I was born at 9:00 a.m., local Eastern Standard Time, at a hospital in New Jersey.
But I wasn't born a 9:00 a.m., local Eastern Standard Time, at a hospital in New Jersey yesterday.
So when Sen. Obama says that some people are hesitant to support or vote for him because he "doesn't look like the guys on the dollar bills," I know exactly what he's saying. Whether you think it's fair or unfair for him to say it, to try to pretend that race doesn't factor in to the 2008 Presidential election is to deny the presence of a 2000-pound elephant in the room. It's an exercise in naivete that borders on stupidity.
So let's start by agreeing that it matters.
Where reasonable people can start to disagree, however, is on how it matters. Of course, there are people in this country who -- consciously or sub-consciously -- won't vote for Obama solely because he doesn't look like the guys on the dollar bills. However, there are also people in this country who will support or vote for him in large part because he doesn't look like the guys on the dollar bills.
It frustrates me tremendously every time I hear someone say that "they" won't let Barack Obama win the American Presidency. Of course, the "they" being referred to is an unnamed and unidentified but conspiratorial and monolithic bloc of Americans somewhere who must somehow exert supreme power over the electorate. What I tell people when I hear this now is that the speaker is a part of "they" and should exercise his or her patriotic duty and vote in order to be heard this November.
This year's election will go down in history as a watershed event for this country, regardless of the outcome. It will be the most studied and discussed election to date -- more so than 1960, or even 1860. And it breaks my heart that if Sen. Obama does not win, academics, pundits, and history textbooks will doubtlessly ascribe his failure to do to the simple fact that, well, he "doesn't look like the guys on the dollar bills" -- regardless of his policies or his personal biography.
By itself, preventing that outcome isn't a good reason to vote for Sen. Obama. In fact, to vote for someone based on race alone is probably just as bad an idea as it is to not vote for someone based on race alone.
However, there's a part of me that's very aware that if Sen. Obama wins this November, it will move the country in an entirely new direction. Because if he does, that 2000-pound elephant in the room is going to get a whole heckuva lot smaller -- no future Presidential candidate can claim that the electorate fears someone whose face doesn't look like those on the currency, and countless scores of coffee-house pseudointellectuals won't be able to talk about how "they" would never allow someone who isn't a straight white male Protestant to win the Presidency.
Think about it -- what sense would it make if a future Massachusetts gubernatorial race pitted a white and black candidate against one another, and the chattering classes speculated that "The white guy will win because Bay Staters won't have it any other way." I already know that it doesn't make sense, but that's only demonstrably provable because Bay Staters already showed that by electing Deval Patrick as their Governor.
I'm not 100% sure yet, but I probably won't vote for Barack Obama. I find it a bit personally insulting and even depressing that he talks only of ending, not of winning, a conflict that has a very real chance to see a real-live pluralist democracy spring up in the heart of the Middle East, regardless of whether votes cast in 2002 or decisions made in 2003 were the right ones.
As a career military member who expects to go back to the Middle East in either 2010 or 2011, that' s what you might call a big deal for me.
But I digress. Regardless of my own foreign policy views or the way my vocation influences my politics, I wholeheartedly believe that if Sen. Obama wins in November, it will move the country forward in a new direction, where identity politics and the conspiracy theories that surround them will steadily lose traction.
And guess what?
We'll eventually elect a woman President, too. But, unlike Hillary Clinton, it will be someone capable of connecting in a real way with a wide swathe of American voters.
When the right female candidate comes along, I'll be happy to count myself among the "they" who help make her President. And maybe someday someone will give her a place alongside Susan B. Anthony on some piece of national currency, and we'll have to talk about the "people on the bills."