection manifests itself in some really ugly ways. But we must continue working toward making Dr. King’s dream a reality, to one day live in a nation where people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

And that’s what really bugs me about how this election played out. For many people, the election was about nothing more than the color of Barack Obama’s skin, rather than the content of his character or his political ideals. For many people, the only thing that mattered was that he is a Black man, and we had the historic opportunity to elect the first Black American President.

As evidence of this, Black conservatives were heard dismissing their own conservative ideals in exchange for an opportunity to vote for a Black man for President. I first became aware of this when Mark Davis, a talk show host based in Dallas on WBAP 820 AM, mentioned that J. C. Watts had commented on possibly throwing his vote Obama’s way because of the historic significance of this opportunity. I couldn’t believe my ears! Watts has always had a reputation as a strong voice for the conservative ideal. Yet he was apparently willing to at least entertain the notion of throwing his beliefs, his values, his convictions aside for the opportunity to vote for a man simply because of the color of his skin!

Black conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams made perhaps the most revealing statements about this phenomenon of Black conservatives jumping ship to vote for Obama. Williams, who has never voted for a Democrat for president, had this to say about Obama. “I don’t necessarily like his policies; I don’t like much that he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it [voting for Obama].” [6]

Once again, I admit that I am not Black and therefore I cannot put myself into any Black person’s shoes to be able to see this historic moment from their perspective. But I can’t imagine abandoning the very principles that define who I am as a person in order to vote for someone with whom I disagree on almost all of those principles, just because of the color of his skin. I just don’t get it! “Among black conservatives,” Williams added, “they tell me privately, it would be very hard to vote against him [Obama] in November.” [6]

Now flip that coin over and look at the other side. There are White people who refused to vote for Obama because he is Black. There have been numerous racially-charged jokes that have been passed around in White circles about replacing the flowers in the White House garden with watermelon vines, having to change the name of the “White House”, etc. Rumors have been floating around since before Obama’s victory that, if he became President, we wouldn’t have to worry because there would be plenty of people standing in line for the chance to assassinate him. Political pundits have even joked in televised interviews about assassinating Obama. What is wrong with people?

I would love to see Dr. King’s dream come true in my lifetime, when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” [7] I believe there are people of every color who share that dream, who long for a world where the color of a person’s skin doesn’t matter any more than the color of his eyes. But there will also always be people of every color who will fight against that ideal. Hatred and bigotry come in all colors.

In doing research for this article, I ran across some websites that spew hatred from the Black militant perspective that is every bit as ugly as anything ever vomited forth by a white racist. We’ve all heard the hateful words of Jeremiah Wright who preaches racial bias in the name of my Lord Jesus. Shameful.

We will never be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood as long as we continue hating and despising and killing each other. Somehow, someday, in some way, we must figure out how to replace hatred with love, disdain with respect, and violence with kindness.

Cautious optimism

For me, this election was not about race. It was about political ideology. I will give President-elect Obama a chance. I will remain cautiously optimistic. I will respect him as my President, even if I disagree with some of his policies.

For me, the bottom line is this. I serve a God who is bigger than our political differences, and who holds the answers to all of our problems and shortcomings. He has promised me heaven if I will simply give Him my life and serve Him faithfully. Nothing can steal that from me! No political victory or disappointment can compare in importance to such a promise.

I live in a country whose ideal of freedom for every human is much bigger than one political party or another. The torch of American freedom has survived over 200 years of partisan politics, and still burns as brightly as ever. This country has navigated the waters of change through Republican administrations and Democratic administrations, through political scandal and moments of inspiration, through terrorist attacks and glorious victories. And through it all, we have survived. We are here. We are strong. We are Americans: Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent. We are brothers and sisters who are bound in spirit by a love for what America means to each of us.

We are America!

God bless you. God bless Barack Obama. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Paul O'Rear Signature

Photo Credit:

  1. White House South Lawn” by Mark Skrobola¬†(Flickr), Creative Commons License

Sources:

  1. The Talk of the Town: Comment“, Toni Morrison, The New Yorker Magazine (October 5, 1998)
  2. Primary Documents in American History: Declaration of Independence” from the Library of Congress Virtual Programs & Services website
  3. The Declaration of Independence: The Want, Will, and Hopes of the People“, from ushistory.org, created and hosted by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia
  4. Primary Documents in American History: 15th Amendment to the Constitution” from the Library of Congress Virtual Programs & Services website
  5. Obama: Most Liberal Senator In 2007“, by Brian Friel, Richard E. Cohen and Kirk Victor, National Journal, from the National Journal’s 2007 Vote Ratings (January 1, 2008)
  6. Black conservatives conflicted on Obama campaign” (Sunday, June 15, 2008), by Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press Writer, from FOXNews.com
  7. Martin Luther King, Jr. – ‘I Have a Dream’“, from American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches

 

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