Whether wind or wave, a time of transition
By M.J. Simms-Maddox
For the Salisbury Post
Many political analysts and pundits have declared that “all bets are off in the 2008 presidential election.” For once, they are in virtual unanimity in their opinions: The winds of change, a massive wave or tsunami, whatever it is, it is definitely coming at us.
Who would have thought that two relative unknowns would surge to the top and so early? Former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee and an African American man of mixed race and an ostensibly Arabic name, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, led the way. Both men are credited for their straightforward, plainspoken manner and for their uncanny ability to reach voters.
That religion matters in American politics has enabled the candidacy of Huckabee. His backing by evangelicals in the conservative wing of the Republican Party attests strongly to that fact. Huckabee’s wider appeal, however, will be tested in state primaries and caucuses that have small numbers of such voters.
Perhaps most intriguing of all has been the story of the first-time senator from Illinois. “Dreams from My Father” chronicles Obama’s life as the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother. He tells all: his achievements at Harvard Law School, his naughtiness and his public service career in state politics. He first captivated the nation with his speech before the 2004 Democratic National Convention, after which he published “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts of Reclaiming the American Dream.”
As the electoral contests began with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, America and the world watched in utter stupor as the results were reported. Huckabee won hands down over frontrunner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and veteran Arizona Sen. John McCain. In the Democratic race, Obama catapulted atop frontrunners Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former N.C. Sen. John Edwards.
Television cameras panned the mostly white faces waiting in those long lines to vote for Obama in Iowa, and stomping for him on the snow-filled streets of New Hampshire. So, his ability to garner support from white people is now irrefutable. All right, I concede one point: Oprah Winfrey is a wealthy black woman.
Given the thorny history of racial discrimination against African Americans, the Obama candidacy symbolizes a possible shift or changing sentiment in the American electorate. BBC World News reported that “this is an historical moment” and referred to “the sweeping winds of change in the American electorate.” Obama did not just win the Democratic vote in Iowa; he also captured notable support from Independents and Republicans. Meanwhile, his ability to attract conservative white Democrats in the bastion of the Bible Belt looms large.
Although New Hampshire represents a different political culture from Iowa, pollsters had Obama edging out another victory over Clinton and Edwards there as well. But Senator Clinton “found (her) voice” and women voters responded accordingly. Clinton commands significant support from working class and older women, and of course, loyal supporters of husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Consequently, it was McCain and Clinton who walked away with “the comeback awards.”
Like so many women, I felt Hillary’s pain. I know how it feels to be a professional woman constantly seeking acceptance for my skills, abilities and experience. I also want “the most formidable female candidate ever” to win the presidency. Yet, like some other African Americans ó those who are willing to admit it ó I am torn between Obama and Clinton.
In the final analysis, political observers say “likability,” “experience” and “electability” are not singular determinants of the voters’ choices in this election; rather, it is the voters’ perceptions of who will be most effective in bringing about change. In that regard, transformation of the American economy supercedes ending the war in Iraq.
If no apparent winner emerges for each political party on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday, brace yourself for major turbulence en route to the national party conventions this summer.
Notwithstanding, you must register to vote in America. Although North Carolina’s primary is in May, it remains important to vote your preference for the nominee of your political party. Finally, vote in the general election in November, where there will be one choice for each political party on the ballot. This process is American democracy at its finest.
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M.J. Simms-Maddox is a freelance writer and an associate professor of political science at Livingstone College. The views reflected in this commentary are hers alone, not those of the college.