How truly amazing is all this? Consider: Had Barack Obama been born in Mississippi, his parents would quite likely have been murdered. Certainly his father would have been killed; perhaps even the baby who would grow up to run for president.
That was a very real possibility for mixed-race couples back in August 1961, when Obama was born. His parents' marriage wouldn't have been recognized as legal in Mississippi or much of the nation anyway. Less than three years later, three college kids went to Mississippi to try to register black folks to vote. They were kidnapped, tortured and murdered, and buried under an earthen dam. Local law enforcement authorities helped the killers.
When Obama was in first grade, a gunman with a cheap high-powered rifle blew the nation's greatest black leader away. Barack was a tyke when those events happened; I was a teenager. Forty years later, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. The polls show that if the national election were held today, he would win. By the way, they voted for him in Mississippi this spring, by almost 2 to 1.
I never thought I would see this day. I thought the first black nominee on a national ticket would probably be a Republican running for vice president, someone like Colin Powell. That, or perhaps a throwaway nominee for president in a year that his or her party was bound to lose. But this is a man who out-organized the best machine in politics, who was the one candidate able to grasp the change America so desperately wants, and then to symbolize it in his own person.
That doesn't mean it is a sure thing. Not at all. Millions of whites are enthusiastic Obama supporters. But millions more aren't too sure. Only a fool can fail to see how racist currents run through this society at every level. Stephen Henderson, the deputy editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, addressed this in a brilliant column Sunday.
He tracked down and visited a white civil servant, a staunch Democrat who isn't going to vote for Obama because he is black, and because of a lifetime of experience with black welfare clients, men adorned with gold jewelry who had "two baby-mamas."
"If you are Barack Obama, how do you combat that?" Henderson asked.
How indeed. Except that Obama has been combating that, day after day, week after week. This is a vastly complex society. There is a pleasant, dark-skinned woman receptionist at one of my many jobs. The day the race ended I asked how she felt about it.
"A little sad." she said. "I felt it was Hillary's turn. It was time for a woman." The receptionist saw herself more as a woman than an African-American. Yes, she likes Barack, she'll vote for him. But she was sorry that once again, a woman was left at the door.
My receptionist feels much as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony felt when, after the Civil War, they gave black men the vote — and white and black women had to wait. The fact is, however, that Hillary Clinton may almost have won because she was a woman — not in spite of it. She was not a candidate people could warm up to. She brought considerable baggage, and a lot of it was a 200-lb. package named Bill.
Nothing became her candidacy, however, as much as the way in which she left it on Saturday. Her speech more than made up for the defiant, ungenerous way in which she refused to congratulate Obama on Tuesday night, when he clinched the nomination. She spoke of the "moms and dads who came to our events, who lifted their little girls and boys on their shoulders and whispered in their ears, 'See, you can be anything you want to be.'"
"You can be so proud that from now on it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories ... unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States."
She was right about that.
There also have been generations of children who have bitterly told their parents — and themselves — that they had no real chance to make it, because they were black. Now the world has changed. I like to think that if Obama wins in November — and maybe even if he doesn't — that no little black kid will ever be able to say that with a straight face again.
My best friend told me once that the one thing nobody would guess about me was how absurdly patriotic I was, deep down. That makes it all the more painful to realize how badly, over the last eight years, this nation has poisoned the way the rest of the world sees us. If there was ever a time in history when we needed to send the world a different signal, to show that we aren't all white men with military backgrounds and military fixations, that time is now.
And we learned this much this spring: That, yes, we can.
So who really did win the popular vote? Both Clinton and Obama have claimed to have won more votes than the other. Now that all the primaries and caucuses have been added up, it is time to settle this question, once and for all.
Or maybe not. The problem is the Michigan mess — plus a bunch of caucus states, nearly all of which Obama won — that did not report precise figures. Taking just the undisputed vote totals, the figure is: Obama 17,535,458; Clinton 17,493,836.
But when you add Michigan — where he wasn't on the ballot — her total jumps to 17,822,145. When you add estimates from the caucuses, he begins to catch up. Finally, for purposes of allocating delegates, both the state party and the Democratic National Committee decreed that the uncommitted votes in Michigan be counted as Obama votes, which most clearly were.
Looked at that way, the final totals are: Obama 18,107,710; Clinton 18,046,007.
So who really won the popular vote?
Beats the hell outta me.
Meanwhile, back in the Triassic: State Sen. Bill Hardiman, a Grand Rapids-area Republican, knows what Michigan's biggest problem really is: evolution.
Not, that is, in our brains having failed to evolve sufficiently (a problem in the Legislature) but the teaching of evolution in the public schools. He has introduced so-called Academic Freedom Legislation that would require the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution to be taught in elementary and high school.
All this, of course, is one more assault on science by right-wing religious nuts. Though Hardiman denied it when I asked him, his bill appears to be created off a template put out by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which was crusading for the teaching of "intelligent design," until sensibly turned back by the federal courts.
Evolution is, of course, a theory only in the sense that it is a theory that the Earth is round. But if we really want to make sure we have no hope, we should urge our lawmakers to pass this crackbrained bill as soon as possible.
It's bad enough that we have a medieval policy on stem cell research, but once we start marketing ourselves as the anti-science state, our future will, most definitely, be assured.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]