Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Burden of Being First

Last night's convention session was one of the most interesting I ever watched. Not just because of Hillary Clinton's performance, which was virtually golden by any stretch of the imagination. But because it literally amounted to the Democratic Party finally receiving permission to accept Barak Obama as its candidate for president.

There is a sense in which it appeared that delegates and even the presenters were holding their collective breath until Mrs. Clinton finally gave her blessing to their choice.

Much of this is fairly understandable. For months now the Democratic Party has been in the unique position of asking itself "which history do we want to make?" Given the rules and the goal line that kept changing, and the way the game has been played. The choice was made to have an African-American as the candidate for the highest office in the land. The first ethnic minority candidate to head the ticket of a major party for the first time in our U.S. history.
Ever since that happened its seems as if some party officials and some loyalists have been asking, "Now are we sure we made the right choice?"

Clinton supporters, who have not been able to accept the concept of winning and losing, have been insistent that they be 'heard' (and no one has yet to define what that means). And there has been the question as to whether or not the Clinton, themselves, have been able to overcome bruised feelings and egos, to give full throated and unqualified support to Senator Obama.

At the same time, there has been concession after concession by the Obama camp, even to the point of having Mrs. Clinton's name placed in nomination!

How strong does this make Obama as a presidential candidate? And if all of this has played out in any fashion close to what it appears, what type of 'history' are we really making?

If the second place finisher in a close race has to 'concede' that he or she has lost, amid clear objective measures for winning and losing, what has actually been won?

This is a picture of what it means for ethnic minorities to make 'progress' in our country. Even in the most liberal circumstances there is a sense in which ultimately someone has to 'let' a representative of the group in question be the 'first' and receive qualified 'support'. The question of whether or not that minority is 'qualified' usually remains a question that haunts the trailblazer for years, placing them perpetually in the position of having to 'prove' themselves.

It is interesting that both Ronald Reagan's Deputy Chief of Staff, Michael Deaver and even George Stephanopolous, President Clinton's press secretary admit that neither president or their staffs new what to do when they first entered the Oval Office! Why now does Obama have to be 'ready on day one?'?

Being first is hard. Being first and a minority is even harder. Being the first ethnic minority is harder still. Maybe we should list that as a presidential qualification...

It's not only important to be make history. I think its important to be on the right side of history when its being made.

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