McCain vs. Obama

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

One voter's struggle for the best answer

I've been trying for some time to get my head around the Presidential campaign and to try to figure out, in my own, mind, whether it would better if Barack Obama or John McCain were elected President.

It may be that the point is moot now, because polls are beginning to show a swing toward Mr. Obama.

I believe it was Churchill who said a young man who is not a liberal has no heart, but an older man who is not a conservative has no brain. While I'm not ready to call myself an "older man," I would have to admit that I have been leaning toward John McCain for much of this drawn out campaign, due to his service in Vietnam, his long service in the Senate, and his penchant for "stirring things up" -- his much talked about "maverick" tendencies.

As for Barack Obama, while he is a charismatic candidate who truly does bring to mind a young John F. Kennedy, who had not done a lot in the U.S. Senate in the years before he charged onto the national stage, I have had reservations. I have wondered how and why it appears that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have kept such a low profile during the campaign, and whether or not they will re-emerge in powerful positions under a President Obama. I have been concerned about his writings and the writings of his wife, decrying what they claim is the tendency of white society and white institutions to wring the black-ness out of successful African-Americans and to separate them from the rest of their race. And I have to admit, I have been worried about his safety and what an assassination of America's first African-American President would do to this country.

But if Mr. Obama is not afraid of that possibility, or if his ego is such that he must push forward despite those concerns, then fear for his safety should not keep me or any other person from voting for him.

The one dream that I would have for an Obama Presidency, other than keeping the U.S. safe from terrorists and helping to get the economy back on a more even keel, would be that he would use his unique opportunity to take the healing of the racial tear in this country to a new level. One man cannot wipe out centuries of racial disharmony and skepticism. Abraham Lincoln, and his assassination, proved that.

But I do believe it's possible, that if there is no major terrorism event that threatens to tear this country apart, a President Obama could help to bring this country together more than ever before on the racial front that has simmered under the surface of everything that happens in this country, and has periodically burst onto the national scene.

Poverty, which is often read as a racial issue, impacts everything that goes on in this country. Health care. Drugs. Prison over-crowding. Absentee fathers. Grandparents burdened with raising of young children whose parents have become incapacitated by drugs. The public resources required to clothe, feed and educate poor children. These problems cannot and will not go away with the simple wave of the hand by an African-American President, just as the issues of unequal pay for women would not have gone away with a simple wave of President Hillary Clinton's hand.

But until America comes fully to grips with its racial situation and resolves it, more than 130 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, this country is doomed to failure.

We must all accept the following:

1. Slaves were improperly and cruelly uprooted from their homes in Africa and elsewhere to grow America into an independent nation.

2. Those slaves continued to help build America into a world power, after the Declaration of Independence, with all of its talk about "all men are created equal" was ratified and after it was used to pry the colonies away from British tyranny.

3. Despite the fact that almost everyone knew slavery was wrong, it was allowed to continue under the system of "state's rights" which was used as a shield to help keep the new federal government from exercising central authority so feared by the individual states.

4. A war of cultures ensued which we called the Civil War that should have put the racial issue to rest, once and for all, but didn't.

5. Racism persisted (and persists) long after that war ended and violence against minorities was (and still is) tolerated in many parts of this "free" country.

But just as importantly as all of these admissions of fact are the following facts:

1. None of the white people alive today in the U.S. ever owned slaves.

2. Most white people were never wealthy enough to have owned any slaves.

3. There have been many generations of white people who have grown up in this country, in abject poverty that equals or exceeds that of many of the descendants of those slaves.

4. People of all races have chosen to come here from all over the world -- including Africa -- in the past 130 years, and many of them have done very well, despite dramatic differences in culture, language and race.

It is time for more straight talk from whites and non-whites in this country.

While it can be said that President Bill Clinton's trip to Africa and his apology on behalf of generations of American's for the evils of slavery were puzzling, sometimes you really DO have to say the basic simple words of truth. That goes for the remarks of another person named Bill -- Bill Cosby, who has tried to discuss the need for African-Americans to take responsibility for their own actions, their own neighborhoods, their own cultures. He has been widely criticized and certainly his concepts may be too simplistic. But again, sometimes you have to speak the plain, basic, simple, un-varnished truth.

And this is where Barack Obama comes in.

Will a President Obama, given no major developments on the international front (which there will always be), be able to raise the discourse about race in this country and bring people together? Will whites let him? Will African-Americans let him? Will the African-American community disintegrate along the lines of those who want a more aggressive posture versus those who want to take things a bit more gradually? Should we fear that an assassin's bullet will come from the muzzle of a gun fired by a white man (ala James Earl Ray) or from a black man (as in the intra-racial murder of Malcolm X)?

And if, heaven forbid, President Obama were to be struck down in office at the hands of a white person, I fear that the racial situation in this country could explode like never before. Who will be the statesmen in the African-American community who will step forward and ask for calm, and have the credibility to get it? I wouldn't count on Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.

With all of this said, I have to say that having watched a somewhat desperate John McCain get ready to lower the boom and lower the level of public discourse about this election in its final month, I have begun to consider voting for Mr. Obama.

If I do, it will be with a prayer for his safety, the safety of this country, and for an accelerated healing of our great national wound.

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