Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obama candidacy: high stakes for USA

By Rick Morris

Hillary Clinton's campaign is seizing on the prospect of Barack Obama raising hopes that can't possibly be fulfilled as a desperate grasp to keep him from the Democratic nomination. However, despite the fact that everything she says should be taken with an entire shaker full of salt, there is an underlying undeniable truth that is at least somewhat related to Hillary's point: the Obama candidacy has moved this country to a point where the stakes are very high in terms of any potential for national unity and maybe even viability down the road.

Although it's folly to draw too close a comparison with the Middle East, because our country on its worst day is 1,000 times more stable than the lands of feuding fanatics in the desert will ever be, it's worth thinking back to the launch of the Second Intifada in 2000. The first (and God willing, only) President Clinton brought together the key players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to try to put together a nice 11th-hour gloss on his troubled legacy. Hopes were high as the parties agreed on almost all key points. And then -- it collapsed. Yasser Arafat walked away from the table at the end, unable or (probably) unwilling to compromise on the final sticking points. At that point, the bitterness of the raised expectations boiled over and the Palestinians took their militant operations to new heights, threatening the entire region.

Now, I don't think anything like that is possible in the literal sense here in America. I'm even dubious that we'd see a repeat of the urban riots of the late 1960s or those that followed the Rodney King verdicts of 1992. I could be wrong, but I don't think the strife that could arise between the races in this country will erupt in the streets.

However, it's not necessary to have a situation crest to that level for it to truly become a crisis. This country has traveled down a long road of redemption, first becoming the only country to go through a bloody war with itself to extinguish the crimes of slavery, then legislatively addressing the wrongs of Jim Crow. While the media has long harped on remaining points of contention between the races, such as how to administer affirmative action programs, we're at a point of overall peace between races in this country that our parents and grandparents probably could not have envisioned. Go talk to an elderly relative if you don't believe this assertion.

But with the country very much on the verge of electing its first black president, hopes have been raised to a point that could prove dangerous for all of us down the road. Let's examine some scenarios:

^ Hillary overtakes Obama for the nomination through "shenanigans." We've already addressed the point that Hillary has to pretty much leave a smoking crater where Obama used to be if she's to still get nominated. How's that going to go over in the minority community, with a longtime purported friend of theirs destroying their would-be pioneer?

^ John McCain comes back in the polls to win in November. With cynicism still high in the black community on issues of racial justice (for reasons I would partially agree with, given this nation's history), how's it going to look if McCain pulls out a win when all the polls indicate otherwise? Frankly, to many blacks it'll look like this country would never elect a black man under any circumstances.

^ The worst case of all: assassination. The internal strife this country endured in the 1960s over matters of race and war shook us all like nothing since the Civil War. I daresay that if the worst fears of many blacks are realized and Obama does not survive his campaign, the Sixties might look like a cakewalk in terms of ANY prospects for significant national unity. There's no way to ever undo the damage that such a tragedy would inflict on our country, no way to avoid the permanent bitterness if not outright hatred that a significant percentage of our fellow Americans would always carry with them. To a much, much lesser extent, the same would be true if Obama had an unsuccessful presidency and did not get reelected; the sense would be that America dumped him at the first available opportunity regardless of what any of the facts on the ground were.

Because assassination would rip this nation apart at the seams from now until the end of time, it's especially unforgivable that the Secret Service had such an egregious lapse (in Dallas of all places!) when they reportedly relaxed weapons screening at an Obama rally in the interest of speeding up the process. Because an Obama assassination would be more damaging to the country than any single killing that has happened in our history, his security detail should be significantly above and beyond that of any other candidate. The full weight of the disciplinary process needs to come down on any individuals responsible for this idiotic and amateurish decision.

Aside from keeping Obama's security air-tight, there's nothing that can be done to head off any damage from the possibility of high hopes being dashed. At the end of the day, he's a politician like anyone else, albeit a very talented one, and he's going to have to navigate the political process like anyone else. If he has a successful presidency, he'll move us much further along the path to racial reconciliation that we collectively began in the 1960s. Anything short of that is going to set us back in terms of truly being "One Nation Under God," and the only question is how far we get set back.

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