Significance

I have nothing of interest to add to the inauguration discussion. But I do want to link to Atrios on the shocking significance of Obama to anyone with an understanding of American history.

Whatever one thinks of Obama, it says something positive about our country that we actually managed to twice vote for an African-American man for president. More than that, I don’t think that anyone should doubt that we’d be ready to elect a woman president, too. I’m not saying the playing field is level and the country, or at least enough of it, is race- and gender- blind for these things, just that 20 years ago I would’ve put both in the near-impossible category.

About once a month, I sort of come to this realization that, holy moly, this country has voted a black dude president. Twice! That is hard for me to believe. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. And if it did, it would be a Republican.

71 comments on this post.
  1. MAJeff:

    Today’s invocation of “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” was stunning. A recognition, from the central podium, of the importance of women, African Americans, and LGBT folks as American both in their citizenship and their challenges to exclusion from that citizenship was amazing…and it was a repudiation of the elitist, white supremacist, heteropatriarchal vision of the nation that conservatism espouses.

  2. Rarely Posts:

    I loved the speech. His discussion of civil rights was inspired, and I love that he made a shout out to Stonewall (in the same sentence as Selma and Seneca Falls!). He ably and succinctly defended the welfare state and the need for government to provide equal opportunity. He called for environmental action, criticized the anti-science wingers, and then connected climate change to practical problems on the ground. Embraced immigration and immigrants. Finally, but possibly most importantly, he called for an end to perpetual war, and thus subtly criticized the conservative movement that, as a practical matter, supports it. Overall, a great progressive speech – repeating major universal themes, connecting them to liberal policy positions, weaving them into history, criticizing conservatism elliptically, and occasionally touching on real world impacts.

    Nonetheless, it’s pretty sad that the President made a very progressive speech (recognized as such by progressives) without mentioning organized labor or unions at all. We seem to have abandoned the hope that workers can act collectively to protect their own rights and interests. Instead, the progressive vision now appears to be that the government will protect those rights or that workers will protect themselves through individual action. As a pragmatic matter, that’s the direction our policy is going, but it’s sad that labor organizing is not even part of the progressive vision.

  3. mark f:

    Said something similar earlier. Medgar Evers’s widow was there for chrissake. If a person couldn’t put policy disagreements aside for an hour and just appreciate the magnitude of electing and re-electing a black president in Mrs. Evers’s or John Lewis’s or a million anonymous granparents’ lifetimes, there’s something deeply shitty about that person.

  4. MAJeff:

    She was kind of amazing…and knowing her history makes her presence more amazing.

  5. Carbon Man:

    What’s the big deal about Stonewall? A bunch of drag queens and freaks threw a riot. Big fucking deal.

  6. MAJeff:

    cracker, please.

  7. DocAmazing:

    Deathless oratory. That speech will be taught in high schools in coming years.

    I sort of come to this realization that, holy moly, this country has voted a black dude president. Twice! That is hard for me to believe. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.

    We come from different parts of the country. My response is “How did it take this long?”

  8. Manju:

    It gets better. The black dude was the first president since FDR to be sworn in 4 times.

    The Chief Justice is definitely a RINO.

  9. DrDick:

    Having grown up with segregation and Jim Crow, I was honestly shocked when he won the first time. It is a testament to how fare we have come as a country. This is a sign of how far we have yet to go.

  10. joe from Lowell:

    I thought that was very thoughtful of the Chief Justice.

    Like any self-respecting Seekrit Mooslem, Barack Obama is going to shout “Allahu Akbar!” after taking an oath, and he can’t very well do that in front of hundreds of thousands of people and still hope to implement his Marxist/Sharia agenda.

    I’ve said too much…

  11. STH:

    What, nothing about the uppity bitches of Seneca Falls? Or didn’t you understand that reference?

  12. DrDick:

    You mean like you and your troglodyte friends did when Obama kicked Romney’s ass?

  13. mark f:

    It’s probably been going around for a while, but yesterday I came across a believe-it-or-not undoctored picture of Obama carrying an ANTI-AMERICAN CONSPIRACY BOOK BY A MUSLIM. It was, of course, The Post American World. I’m not sure if it would be hilarious or depressing for Fareed Zakaria to become the new Saul Alinsky.

  14. LeeEsq:

    I suppose the European equivalent would be the Russians electing a Jewish man twice to be their President.

