I wrote this article for a debate on Helium a week before the Democratic Convention. With election day upon us I thought it might be worth revisiting. It has held the #1 rating in the catagory since it was first posted so some people seem to think well of it. The question was whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama's election would be the most important historically speaking.
The Historical Importance of Obama’s Election
The historical importance of almost any political event is often not evident until, in fact, the event is actual history. The ability to weigh the impact of an election depends heavily on how those people elected respond to the opportunity their position offers. We hear the promises and plans a candidate presents throughout the campaign, but it is the end result of the candidates' term in office that often dictates the historical context it is finally assigned. It isn't what they promised as much as how they performed that determines how they will ultimately be judged.
To simply consider the importance of the election based solely on which candidate is the victor detracts from the real purpose of the election when it comes to what it means to the future of America. It is having the most qualified and capable presidential candidate emerge from the seemingly endless electoral process that is of the utmost importance. When it comes to electing our president, as Americans, we should base our decision on which candidate will best serve the interests of ALL Americans; not on whether they are white, black, male, female or democrat or republican.
If either Clinton or Obama wins this election by virtue of the fact that one is black or the other female we are making our decision as voters for the wrong reasons and we will almost certainly regret it as a country. There is another candidate in John McCain who deserves his due consideration when it comes to who will be the best hope for America. By virtue of his early victory McCain has been largely ignored as the media obsesses over the democratic race. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are rapidly changing from candidates into celebrities.
To answer the question I will adopt the premise that each of the three candidates is equal when it comes to their ability to fill the demands of the office. Assuming that to be true, then we can look at the question in the light it was presented. The importance of the election will be based on how much it impacts America future.
Demographically speaking, blacks and women have, historically, been intentionally and deliberately excluded from equal access and participation in the world of politics. As far as history is concerned, it is only recently that either has even been allowed the right to vote, let alone hold office. Considering that, the significance of this election is one that has no equal in the annals of history. America is also at a point in its history where the importance of who wins will have an immediate and lasting effect on the future of our country.
Aside from the civil war era, America has never been as divided a country as it is today. The last two presidential elections were as close as any in history. Allegations of fraud and tampering between the parties and the involvement of the courts left a pall over the entire election process. Disputes over the actual winners still exist today. Rather than a nation of people united by our common bonds, we have been reduced to a collection of states divided by our political, cultural and ideological views. We live in a world of red and blue, black and white, sex or race, republicans and democrats... we think in terms of "us and them" rather than "We".
Nowhere is the evidence of the effects discrimination more obvious than between the races in America. We once thought of our country as the great melting pot. Where the diverse cultures that make America great united together under the common goals of freedom and liberty. Nowhere has that promise of freedom and liberty been denied more than in the area of race. While blacks have been the most visible examples of our failure to truly unite the American people, immigrants from all nations have experienced some form of racial discrimination as they assimilated their cultures into the general populace. And nowhere is the difference between people as dramatic as it is between black and white. It is a difference as much visceral as visual.
While women have endured their share of exclusion and oppression, it is still far short of the divisions between the races. Sexual discrimination pales in comparison to the prejudice and bias faced by those who immigrated to this country with the hope of being a part of the America they believed offered equal hope for all. Women have achieved more and are gaining acceptance in greater strides than minorities. While they still struggle with the "glass ceiling" in many areas they have become more viable and, I believe, more accepted in roles that historically been dominated by men.
The animosity and distrust between the races remains one of the greatest problems our country faces. Resolving those differences and ending the stigma of racial discrimination is one of the greatest challenges we face. The white majority struggles to hold its place as the minorities strive to attain all the rights and opportunities they feel are denied them. While Americans of every race have their own leaders and advocates representing their issues, "We the People" have no single leader who represents all of us as Americans.
In the case of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama we are at a point where, regardless of which one wins, the mere fact that either of them is elected will be the most noteworthy and important political event in the history of America. Both candidates represent the first of their kind when it comes to the office they aspire to. Both hold the hope and promise of uniting the country and finally begin the healing process that centuries of discrimination and oppression have inflicted.
How we respond, accept and unite behind the eventual nominee, not just as blacks or women, but as Americans, will be dramatically different based on who wins. For that reason I believe the election of Barack Obama will prove the most important presidential decision that history will witness. In many ways his election is not just important, it is imperative if we are to begin the healing of our nations racial wounds.
The election of Hillary Clinton will be a great victory for women and an affirmation of the advance and acceptance when it comes to equality between men and women as leaders. For blacks it will be a confirmation of their belief that America is ruled by white politicians who will never accept a black man as a leader.
Barack Obama offers us the chance to refute the perception that America is a white mans country. His election will end the black perception of exclusion and silence their accusations of national bias in regards to their place as Americans. It will allow Barack Obama to challenge the blacks in America to join him in his goals to unite as one people and one nation rather than many people of many races. His election as president would be the best start in healing the wounds of a racist past. He would present the opportunity to bring all the races together and help us look toward a common future rather than back at a segregated past.
But no president can lead us if we refuse to follow. A great start does not guarantee an equal finish. If whites see Barack Obama as the black president, if the blacks see him as their president then all hope for unity ends the day after his election.
What will be seen as the most important election in history, will quickly become one of the most impotent.