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Charles Kearney Headshot

Luck May Re-Elect Barack Obama

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In 1973, while an English Major at the University of Maryland, College Park, I happened upon a Swahili word, baraka, and a poetic definition of the word that I have remembered for almost 40 years: "a luck so persistent it borders on grace."

So, in 2008, when I heard the name Barack Obama, I guessed -- correctly -- that barack and baraka were probably related in meaning.

In other words, baraka as a word and barack as a word each have deep roots in many ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Swahili, and others. But the gist of the derivatives has remained by and large remarkably similar throughout time: "blessed and lucky."

The often recounted biography of Barack Obama -- boy and man -- plays and replays itself in the background of my mind whenever anyone explains to me in elaborate detail why Barack Obama will not be re-elected, or cannot be re-elected, because of the economy, or jobs, or poll numbers, or shifting support among vital demographics or key electoral states. Of course, reports of his political demise and the reasons for his eventual defeat change daily. Yesterday's certainty changes into a new but different certainty today, and, of course, the talking continues without regard to yesterday's forgotten absolute truth.

Well, any of these dire predictions about Obama and his future might come to fruition. Yet who among those in the media or in the voting population in general would ever have believed with any certainty that a half-white/half-black kid with a father born in Africa, in Kenya, and a mother born in America, in Kansas, with a father who returned alone to Africa and a mother who died young of cancer, who among them would have believed that little orphaned Barack Obama -- being raised by his grandparents in the distant island state of Hawaii -- would attend Harvard Law School, become the first African American head of the Harvard Law Review, be elected senator from Illinois, defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary contests, receive his party's nomination for president, and, a few months later, become the first African American president in the history of the United States of America?

Historians and pundits now routinely consider Ronald Reagan's political luck an article of faith. The little boy from the very small town of Dixon, Ill. -- where my father was raised during the Depression and the Reagans were neighbors -- became the legendary Dixon River summertime lifeguard, the successful radio announcer, the Hollywood movie star, the twice-elected governor of California, and finally the twice-elected president of the United States of America. Improbable and remarkable and lucky, no question about it.

But I would bet you a nickel right now that Barack Obama's "luck so persistent it borders on grace" will outmatch even Ronald Reagan's storied accomplishments.

I cannot predict or explain how his luck will take him through all of the difficulties of the American economy, or changing job numbers, or poll numbers, or shifting support among vital demographics or key electoral states, because luck and grace and destiny and good fortune are ineffable. But when I hear talk about space colonies on the moon or remarks that shatter respect for the poor or a $10,000 bet during a terribly bad and embarrassing collective debate -- no nationally televised bet should be more than a nickel -- I begin again to believe that Barack Obama's luck is characterologically true and persistent and, quite possibly, unbeatable.