Obama?s candidacy big step for America

By By Steven Warrick

By Steven Warrick

The best way to increase the participation of women and minorities in the political process is emphasizing unity rather than diversity. Probably the most interesting aspect of the 2008 presidential race, which is in itself already the most interesting campaign in years, is the fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, respectively, the first woman to be a serious contender for the presidential nomination and the first black man to be the presidential nominee for a major party. This is certainly a big step for the country. Whether or not these historic firsts will ultimately prove to be a step forward will depend upon political participation by formerly excluded groups. They will serve to unite our society and the individuals that make it up, or further polarize the competing groups.

Last week, the Hinckley Institute of Politics sponsored a series of forums on the role of race and gender in the 2008 presidential election. Two of the speakers made particularly relevant points when it came to uniting the country.

Christopher Parker of the University of Washington said a much higher percentage of black Americans, as compared to whites, identified themselves primarily as members of their racial group as opposed to identifying themselves as American. This is unfortunate because it isolates these people from American society as a whole, and in the process, limits them. While a candidate should not forget their own respective group, they should also remember that they are ultimately and primarily Americans.

Edmund Fong, a political science professor at the U, described three approaches to individuals’ history according to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. First is the antiquarian approach in which people venerate and seek to perpetuate the past. The second approach is the monumental, where the past is something to be looked up to, but not necessarily followed in present life. In the critical approach the past is seen as a bad thing to be left behind. Such differing views of history can have the effect of alienating would-be allies over disputes about things that happened many years before they were even born.

Sen. Obama has been successful in large part because he has been able to shape his identity as a candidate who happens to be black as opposed to being identified primarily as a “black candidate,” like Jesse Jackson. This has no doubt been helpful in appealing to voters in such lily-white states as Utah, Idaho and Iowa. He has likewise avoided the pitfalls of invoking a critical view of American history. Many would-be supporters viewing the past from a different perspective would disagree with and perhaps even be offended by such a view.

This is why the inflammatory and racist rants of his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright have been so dangerous for Obama. Wright’s fiery rhetoric is no doubt heady and powerful stuff for those members of its intended audience who have suffered the pain and humiliation of racial injustice. But the same words only serve to alienate the broader American public, and in the process, weakens Obama’s candidacy.

I am pleased the U.S. has progressed far enough that we can have a black man as the presidential nominee for one of our major parties. What will be better is when we have progressed to the point that a candidate’s race is no longer cause for comment.

As a Republican and a conservative, I hope Obama doesn’t win the election next month, but as an American, it would be tragic if he lost as a result of racial prejudice.

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Steve Warrick