In the days since I announced that I'd be offering my opinion of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, he's made headlines with a $32.5 million fundraising haul in the second quarter. His total tally of $58 million thus far in 2007 shattered the record for presidential fundraising in the first six months of the year before an election. Even more amazing is the number of donors to his campaign, 258,000 to date, most of them first-time or small donors. After the 2nd quarter results for all the candidates are reported, the pundits anticipate that Senator Obama's donor total could be more than twice the number of donors to Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign. Senator Obama's support is wide and deep, and people who haven't traditionally engaged in the political process are coming out to support him. Whatever one may think of his qualifications to be President, he's definitely for real.
Like most of the country outside of Illinois, I first heard of Barack Obama in 2004 following his electrifying speech to the Democratic National Convention. I didn’t watch it – I confess that despite being a political junkie, I don’t watch the conventions of either party unless there’s some drama unfolding or there’s someone speaking that has my interest. I saw the news clips, however, and I was impressed. Of course, the Democratic Party and the media fell in love with him and instantly anointed him the new “Great Black Hope.”
Remember the last “Great Black Hope?” In the 1990s, it was General Colin Powell that had everyone talking about the possibility of the first black President of the United States. By 2004, however, he had fallen out of favor with the media and the political elite because of his allegiance to President George W. Bush. The search for the next “Great Black Hope” – a black politician with crossover appeal to white voters – was on.
What’s funny about Mr. Obama’s emergence in 2004 is that at the Republican convention that same year, another black politician was given a prominent prime time speaking slot and delivered an inspiring speech that roused the party faithful. Since he was Republican, however, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele didn’t get nearly the same coverage, even though he was at the time the nation's highest ranking black Republican elected official and the only black lieutenant governor in the country. You can draw your own conclusions.
During the waning days of last year's campaign, a Democratic friend of mine recommended I read Senator Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope." I'd already read an intriguing excerpt from the book in Time magazine, so I promised I'd check it out. Several months later, I was at Washington Reagan National Airport preparing for a business trip to Dallas and I noticed the book for sale at one of the airport retail outlets. I purchased it and spent most of the trip immersed in it.
I should tell you that I'm not one for reading books these days; I just don't have that kind of time. I probably have more partially-read books than anyone on the planet. I was captured, however, by his life story and the humility and respect evident in the man's words and I finished the book in relatively short order.
My thoughts after reading the book? To paraphrase British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's comments after her initial meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, "I like Mr. Obama. We can do business together." Yes, we are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but his words suggest he seeks to understand and doesn't instantly dismiss people like me in the self-righteous and condescening way liberals have adopted when addressing their conservative counterparts. He speaks of extending "the presumption of good faith to others" with whom he may not agree. He speaks honestly about the complexity of the challenges we face and the need for both sides to give a little and stay focused on common desired outcomes to move us forward. As he describes his various positions on issues, he demonstrates a broad understanding and isn't afraid to give merit and consideration to concepts and approaches outside of liberal orthodoxy. The bottom line is that he treats his readers, whether they agree with him or not, with respect, he doesn't presume to have all the answers, and he searches for areas of agreement as a starting point for dialogue because his emphasis is on getting things done. I think Americans are hungering for that kind of maturity in our politicians, and that is why he's having an impact in this presidential race that exceeds his relative inexperience on the national political stage.
That doesn't mean that he hasn't disappointed me at times. In his recent attack on conservative evangelicals for "hijacking" faith, he is simply parroting the mantra of mainline liberal churches which, frankly, are guilty of the same crime of which they accuse their conservative brethren - focusing on a narrow component of God's law while ignoring the rest. People of faith who stand for life and marriage are principled and obedient to God, and they choose to demonstrate their passion for the poor through community service and charitable giving rather than government programs. As a former community activist, Senator Obama should understand this and not fall prey to the simplistic notions of politically-driven religious agendas. He should be reaching out to conservative evangelicals at the grass roots to try and understand their deeply-held convictions and bring them to appreciate his equally strong passion for social justice. His book speaks to this notion more so than his rhetoric on the campaign trail; I was awed by his sensitive and nuanced approach to the pro-life constituents he encountered on the campaign trail when he was running for the U.S. Senate.
I still think his comment last year when he was campaigning for Ben Cardin in his race against Michael Steele for U.S. Senate - "Listen, I think it's great that the Republican Party has discovered black people" - was gratuitous, beneath his stated desire for comity in the political process, and flat out wrong.
The Republican Party "discovered black people" in 1854 when it was founded to bring an end to slavery; when it passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution to give freed slaves equal protection under the law; when it passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 to empower blacks economically, socially and politically; when it passed the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 to combat the Klan, an organization created as an instrument of suppression and terror by Democrats in the South; when it passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1875 and 1956, AND when Republicans in the House voted 4-to-1 and four-fifths of Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which shouldn't have been necessary because of all the previous legislation put in place by Republicans but trampled on by Jim Crow Democrats.
The Democrats "got religion" on civil rights only in the latter half of the 20th century and today cynically play the race card to hold a key constituency captive to a culture of victimhood FOR WHICH THEY ARE HISTORICALLY RESPONSIBLE. They also savage decent and socially committed people who promote character, responsibility and achievement rather than entitlement as the pathway to black empowerment. The Republicans are the ones who only recently "discovered black people"? As reporter John Stossel says, "Give me a break!"
Ultimately, I believe the words in his book represent the real man more than his red-meat statements on the campaign trail. That opinion is reinforced by his willingness to speak openly and frankly about the need for black males to become "full-grown men" and for black parents to take greater responsibility for the education and character of their children. He is also an optimist when it comes to this great experiment called the United States of America. He recognizes that the reality of America has evolved positively over the centuries because of our unflagging commitment to the promise of America. That's called hope, a word that has become lost in the vocabulary of politicians who declare their opposition as evil incarnate and use fear to motivate people to vote against something rather than for something. Senator Obama ends his book with the words, "My heart is filled with love for this country." That is a statement I can endorse without reservation.
I'm still behind the other candidate who to me is also a purveyor of hope, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, particularly since we are ideologically aligned. Would I like to see Senator Obama pull off the upset and defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination? Absolutely! Could I work with President Obama? In spite of our differences, I think the answer is yes - we can do business together.