  15. Joe:

    Some way to celebrate MLK Day!

    Stephen Colbert, who was there in vitro in 1963 (seriously — his mom went to the March on Washington while pregnant with him), should have been there!

  16. Robert Farley:

    Well, at least we’ve been able to keep the Irish out.

  17. kg:

    in vivo?

  18. Vance Maverick:

    She was carrying the Petri dish.

    (Perhaps Joe was reaching for the phrase “in utero”.)

  19. redrob64:

    Ah, prairie dog sh1t! Everybody!

  20. Jonathan:

    I’m pretty certain you’re joking. Unfortunately the ongoing Republican war on satire means I can’t be complete certain that wasn’t written in earnest.

  21. Erik Loomis:

    Except for one unfortunate exception. But the O’Malley ’16 threat is real!

  22. Jonathan:

    I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. And if it did, it would be a Republican.

    You only think that because you’re White. Firstly, Blacks don’t vote for people just because they’re Black. If a Black man ran on a standard Republican ticket, he’d get the standard 5-7% Uncle Tom vote. And the last four years should have erased all doubts about how bug-fuck crazy-ass racist both the Repulican base and establishment are. A Black Republican would lose 60% of the Republican bloc and gain nothing from the Democratic bloc to make up for it.

  23. StevenAttewell:

    Surely in utero, no?

  24. StevenAttewell:

    Proposition: Obama’s 2nd Inaugural is the most progressive 2nd inaugural since 1936.

    Any takers?

  25. Vance Maverick:

    Sure. And it was also a tissue of cliches, with the progressive bits snuck in. I’ll take it, but it was definitely about alluding to things rather than saying them clearly and memorably. (See KDrum’s list of barbs.)

  26. DocAmazing:

    In flagrante delicto.

  27. StevenAttewell:

    In flore?

  28. StevenAttewell:

    To whatever extent a political speech contains ideology, it contains if it’s not entirely constructed on cliches.

  29. The Dark Avenger:

    That’s obviously a sign that Obama is going to complete the Socialist agenda of FDR. I’m surprised a great conservative intellect like yours didn’t pick up on that clue, Manju.

  30. Redbeard:

    In Excelsis Deo!

  31. Redbeard:

    Hmmm. Perhaps you are forgetting what a hero Colin Powell was in the early 1990s.

    And Edward Brooke won the Mass. Senate seat with Republican votes in the 1960s.

  32. StevenAttewell:

    In extremis!

  33. StevenAttewell:

    *Technically speaking, January 20th 1937. But after the ’36 election, yadda yadda.

  34. Malaclypse:

    Jennie always focuses on the gay sex. Because he’s completely and totally straight. If there is one thing that his daddy beat into him, it is that he will always be straight.

  35. Uncle Kvetch:

    cracker, please

    Or, to put it another way…

  36. Thom:

    It is a very amazing thing. At the same time, we need to recognize that we will have crossed another very significant barrier when we someday elect someone of slave descent to the presidency.

  37. Malaclypse:

    I give it another 12 hours until that clip becomes the new Whitey Tape.

  38. N__B:

    Innagoddavita.

  39. Zhou Enlai:

    InTheGardenOfEven, Baby.

  40. Malaclypse:

    Eden, and dammit.

  41. Dave:

    What I wanted to say. The fact that Obama’s African heritage is African, and not “African-American”, precludes this from being a total breakthrough.

  42. rea:

    No, that’s a Nirvana album.

  43. rea:

    No, there have been two, although we lefties try to forget about one of them.

  44. joe from Lowell:

    He is of slave descent.

    On his mother’s side.

  45. LeeEsq:

    Who are you referring to? Scots-Irsih really don’t count IMO.

  46. Matt T. in New Orleans:

    Powell never ran for President (and the howler monkeys turned on him quick when he stepped out of line) and Massachusetts isn’t Mississippi. I live in Louisiana, a state suffering from Bobby Jindal’s 2016 run for presidency, and he’s suffering under the same delusion Herman Cain had. The average conservative just won’t go there. Oh, they’ll say they will, but in the end, it’ll be the rich white guy who stirs up the most hatred.

  47. John F:

    I come from the northeast, I have friend who was a huge fan of 24, which he classified as SF, not due to the FS elements, but due to the show having a black president…

    At the time I didn’t disagree with him.

  48. Johnny Sack:

    There’s always something with you people.

