I keep hearing how ‘historic’ this election is. After consideration, I do not agree. Oh, I understand the contention. Barack Obama is the first black man to be elected President of the United States. And the media seems to be bragging about how this has advanced the United States, morally, in doing so. But that really does not seem to me to be the case.
First, let’s start with the notion that a black man winning election makes that election ‘historic’. Really now, by that logic we have had a lot of ‘historic’ elections. George Washington was the first president, John Adams the first president not named Washington, various presidents were the first to be elected of their party, Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be elected in a contest decided by the House of Representatives, Martin Van Buren was the first natural-born American to be elected president, John Quincy Adams was the first president elected in an election where citizens voted for their states’ electors, James Buchanan was the first and so far only bachelor to be elected president, John Kennedy was the first Catholic president, and so on and so on. Party, region, constitutional quirk, all kinds of ‘firsts’ have come to pass over the years. Skin tone hardly seems to jump out as a significant reason to call an election ‘historic’.
I do realize that those who are cheering this election as ‘historic’ see this as more than a cosmetic change. But there again, I cannot agree. Barack Obama was hardly the first black man to run for president, even as a candidate for a major political party. Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes preceded him as notable democrat and republican candidates, but even they were not the first. Barack Obama did not win because he had overcome a prejudice against black candidates; he won because of a combination of slick advertising, a popular message, and an economic crisis with the sitting president belonging to the opposing party.
What is strange about Obama’s focus on being the first black president, is that he started his campaign claiming to be beyond that. Beyond playing the race card, beyond attack politics. Of course, we know that was just a lie; Obama’s campaign regularly attacked any criticism as “racism”. Obama’s campaign saw nothing wrong with sexism or age bias, either. McCain was cast as ‘too old’ and Team Obama started countless rumors about his health. Palin was the target of a relentless smear campaign, from lawyers sent to paw through her trash to talk show hosts trashing her success as a governor, this of course coming only after similar smear campaigns against Hillary Clinton. That’s not to say too much against Obama; Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon used smear tactics with similar success, so in that regard Obama was merely following a proven method to winning. But anyone claiming that Barack Obama represented a higher standard of ethics and personal integrity is well off the mark. Barack Obama is a man of minimum qualifications and standards, and so is hard-pressed to find an accomplishment he can point to as genuinely historic. Certainly this election does not promise such lofty hopes.