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Obama Wins -- For Black and White Americans... What's Next?

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The Presidential victory of Barack Obama now seems to have settled in, and we are in the midst of a kind of Presidential "lull" as much of the country waits impatiently for one president to leave (and he seems quite anxious to do so), while they wait equally as impatiently for a new president to move in.

But what strikes me as somewhat ironic is that so far, we have seen traditional interest group politics give no sign that "real change" is on the way as everyone is shoring up their constituent base and all the major issues facing us are being discussed in the framework of the same traditional political calculations -- except one -- which hasn't been really discussed much at all -- and that is the real significance of this election of the issue of "Race" in America and what we can expect, demand, and hope for from both White and Black Americans. There's been some tip toeing around this issue and some perfunctory commentary about how this election shows "how far America has come" etc, and that's fine -- but no beginning yet of the deeper analysis that I believe must at some point take place.

So already, we see Democrats leaving Joe Lieberman in place not out of the goodness of their hearts but because they smell a filibuster proof victory possibly in the works and they need Joe Lieberman happy and staying just where he is. And we have the far left more engaged now on fighting gay marriage bans across the country than on engaging on what new policy and changes will really be implemented to get the country out of the war in Iraq -- a good move as I have predicted for some time that the troops are not coming home anytime soon, and president Obama is not going to quickly contradict the advice of his commanders on the ground.

And we have liberal commentators angrily contradicting the notion that the country is still "center to right" -- and they are wrong on that as the country is still center to right and the defeat of gay marriage amendments and even affirmative action, both of which I support, on every ballot except one demonstrate this point most effectively -- but they are not the strongest evidence to support that assertion. The fact is, I still without hesitation maintain that even with all of the advantages the Democrats had in this election, if the economic crisis had not exploded on the weekend of September 15th, overshadowing everything else including an unstable and declining economy that existed before that weekend, John McCain today would be president of the United States. Why, because until the weekend of September 15th this election was a referendum on Barack Obama, and after September 15th, the election became a referendum on the economy and on John McCain linked to President Bush.

And with the depths of this economic crisis now fully exposed on that weekend, even many White Americans uncomfortable about voting for an African-American for president now took the position that "if I'm losing my job and maybe my house while Wall Street gets a bail-out, then I'll set race aside for four or five weeks and let this guy get in there and see if he can help me keep my house and get my job back. And once the election was not about Obama, and instead became about the economy linked to the Party in power, and linked to a Party in power led by a president with the lowest approval ratings in history, McCain really had no chance.

But without that Sept. 15th weekend, McCain wins, and if he had won, no one would be arguing against the notion that the country is still center to right in its political social core values.

And what else is being discussed? Everyone is taking predictable sides on the issue of financial assistance for the big three automakers, and it strikes me as inconceivable that we would authorize 700 billion for Wall Street banking houses with no oversight (Hank Paulson has a blank check and so much authority that he has unilaterally changed the basis for allocating funds three times since the legislation was authorized with no review or oversight). Yet, it appears that with the automakers, who are asking for 25 Billion for all three, not 700 Billion, we seem to want so much oversight that perhaps we could see the House Judiciary Committee overseeing the design of next year's Mustang or Impala models. Give me a break -- give us all a break -- and give our automakers a break -- if we can bail out the leaders of investment banks we can help bail out the workers whose pensions and futures are invested in the hedge funds and derivatives of those investment banks thanks to the "advice and guidance" of those investment bank CEO's.

And of course, we're talking about Hillary Clinton, and I must be the only one who just does not understand why Hillary would want to be Secretary of State and take herself out of the conversation on Health Care, Education, Women's and minority rights, and jobs -- issues she clearly cares so much about with Obama's support -- and then put herself right into the middle of the conversation on what to do in Iraq, an issue where she has had clear differences with Obama on policy. And even though Dick Durbin, Richard Lugar, John Kerry and of course Ted Kennedy may appear to have more influence with the new administration, Hillary has one thing no other Senator has -- 19 million votes.

And finally, let's insist the media take a time out. Haven't they done enough damage all ready? Just in the last day the media asserts that the Hispanic community is "outraged and upset" with the Obama team as no Hispanics have been named to the Cabinet and Hispanics voted 2 to 1 for Obama. First, most likely one Hispanic spokesman mildly indicated that he or she "hopes Obama will name Hispanics to key positions in the administration, and all of a sudden it becomes the "entire community is outraged and upset."

And secondly, so far only 4 top appointments have actually been announced, and with the total Cabinet and top White House positions approaching close to 40 to 50 nominees, it's a little early to talk about a rift between Obama and Hispanics because of the first four appointments.

So this is the backdrop for the quick points on the future on race and what it could mean, as that is the only topic so far that was featured in the campaign (although misrepresented and even abused as a campaign issue) and yet not really seriously even discussed yet if just to lay out some launching points for the new administration once they actually take office.

For White Americans, the election of Barack Obama does NOT mean the conversation on race Is over, nor does it mean we are past race as an issue, and nor does it mean we can now forget about affirmative action (which was never about taking away seats -- it is about adding seats), and nor does it mean we can cancel Head Start since Obama was President of the Harvard Law Review. And in fact, it does not give anyone a license to say "I'm fine with race since I voted for Obama" -- even though as I assert, many of these same voters would have voted for McCain with race definitely as an issue if the September 15th weekend economic crisis had not exploded. But on the positive side, hopefully many Whites will now see the image of Blacks and particularly the wholesome, proud and loving Black Family image so marvelously presented by Barack Obama (perhaps his greatest strength for changing America's perception about race) as a path to a new road for their thinking, and in reaching that road, perhaps now resumes with the name "Laquecia" won't get tossed in the waste basket while resumes with the name Susie Jo... get a first thing Monday morning interview. That will be good.

And for African-Americans, there has to be a real effort to prevent a potential arrogance from setting in (we have the White House so we rule -- especially among young Black males), an attitude that if it spreads will retard the progress many Whites may be able to make in this same area. And besides, African-Americans did not elect Barack Obama president -- neither did Hispanics although they actually helped more by delivering States Dems don't win -- NO, it was actually White Suburban women who put Obama in the White House as his lead among that group was larger than Al Gore's and John Kerry's combined - 30 points. And that group gave him Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana -- the birthplace of the Klu Klux Klan -- and those States gave him the White House.

But most important for going forward on the race issue, African-Americans must learn and learn quickly that every time someone harshly criticizes President Obama, it's not racism and doesn't necessarily reflect racism. And if the community uses that "default" race position as a final defense against criticism of President Obama, Whites will ultimately say "enough" and re-unite around issues of race and wipe out Democratic gains in 2010 and set the stage for a defeat of President Obama in 2012 -- still a tall task since Obama may be able to raise ONE BILLION dollars over the next four years for his re-election efforts.

But what will Obama do? One, he will restore American prestige and good will around the world and raise the level of worldwide appreciation of diversity and the multi-cultural make up of both the world and the United States. Two, he will be able to elevate the understanding of racial issues in the US and, if he's smart, launch a nationwide series of Town Halls around the country, perhaps with the participation of John McCain, to truly have the conversation on race we still have not had in this country - and really would have had if the September 15th weekend hadn't happened. And he will change perceptions and cause Human Resource managers and CEO's to take a second look before rejecting a minority or female for top positions in the corporate world. And finally, let's hope that the new president may be able to launch a national campaign to finally get the "N" word banned from the vocabulary of all of America. It is a new era in America -- let's all usher it in!

Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and lecturer. E-mail: cjintel@juno.com