The first words uttered by the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, was to thank his grandmother in Hawaii “for making him the man he is.” A poignant moment in what became an outstanding and uplifting speech by the senator. His grandmother, nicknamed Toot, has been throughout his life a steadying influence and his acknowledgement of her goes to the heart of the Barack Obama story. He is an historic figure who defeated an historic figure as well. But once the hype dies down, the American electorate will start looking more at character than at making history. This will be the challenge of Barack Obama in the days and weeks ahead-to reintroduce himself to the American electorate beyond the Democratic Party.
Forty years ago today, Robert Kennedy won the California primary and was seen as a transformational figure on the U.S. political scene. All he stood for and all he fought for seemed to appear on our television sets last night. Obama, the African American Senator from Illinois, transcends race and yesterday, delivered a speech, which was a call for unity and presented an uplifting vision of American ideals. Bobby would be proud!
In the days ahead there will be much speculation about the role of Hillary Clinton, and whether they will form a Democratic ‘dream ticket’ for the November election. Yesterday Mrs. Clinton indicated she would not make a decision about withdrawing until later and again pleaded the case for her candidacy. It was understandable that she followed this course of action, but it was not a gracious moment. It seems that she was proposing more a coalition government rather than a united party. And this may speak to why her promising candidacy failed. The sense of entitlement and inevitability which dominated her campaign in the early stages seemed still evident in her mind. Yesterday was a crushing blow and her speech was all about her. That said, she is a formidable force in U.S. politics, and she is a woman of talent and conviction. She inspired many women and it would be a loss if her voice silenced.
Today, however, is a day to fully appreciate the majesty of yesterday’s results. Raised by a single mother, coming from a bi-racial background, born in Hawaii, having lived in Indonesia, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard University, coming from a family of modest means, this is a true American story. From day one, the promise of the Obama candidacy has been one of transformational change, the goal of recovering America’s moral leadership in the world. The months ahead will be exciting and will be challenging. But last night, we got a glimpse of the man who just happens to be Toot’s grandson. And it felt good.