2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Africa: Why I Voted for Obama


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Prof. Charles R. Larson
2/14/08 allAfrica.com

Feb 14, 2008 (The Monitor/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- On February 13 in the Maryland state primary, I cast my vote for Senator Barack Obama, praying that he will be the next President of the United States.

As a 70-year-old white American, I have to confess that until as recently as a few months ago, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to vote for a black man for US President.

It was an exhilarating experience to touch the electronic voting screen and cast my vote-not only for Obama but for hopeful change, any change that will end the wretched years of George Bush's presidency.

Even more significantly, I am not alone. A strong wave is sweeping across the country, as old racial stereotypes are finally being broken down. People are equally committed to voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton-especially women, who have also waited their entire lives for such a possibility.

Thus, two strong tsunamis are sweeping across the country and, fortunately, most Democrats say they will be happy with either of them as the presidential candidate for their party. What they want is change, the opportunity to sweep up all the pieces of the breakage scattered everywhere by the Bush administration and start afresh.

Rarely do people or countries have such an opportunity. Instead, they sink further and further into the morass of stagnation, defeatism, negativism-all prohibiting the possibility of renewal.

I remember the last time a similar opportunity captured the imaginations of so many American citizens, and it was a long time ago. In 1961, when John F. Kennedy became President, many of us rallied to his call for thinking beyond ourselves and imagining what we could do for our country instead. Along with thousands of others, I joined the Peace Corps, a journey that took me to Africa--to Nigeria--and changed my life forever.

This is precisely why I cast my vote on Wednesday for Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan man and an American woman. No other candidate (of either party) can offer the international perspective and certainly not the global heritage embodied in Obama's credentials.

In these troubled times, when America's esteem has been so diminished by the war in Iraq, by the failures of arrogant diplomacy, and most recently by the distinct possibility that America's deteriorating economic position will have a worldwide impact, only Obama's election can signal the beginning of the essential repair work that we all know--at least Democrats all know--will take years of heavy lifting in order to restore the trust and the admiration once accorded the United States.

Obama's youth and hope not only match John F. Kennedy's but they are already proof that younger Americans--particularly university students who have been so disaffected in recent elections--can once again become politically engaged.

In huge numbers, younger people are voting for Obama in the primaries and caucuses across the nation. At a recent rally for him at American University, in Washington, D.C., where I teach, Senator Edward Kennedy (John F. Kennedy's surviving

brother) endorsed Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.

Kennedy made it clear that the US needs to heed the call of a younger generation, that those of his own generation have made a mess of things, and that it is time for the elders to relinquish power and try something different.

It was a bold endorsement by Kennedy, who is old enough to be Obama's father. The cheering from students in the audience was electrifying. They were making their choice obvious with their voices, as they have begun to do with their ballots.

Even if Obama wins the nomination for the Democratic Party and becomes the country's next President, it is not going to be easy for him to revitalise the country and convince Americans that our overwhelming problems can no longer be ignored.

For too many years, Bush has deceived Americans into believing that they can undertake the most expensive war ever and not have to pay for it, that they can recklessly spend their own money as well as the country's and never have to worry about the day when the bills come due.

Yes, America is still the richest country in the world, but it is also the most wasteful, the most spendthrift, and, sadly, the most self-centered.

The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track. They hunger for a leader who will not lie to them. They understand that the country is as polarised as it has ever been. They regard Congress as a body as ineffectual as the president.

Agreement on any issue confronting the country appears to be impossible with our current leaders. But of all the candidates who have been running in either party, Obama appears willing to negotiate, to listen, to ask Americans for sacrifice. Fortunately, deep down inside, most Americans know what must be done to restore our credibility to ourselves and the rest of the world.

If he is elected, Barack Obama will provide those opportunities; but then all Americans will need to face reality and look beyond themselves.

Charles R. Larson is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

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