American voters sent President Barack Obama a clear message on Nov. 6, 2012 when he was re-elected to lead a red and blue divided nation. That message came in the form of his legacy, which was firmly established by the time Obama strode onto the Chicago stage -- accompanied by Stevie Wonder's hit song, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" -- to give a victory speech that would be regarded as iconic.
The Republicans' fevered attempt to make good on a promise to their constituents -- that Obama would be a one-term president -- failed. The voting public's rejection of the conservative right's mantra, "take America back," can be interpreted as a permanent blemish on the Republicans' campaign record that will forever mark a turning point in our nation's history. The vision of an American landscape akin to the 1950's "Leave It To Beaver" sitcom, in which Wally and the Beav could live out adventures in an idyllic "American" community devoid of non-white neighbors, is an insulting facade of America for tens of millions of Americans who ceased to exist in such a fabled landscape that apparently continues to influence the perspectives of many today who seek to return to such a mythical era in American history.
The 2012 re-election of President Obama symbolized our nation's embrace of reality and the rise of America's multicultural melting pot in the aftermath of Obama's first term, which is destined to redefine the branding of America in the 21st century. We now reside at a very unique transition point in our nation's history. America, after Obama entered the White House (AO), may someday be unrecognizable to the whitewashed America before Obama (BO).
The re-election of Obama was far more than just another battle between Democrats and Republicans for the Oval Office. It was a war over how American history will be written and the legacy that would define the Obama presidency. As it turns out, Obama's legacy is already cemented, well before his January swearing-in ceremony and Inauguration Day Address to the red and blue states... and a significantly divided landscape of white Americans.
Ironically, Obama set his footsteps inside the historically large footprint of the "Great Emancipator," Abraham Lincoln, who, despite being personally conflicted over the question of what to do with millions of black people in America, set in motion presidential policy that would move the Civil War question from America's bloody battlefields to a political battleground in Congress.
The question over what to do with black people in America has inherently defined the nation's progress (and regress) from the end of the Civil War to the day the American people elected Barack Obama as president.
Americans answered the historic question by extending support to a charismatic, competent, qualified leader who is respected around the globe and embodies the melting pot within our nation. Obama's black and white bloodlines, along with his international background and comfort as a global citizen, combine for a great symbolic representation of a 21st century America.
From Lincoln to Obama
That historic question, to which the embodiment of President Obama offers a clear response, was at the core of the Reconstruction debates in the aftermath of the Civil War and set in motion conflict in Congress and a battle with a defiant President Andrew Johnson that resulted in the first impeachment of an American president. Lincoln's appointment of Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War was undermined by Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln after the assassination.
Johnson attempted to remove Stanton from office during a recess of Congress -- a move that would lead to the president inadvertently designing his own legacy as America's first impeached president. Johnson's targeting of Stanton was just one of many moves of direct defiance during his combative chess match with Congress over the issues pertaining to Reconstruction in the south, and in particular the welfare of newly freed black people.
For black people emerging from slavery, Stanton's leadership was crucial. The War Department was responsible for the Freedman's Bureau, which was established to help transition newly freed slaves, temporarily provide services for their well-being and protect them from a hostile environment in which they entered as free people, yet remained powerless, penniless and vulnerable.
From Reconstruction to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement to Affirmative Action and Community Reinvestment Act(s), to the constant pleadings for corporations and small businesses to embrace diversity and inclusion, equal pay and equal opportunity, the question of what America should do with black people, and the black man in particular, has remained solidly at the core of America's political, social and economic ideology and disputes.
Obama's re-election is a confirmation and reaffirmation that America meant what it said in 2008, when it declared "hope" and "change" marked the path of 21st century America.
Inextricably Out of Touch: Andrew Johnson and Mitt Romney
Governor Mitt Romney's infamous remarks during a fundraiser in May 2012 regarding his notion that 47 percent of Americans won't vote for him because they rely upon the government to care for them, is reminiscent of the ideological prism through which President Andrew Johnson viewed the Freedman's Bureau, a federally funded social and economic safety net he fought to defund.
Excerpt from President Andrew Johnson's speech in Cleveland, Ohio (Sept. 3, 1866):
"Now to the Freedmen's Bureau. What was it? Four million slaves were emancipated and given an equal chance and fair start to make their own support-to work and produce; and having worked and produced, to have their own property and apply it to their own support. But the Freedmen's Bureau comes and says we must take charge of these 4,000,000 slaves.
