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Politics

CHANGING THE WORLD

It took two years for Barack Obma to change the world overnight. Actually, it took 47 years, his age when he became the first black man elected to the presidency of the United States of America. Much like “overnight sensations” in show business, there was a lifetime of preparation, skill-honing and hard work preceding the overnight success. To the rest of us, these people burst on the scene completely formed, incredibly skilled and seemingly performing their specialized skills with a talent and ease that is inborn.

That’s hardly the case and we all know it, yet that doesn’t prevent us from declaring superstars, either in the political, artistic or entertainment fields, to be “naturals,” bursting into our lives with hurricane force and changing some aspect of the world overnight. Elvis Presly, Frank Sinatra, and the Beatles did so with popular music, Muhammed Ali with his boxing and promotional prowess, yet none if them learned their skills overnight, instead developing them over years of hard work. John F. Kennedy was another overnight political sensation, the first president to effectively use the relatively new medium of television to propel himself into the presidency, and at the young presidential age of 42. He spent nearly his entire life preparing to be president. Even though he was murdered only two and a half years later, his policies made a huge impact, were continued by his successor, and changed the world.

The policies that Kennedy pursued that made the election of Barack Obama possible 45 years after his death were the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, thus ending the official disenfranchisement of Black Americans begun shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865, a war that freed America’s black slaves and cemented the Union. So you can say that Abraham Lincoln’s policies were a factor in Obama’s overnight success too. And Martin Luther King’s activism and social mobilization were a huge factor, forcing America’s hand when it comes to living up to the first official statement this nation ever issued, the Declaration of Independence that famously stated “All men are created equal.” As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are ideas. This one was a completely radical notion in 1776, an outrageous idea that had commoners gasping at its audacity and royalty laughing out loud.

And now, 232 years later, all men are finally equal in a nation with a troubled and problematic history when it comes to the equality we stand for in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. The troubles and problems were visited mainly upon our black citizens, who did the lion’s share of the suffering while America struggled to grow up and keep its promises. The suffering of whites was negligible, mostly having to do with their souls and their consciences instead of the physical suffering and deprivation suffered by their black brothers and sisters at their hands for so very long. So the overnight sensation label really takes a beating here, coupled with the fact that Obama was the right man in the right place who said and did the right things in a nation nearly as tormented as it was in 1865.

Could Barack Obama have been elected if there was peace and prosperity in America? We’ll never know. But he was elected in 2008 and his election marks a turning point for America and the entire world, 232 years in the making and an overnight sensation. Now, all he has to do is deliver. Frank Sinatra sure did, and so did the Beatles and Elvis, forging magical careers giving us music that developed and grew and still stands up to bring joy to subsequent generations. Muhammed Ali became the most recognizable man in the world for decades, far transcending his sport. The fact that Mr. Obama ran an incredibly focused and disciplined campaign and got elected president of the United States in spite of his skin color speaks well of his ability and superior mind. Just that accomplishment alone is pretty astounding when you think about it, and shows great promise for future accomplishments. These times call for a first-rate brain in charge and it seems the man we hired has one.

Who among us, anywhere in the country or the greater world beyond our borders would have predicted an African-American President of the United States a scant two years ago? That would be about zero people, and most of us figured we would not see this happen in our lifetimes, even the youngest among us. And so the world is changed forever. Now comes Act 2 for President-elect Obama, actually governing this nation through a time of great crisis. He did the near-impossibe by getting elected, so now comes the politics part, often called the art of the possible. By his election alone, today’s possibilities now seem far more elastic than they did a week ago. One of the premises of America, a nation founded on ideas and ideals rather than geography or ethnicity, is that all things are possible. Well, yeah, we’ve just witnessed exactly that. Now let’s see what else we can change in this world. Good luck, Mr. Obama. You’ve seized the moment and gotten the entire world’s attention. Now seize the vast opportunities. Godspeed, sir.

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