  49. Bijan Parsia:

    I didn’t know that! Interesting.

    But is it really significant? I mean, if one of his mother’s male ancestors had become president, it’s hard to imagine that it would be reasonable to take it as a triumph for the slave descended. The link is too distant to be salient, I think, with most of the intervening generations, afaict, being free and white.

    On the flip side, I don’t think Obama is significantly symbolically deficient for this lack.

  50. Halloween Jack:

    In Through the Out Door!

  51. Halloween Jack:

    Ah, fook ye, ye wee gobshite!

  52. Halloween Jack:

    Well, it shouldn’t be a big deal, should it? Any more than a same-sex couple swapping rings and sharing health insurance should be. But your fellow homophobes are still throwing away millions of dollars trying to keep that from happening.

  53. Malaclypse:

    Patrick over at Making Light linked to the original Daily News writeup of Stonewall. Back then, apparently, all newpapermen were JenBob.

  54. Cody:

    So what you’re saying is we need to re-institute slavery so we can elect a current slave to be President.

    That way it counts?

  55. John:

    Other than Kennedy, Reagan was Half-Irish.

  56. John:

    This seems way off to me. Look at the example of Michael Steele’s Senate race in Maryland. My memory is that he did slightly better than a typical Republican candidate among Black voters, and about as well as a typical Republican candidate among Republicans. At any rate, he ran a perfectly respectable campaign, running only a couple of points behind Ehrlich’s unsuccessful bid for re-election for governor. He certainly didn’t lose 60% of the Republican bloc.

  57. chris9059:

    Indeed, while he have clearly made great progress on issues of race and gender we seem to be going backwards on class issues.

  58. John:

    Herman Cain lost the nomination because he was clearly completely unqualified. He’s not an example of anything.

  59. John:

    Does LBJ 1965 count as a second inaugural? Otherwise, there’s not much competition.

  60. John:

    I guess there’s also Truman 1949, if that counts. In both cases, though, that was the first inaugural address given by that president. Certainly Eisenhower 1957, Nixon 1973, Reagan 1985, and Bush 2005 aren’t in competition. So if Truman and Johnson are excluded, you’re just saying that this was a more progressive speech than Clinton 1997.

  61. One of the Blue:

    He’s been pretty clearly identified with the African-American community since he got out of college 30 years ago.

    Good enough for me at least.

    To me, just getting him elected and sworn in twice, counts as a legitimate progressive milestone.

    Oh and then he went and pushed through the first substantial augmentation to the New Deal since the Medicare laws were passed in ’65.

  62. Matt T. in New Orleans:

    He’s an example of how racist conservatives will pretend to support a “good” minority that they’d never, ever vote for in a million years when the rubber hits the road. Come on.

  63. Hogan:

    Your liberal media at work.

  64. Hogan:

    That wasn’t it.

  65. Lyanna:

    Yes, it was a very important symbolic moment. Conservatives have been fighting like mad, often successfully, against precisely that type of public acknowledgement in American politics.

  66. Chester Allman:

    Wow. It’s not just that the writer had one (bad and loathsome) joke. It’s that he thought it was a good idea to repeat his single, loathsome bad joke in virtually every line.

  67. Bijan Parsia:

    Obviously not.

    I don’t think that “slave descended” per se makes a difference in Obama’s huge significance. I find it hard to believe that a possible slave ancestor via his white mother that neither he, nor anyone else, knew about, is a defining characteristic or was experientially significant for him.

    As Out of the Blue said, he has been fully in the African-American community for well over 30 years. What more is needed?

  68. Bijan Parsia:

    We completely agree.

  69. joe from Lowell:

    But is it really significant?

    I’d say no. I’d agree with you, and say that the presence of a black ancestor from the 17th century on his mother’s side is as irrelevant as the absence of one on his father’s side.

    But I wonder if Thom up thar would agree.

  70. Hogan:

    I thought we were done with the “not black enough” thing.

  71. Bijan Parsia:

    Good question.

    Speaking from total ignorance, I wonder how much the (known) (US) slave vs. non(US) slave ancestry matters in African-American culture. My experience is mostly of pretty clearly racist Whites harping on the recent e.g., Caribbean ancestry of some US Blacks in e.g., reparation debates (cf Colin Powell).

    Obviously, it’s by no means impossible, but my impression is that the fact of current racism is a pretty uniting force.

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