"The bureau comes along and proposes, at an expense of a fraction less than $12,000,000 a year, to take charge of these slaves. You had already expended $3,000,000,000 to set them free and give them a fair opportunity to take care of themselves -then these gentlemen, who are such great friends of the people, tell us they must be taxed $12,000,000 to sustain the Freedmen's Bureau."
Excerpt from Mitt Romney's speech at a fundraiser in May 2012:
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
Closing the Book on America's Past
The fantasy of a fair start and equal opportunity for all in America is the notion both Johnson and Romney expressed as an existing foundation while viewing the nation through the privileges of their distorted prisms. Both men were out of touch with the reality of the generational impact inherent in great disparities in power, influence and access to opportunity in America. History records that both men were soundly rejected by the American people: one escaping removal from the White House by a single vote in the Senate after impeachment; the other afforded visitation to the White House through invitation from the black man who currently occupies it.
Both Johnson and Romney failed to recognize the critical role government plays in protecting the most vulnerable among us and assisting in developing opportunities for all citizens, many of whom enter into a hostile society in which power and economics concedes nothing without a battle. Even in the aftermath of his own concession, Romney characterized the Obama campaign's success due to "gifts" doled out to Latinos and African Americans. Johnson held a similar view of the role of the Freedman's Bureau.
The New America (AO)
Obama's re-election is perhaps the final chapter that closes the book on the Civil War and the Old America (BO).
On Inauguration Day 2013, President Obama will begin writing the first chapter of a new book in a New 21st century America. His legacy is already enveloped in the decision Americans made at the ballot box on Nov. 6 to continue the progress they started with his election in 2008.
As a 50-year-old black man in America, I have experienced the impact of its 20th century institutional constructs and heard the constant outcry from disconnected Americans for equality and equity. I have also witnessed platitudes, criticisms, stereotypes and besmirching intonations in the retorts to longstanding efforts to change a nation that holds onto the memory of an era when being "American" meant you were white and superior. I have witnessed the pride with which business owners display the fact their businesses were established during eras when my parents and grandparents were barred from entering it, much less starting one of their own. I welcome the Age of Obama and a new nation.
America in the Age of Obama
In the Age of Obama, I have witnessed a 21st century America slowly awakening. I've experienced the joy of an American landscape, filled with citizens from all backgrounds, races and nationalities showing support for a America's leader, who not only demonstrated an ability to bring us together (if only momentarily), but also show respect to leaders around the world.
I have watched Obama institute policies and partnerships that helped open closed doors of access to opportunity in STEM education, entrepreneurship and access to capital. I have watched him place his political career at risk to expand healthcare coverage to those who desperately need it. I watched him institute a law that helped provide legal redress for women discriminated against in workforce pay.
I cheered when Obama signed the JOBS Act in April of this year, and opened doors of crowdfunding investment opportunities for non-wealthy Americans. I felt a sense of optimism when Obama created collaborative resources to inspire and engage entrepreneurs, bolstered support for struggling HBCU campuses and established an effort aimed at addressing the crisis in K-12 education of black students.
I'm glad my children and grandchildren are growing up in the Age of Obama -- the age that marks the defining turning point in American history. Of course, I don't expect that President Obama will do the work that is ours to do. He has set the stage, instituted policies, opened doors of access and established a vision of a cohesive America with opportunity for all. He has done the work of a leader. I must follow through and do my part as a citizen.
The challenge of working together, overcoming deficits in economics and relationships are tasks that remain our responsibility. Obama's monumental efforts to break down the walls of competitive silos is a vision all of America can share. We all can actively do something to connect with others to achieve something greater, even those with whom may disagree.
If America is to march forward into the 21st century and leave the past behind, it will require us all accepting that we are one nation comprised of many wonderful peoples working together for the good of all. If we can achieve that mindset, that will be a tremendous legacy Obama leaves for his predecessors. It is apparent a majority of Americans have already determined they want that to be our national legacy.
Still, my optimism is tempered with the knowledge that this century's progress will start slow, as our nation emerges out of a tight turn away from a dark past. But eventually, America will sprint toward a bright future for all of its citizens. I'm excited about that future.