On His Shoulders
Every so often, two separate news items hit in a way that makes it seem as if the universe is trying to tell us something.
This morning was one of those occasions. In my mailbox within a half hour of each other were two separate emails: the first, an email from Senator Cory Booker announcing his candidacy for president of the United States. The second, an email from Medium which shared an article first published by New York Magazine, titled “Where Is Barack Obama?” which went on to question how and why the former president has been so absent from the political debate in this country.
Upon review, I saw that the Medium article was actually dated from June of 2018 which made me wonder how and why it was being recycled on today of all days. But then, it hit me. This was no accident by Medium. This was simply another way to try and discredit the former president of the United States for the seeds that he planted that are now starting to grow.
And grow they are. Throughout the country, a new generation of politicians are rising to the forefront of Democratic Party politics. As we saw in November’s blue wave, this group is the most diverse political body in American history. Congress now has over 100 women members. We now have Native American and female Muslim representation in our lower chamber. We now have the first openly bisexual senator in the upper chamber. This diversity has even extended to state governments. We now have the first openly gay governor in the state of Colorado. We had the first transgender gubernatorial candidate who ran a strong campaign in Vermont. We still have a painstakingly long way to go for equal representation but there can be no argument that the Democratic Party is the only major party willing to provide opportunities for those that come from these communities to serve in leadership positions for these communities.
Even now, 21 months away from the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic Party is already fielding its most diverse field in history. With Cory Booker officially throwing his hat in the ring we now have an African-American from New Jersey, a biracial daughter of immigrants from California, a Latino from Texas, a gay man from Indiana, a Pacific Islander from Hawaii, a woman from Massachusetts, and a woman from New York. This field may expand still with well-respected senator Amy Klobuchar and former Attorney General Eric Holder strongly considering bids as well. By the time we reach the first debates in July of 2019, the Democratic Party will have a wealth of candidates to choose from whose own experiences will speak to the concerns of everyday Americans so much better than rich, White, male Republicans. As our country continues to become more and more diverse, the Republican Party has abandoned any hope of connecting with these emerging groups, leaving the future looking more and more democratic.
The question is where exactly is Barack Obama during all of this?
Barack Obama is actually at the front and center of the changing face of the Democratic Party. In 2008, Obama acknowledged how monumental it was that the Democratic Party would nominate either a person of color or a woman to serve as the party nominee for the first time in history. Fast forward 11 years and we now have any number of women and/or people of color who the Democratic Party would have no problem in being their nominee. This titanic shift that occurred just over a decade happened because of Barack Obama leading the way in creating cultural acceptance in having a non-White person lead the country. Obama knew that as a Black man he not only had to be twice as good to get elected but also had to have his administration be twice as good in terms of how they served the country. There could be no egregious scandals or abuses. He and his family had to properly conduct themselves on the world and domestic stage. He had to keep his cool and couldn’t be seen as the “angry Black man” even when anger would have been a perfectly natural and understandable reaction. Barack Obama knew that, to quote Hamilton, “history had its eyes on you” more so than any president in our nation’s history.
But even with this massive microscope monitoring his every move, Barack Obama did not falter in his core convictions. He went all in on health care, knowing full well it could make him a one-term president if it failed or even, if it succeeded. He signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to move toward fair pay for women. His administration refused to defend DOMA and openly celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. He worked with Black youth in developing leadership through his My Brother’s Keeper program. He circumvented an inoperable Republican-controlled Congress to bring relief to 800,000 young immigrants through his DACA executive order. He recognized that science is real and helped stir the initiative that became the Paris Agreement. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his work to help denuclearize the United States and Russia. He worked to halt a nuclear Middle East with the skillfully-negotiated Iran Deal. By the end of his presidency, he left with a 60% approval rating, the highest of any president since George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11.
As impressive as his accomplishments were, what most set Barack Obama apart was his message. It was a message that he was not our messiah but that we were forces that drove change for the better. It was always we not me and that message continued long after his presidency. In the wake of the 2016 election, millions of Barack Obama supporters were left wondering what would happen to the legacy of a man who had served as the model for dignity and grace for 8 years. But rather than wait for him to re-emerge, these millions took to the street, literally. The women’s march kicked it all off but over the next 24 months citizens and candidates would emerge to help take back the country. Everyday people, who never even concerned themselves with politics before November of 2016 were now attending community meetings, calling up their representatives, and even running for local and statewide office themselves. They were organizing, very much in the same way that Barack Obama helped organize in 2008 and again in 2012. Even if Barack Obama was not at the forefront of their thoughts, his message was certainly in the back of their minds.
So as we continue to see more and more Democratic candidates emerge, know this: these candidates and the diversity of this field are a direct result of Barack Obama’s leadership. He has empowered a generation of new leaders to take up the torch that he lit for 8 strong years. He is not absent from the fray as New York Magazine would have us believe, but rather he is everywhere. He is everywhere because his message of hope is now ubiquitous in American politics. It is a message that has kept many of us sane these past 24 months and it is a message that will be central to the 2020 election. Barack Obama may once again not be on the ballot but his ideals and the country’s potential that he helped us to see certainly will be. Those candidates that have already declared their candidacy are standing on the shoulders of a man who, in only 11 years, gave them the opportunity to become president in a way that would never have been possible a generation ago. Barack Obama is there, deep within each of these Democratic candidates as a guide of both what has been but also what is possible.
He is truly a giant among men.
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