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President Barack Obama

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 10, 2008

On June 6, 2007 I sent a check of fifty dollars to Barack Obama (that is, to "Obama for President"). It wasn't much money but it signified my faith in a young man who promises much for the United States and the free world. On January 3, 2008 Obama won the Iowa caucus, a state that is "whiter than the North Pole," and placed second in New Hampshire, another white state that was the last to make Martin Luther King Day an official holiday. Overwhelmed by the women's vote, Obama lost to Hilary Clinton by two percentage points in New Hampshire. To the surprise of many, Obama did the impossible.

Obama represents something new in American politics. Bob Herbert of the New York Times remarked that "America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama phenomenon." In one appearance after another, Obama has shown "a capacity to make people feel good about their country again. His supporters want desperately to turn the page on the bitter politics and serial disasters of the past twenty years."

Michael Powell describes Obama as having that "close-cropped hair and the high-school-smooth face with that deep saxophone of a voice. His borrowings, rhetorical and intellectual, are dizzying. One minute he recalls the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his pacing and aching, staccato repetitions. The next minute he is updating John F. Kennedy with his 'ask no what America can do for you' riff on idealism and hope" (New York Times, January 5).

Obama preaches the gospel of hope. He has called himself a hopemonger. Obama's hope is more akin to the faith of which Martin Luther, the German theologian, promoted. He believed that faith must include good works and notes that faith is "God's work within us that changes us and gives us a new life. It is a living, creative, active and powerful thing. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly." It does not stop to ask if good work should be done but before anyone asks, "it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever."

When Hilary and others seek to demean Obama's hopemongering and calls it a "pie in the sky" dream they misstate its substance and therefore arrive at the wrong conclusion. Obama is asking Americans to reach into the deeper recesses of their souls, believe in themselves again, and thereby re-commit themselves to the goals their founders envisaged.

Many Americans believe that the United States has lost its way and that some of their leaders have stolen their legacy and sold it for ten pieces of silver. They have spoken to the reactionary rather than the progressive impulse of nation and have forgotten the promise of that city upon a hill of which Ronald Reagan once spoke. They have shown little faith in the belief of an America that can renew itself by its good works rather that by expression of irrationalities and inconsistencies.

Young people believe that President Obama provides hope for the future. Through him, they see a little light shinning through the darkness of despair. He offers them the possibility of believing in America again and a desire that America speaks to her better rather than her worse self. It is a call that says: "We, too, sing America."

Obama represents the best that is America. Bill Bradley, a former presidential candidate, endorsed Barack. He emphasized that Obama "is making idealism a central focus of our politics... His movement for change could create a new era in American politics-truly a new American story." Colin Powell is also impressed with Obama. He did not endorse him but spoke of him in glowing terms.

African Americans have always opened the way for other Americans to realize their promise of freedom and equality. They were conspicuously absent from the Declaration Promise (1775); were at the heart of the Civil War struggle (1865); and helped the nation to regain its soul as a result of the Civil Rights movement (1953-65). African Americans must take them into the new century. Obama stands ready to fill that promise. He offers "African Americans an opportunity to get their first black President and whites the chance to transcend the tired racial divides of the past."

A few days before the New Hampshire primary I sent Obama another check for thirty five dollars. His defeat in New Hampshire brought me back down to earth. In my disappointment, I remembered Mark Twain's profession of faith in Pudd'nhead Wilson when he said: "There are those who scoff at the school boy, calling him frivolous and shallow. Yet, it was the school boy who said, Faith is believing what you know ain't so." I continue to believe in what many say "ain't so" or "can't be so." Whether he wins or looses, Obama has done us proud. The day can't be too far off when most of us will see a President Obama or someone looking like him. Obama insists: "We Can." Like him, I believe that "We Must."

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