Every now and then I can't help but go out of my way to pass by the monumental Charles Bridge here in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Amongst some foreigners who have lived in this treasure city for more than a few months, this great symbol and work of architecture becomes associated with an overcrowded tourist haven. As I have agreed with this from time to time, I still enjoy a walk along it whenever I am in its vicinity.
I like to imagine a detailed movie-like chronology of the region's history. I think back to its earliest settlements along the wide Vltava River and ponder the intensity of its trading even before the Czech Kingdom existed. Then I look to Prague Castle, just a short hike from the bridge, and it becomes clear why the castle was constructed exactly where it was. The rolling hills close to the river bank gave the old, fortified, town-sized castle protection of its power from bandits and invaders.
And I see how the bridge connects the two equally important halves of the city, the western half with the castle and the eastern half with the Jewish Quarter and Old town square-where merchants from all over Europe traded since the High Middle ages.
But even greater, the bridge is a microcosmic symbol of the city of Prague itself. Prague is Europe's bridge between the West and the East. Throughout history it attracted various scholars of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution, and the merchants from all over the continent. It survived various foreign occupations, and with the bad came the good - the city maintained its identity, authenticity, and enhanced its overall character. Prague today is an international city, with every major style of Western architecture dating back 1,000 years. This is why many from all over the world come to experience it, whether by living here (like myself) or briefly visiting.
And then I look across the Atlantic and I see a powerful experience happening -- the American election. On a side note, it is interesting to hear varying opinions in the C.R. I have met both fans of John McCain and Barack Obama. But those who are interested in Obama think it will be good for the U.S. to elect its first non-white president.
And now I am starting to read about a new set of race questions and whether Obama should be considered black, or racially mixed. It even went so far that CBS's 60 Minutes personally asked him about the issue.
I can't help but think that many are missing the point. It is not the worry for the appropriate racial label that should be the focus of people's minds, but rather that Obama has the potential to be the 21st century's first Great Communicator. Not only could he be the one who can help us make greatly needed leaps over our racial and political divides, but also our isolation in the world.
Like many, I too have my criticisms of Senator Obama. And although I think he is quite intelligent, sometimes I am not impressed. However, it should not be overlooked that as a result of his eclectic life experiences and upbringing, it is part of his nature to not only understand different people, but to make compromises to find solutions for the most complex issues. Although this has not always been done in the purest of ways, he has no doubt acted in the way we expect from good and smart politicians (as best seen in the early days of 'pragmatic politics' in Chicago).
For mainly this reason, Senator Obama has a potential for greatness like the city in which I currently live. Because his life has been one that is multidimensional and thus rich in experience, and though he never served in the military, we can agree that this is a powerful example of character.
With all of this going for him, Obama has great potential to help the United States make several leaps forward as we face crucial issues from within and abroad. Two simple questions remain: is this what the American people want, and, if he is elected, will he let us down?
Jeremy Zogby is the son of prominent pollster John Zogby and Kathleen Zogby. He lives and teaches history and English language in Prague CR. He holds degrees in history and is a close observer of political and cultural, social trends in the CR.