New School Paradigm, Center Block Governing

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on November 11, 2008

The euphoria of this moment will soon be lost in the mix of politics to come. This is a cornerstone moment and the symbolism of it is sharp. At very important intersections of American history – those times when we are re-defined by massive social, political or economic upheaval – we find a central role always played by the African American. From an infant frontier which built its economy on the backs of African slaves to a modern nation seeking the counsel of a Black man to help save it. Certainly, there is both crisp irony and spiritual poetry in this. We will certainly have plenty of time to mull the magnitude of what just happened and its meaning.

There is nothing wrong with swimming in it for a minute. But, the jubilation of America turning a fresh chapter will subdue itself in short order. Tears will stop flowing over the excitement of a moment many thought would never arrive – at least, not in their lifetimes. The public anxiety and cynicism reached deafening volumes, a bizarre contradiction between not believing it could happen and, all the time, voting for the first Black president.

The beauty of that contradiction, through all the hogwash speculation about “Bradley Effects,” is a sort of quiet repudiation of the notion of “a Black president.” It realizes the ascension of African American politicians to the mountaintop of American politics. Black politicians can no longer be just “Black” politicians. They are, for all intensive purposes, simply “elected officials” and public servants offering their skilled ability to enhance the common good.

This is where the 21st century split with 20th century habits and dogma occurs. There is a transformative and watershed moment taking place, a critical moment signifying the gradual dawning of a new era as the old one is laid to rest. Much of that reflects a generational shift more so than a cultural or race-based shift. It’s a natural evolution when the old is replaced by the new. Hence, Barack Obama’s win represents a somewhat official closing of the Civil Rights Era. And no: it does not mean the end of racism or our prejudiced legacy – it merely suggests that the means by which we ultimately diminish the ugly footprint of race are much different. It is the gateway to an age of Constructive Empowerment, the model of powerful Black men and women who dominate rather than ask. These are the children born after 1960, kids who recall blurred images of marches, protests and raised fists, events leaving indelible marks on the conscience. This is the generation that recognized the high stakes period in which they were raised and the seriousness of their people’s condition. Obama is cut from that perspective, breaking with old traditions to make room for the new.

Even more impressive is that he does so from pure obscurity. He is not descended from a political family or a dynasty of financial barons.
In breaking with the Civil Rights paradigm, Barack Obama and other members of the Black political establishment are compelled to conduct the business at hand. The expectations are tremendous. The hill he now climbs is steep and unbelievably treacherous; there are problems that appear unfixable.

His background, however, offers him an advantage over past Presidents. Emphasis on the post-partisan is, perhaps, rooted in the desperation of a bi-racial boy watching a struggling single-mother survive on food stamps. Politicians battling over egos, line-items and rank are really trivial compared to the stark poverty of Chicago’s South Side.
That perspective can keep him grounded in the months ahead, pre-inauguration and through the first 100 days. It is very easy to think that Obama can claim comfortable legislative wins after dramatically altering the electoral map in a way we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan in 1980. And, many may be fooled into anticipating an assembly line of Democratic victories with the party firmly controlling both House and Senate.

But, the political environment before us is as dangerous and fraught with drama as the specter of gridlock. Although President-elect Obama rides in on a wave of Democratic dominance, the unpredictable nature of any major domestic or international event could completely set things off course. Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) may be eager to shape policy from the left, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) may be unable to curtail the impulsive. President Obama will have to subdue those urges and govern from the center, reaching out to both sides of the political and ideological aisle to craft responsible, inclusive public policy. He will need to govern through maintained balance and the perseverance of signature cool. If he fails to do so, he could lose both this Congressional majority and his Presidency.


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