The Crescent Report

July 28, 2008

Obama’s Rise Epitomizes the Best of the American Dream

Filed under: Uncategorized — Imam Mahdi Bray @ 6:30 pm

By Albert Camarillo

SAN JOSE, CA (Mercury News) July 28, 2008
– The recent controversial cover of the New Yorker magazine, depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim and Michelle Obama as a gun-toting terrorist, while an American flag burns in the fireplace and a photo of Osama bin Laden adorns a wall, was obviously a satirical rendering, but one that suggests some Americans view the presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate as less than American. The notion that some people hold that Obama just isn’t American enough is, simply stated, wrong-headed. Obama’s life flows in deep currents that link him to a genuinely American experience.

As the first African-American and biracial presidential nominee for a major party, Obama’s meteoric rise to political stardom is unprecedented. But much more connects him to history. Consider the symbolic power of Obama’s candidacy, a person who, as a black man, represents America’s troubled racial past. But he also came of age in the post-civil rights era, the product of a Kenyan immigrant father and white mother from Kansas. In Obama, America’s fabled immigrant saga meets its radicalized past, and its increasingly multiracial present and future.

As a youth from humble origins raised by a single mother and his white grandparents, Obama’s life changed because of the unique opportunities afforded him and millions of other aspiring students in late 20th century American society – the pursuit of higher education. He is a poster child for a tradition more American than apple pie: educational opportunity and the striving for upward social mobility.

His story, if properly conveyed, will resonate with working-class Americans who wish for a better quality of life for themselves and their children. Add in his immigrant background and so much of Obama’s past is woven intricately into the fabric of American culture (72 percent of Americans who responded to the long form in Census 2000 reported a foreign ancestry).

Obama’s personal profile as a presidential candidate could have been ordered from central casting. Consider his appeal to American youth: He is like a Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 who had the uncanny ability to inspire legions of youthful voters to follow him. Consider his oratorical ability to communicate messages about needed changes in society, and one conjures up images of Depression-era fireside chats by Franklin D. Roosevelt, inspiring calls to public service by John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s, and the charismatic appeal of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s persuading citizens to believe again in American greatness following a decade of crises associated with a disastrous war, economic decline and widespread discontent.

Consider the symbolic power of an Ivy League-trained person, one generation removed from an immigrant experience, a man who could have made a fortune as a corporate lawyer but instead headed to south side Chicago to help organize poor people in devastated neighborhoods and who then rises to the pinnacle of American politics in a relatively short period of time. Where else in the world could this story have taken place?

Regardless of whether Obama wins or loses in November, he is a candidate who represents fundamental links to modern American history and reflects salient features of a diverse and complex American society of the early 21st century.

If Obama and his campaign strategists simply tell his story properly, masses of voters of different social classes, races and ethnicities will identify with this young candidate and his aspirations.

ALBERT CAMARILLO is professor of American history and Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professor in Public Service at Stanford University. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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