By Earle Scarlett
In Selma last Sunday, the bishop of the historic Brown Chapel: African Methodist Episcopal Church exhorted from the pulpit — “show me a JFK and I’ll show you a Barack Obama.” Here, the bishop asserted, is a man of “character, courage, competence, and compassion”. The church was bursting at the seams, the audience was energized, and his words resonated.
Can the zestful Senator Obama live up to this billing and translate his vision of the “audacity of hope” into political victory? Can he transform the “possible” into the “probable”, and ultimately into reality? The answer is simply, yes.
The caveat, of course, is he must remember that the road to the White House is full of obstacles, — some natural, and some fabricated and stealthily placed to trip him up. And he is already aware that it is a marathon race that requires grit and tenacity to successfully traverse the politically rocky and sometimes virgin terrain.
I am confident that Obama’s core values will undergird his perspectives on domestic, national security and foreign policy issues. Intrepid and compassionate, one can reasonably expect that he will wisely examine contending views on important policy issues. In handling them analytically, he will exhibit a refreshing and flexible leadership style grounded in integrity and competence.
Obama’s detractors on both sides of the political aisle contend that he is inexperienced, saying “this is not the time for on-the-job training”. This facile commentary is either due to ignorance of historical examples or inelegant political maneuvering.
History is replete with individuals who possessed leadership skills that propelled them to success as stewards of organizations in all sectors of society. Frankly, what we need urgently is a President with a keen mind, vision, and an unswerving commitment to deliver. In these uncertain times, we deserve a decision-maker who can synthesize verifiable empirical evidence and sound advice, and has foresight.
At a minimum, timely policy implementation requires a capable and energetic cabinet, and an executive that respects constitutional principles and legislative and judicial prerogatives and poised to consult with leaders of all sectors and regions of the country. An understanding of the needs of the American people and compassion for the less fortunate are imperative.
Obama’s record gives us hope. It displays energy, initiative, and foresight, — key elements of his biblical metaphor of “Joshua”. As he aptly put it in Selma, the civil rights leaders, on whose shoulders he stands, were the Moses of the time parting the waters to escape bondage. Now the “Joshua” generation must carry the torch for a brighter future for America. This will help eradicate the vestiges of antediluvian thinking in American society. And the denouement will be a stronger America with the fabric of society knitted in a common cause to confront unprecedented challeges to our national security. In essence, this biblical reference is a clarion call for unity.
Some say Obama’s knowledge of foreign policy issues is scant. So far, his pronouncements and voting record on key issues, for example the Middle East and the Iraq imbroglio and on humanitatrian issues in Africa, are on the mark. True, he is yet to be tested on broader foreign affairs matters. However, he won’t be President for almost another two years so undoubtedly by then he will have become substantially conversant with them.
Allegations that he does not understand the African American experience are preposterous. The rapport and enthusiasm bestowed on him in Selma on Sunday reassured me that the assertions revealed a profound misunderstanding of the African American voter. For the majority of that community he is certainly on the right side of most political issues that affect them directly, as are some of the other Democratic candidates. Obama further endeared himself to the civil rights community, when he stated forthrightly that he stood on their shoulders. His call for moral clarity and purpose was universal. His earnest appeal that American youth be encouraged to pursue excellence struck a resonant chord.
Obama exudes the inspirational qualities and promise of JFK. Obama’s chances of success are growing and it will be good for America. It will be a palpable example of the American promise realized. And under his leadership the country will be revitalized and the international community will readily accept a refreshing approach to the conduct of international relations. Clearly, our adversaries overseas will recognize he is a problem- solver with a firm hand, especially on national security.
Obama’s victory will augur well for the US and the world. And then the US we will have made the irrevocable step crossing the proverbial Rubicon, (in this case the Alabama River), and by extension the country and world will benefit. (Irish Nobel Prize winner John Hume told me he drew inspiration from the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” incident in Selma). All things are possible, Oh Sweet O’Bama.
Earle Scarlett is a retired US Foreign Service Officer who lives in Atlanta and teaches part-time international affairs and diplomacy at the University of Bologna, Italy. He was present in Selma on Sunday and with his wife joined the march across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.