today in black history

February 25, 2024

Scholar, civil rights advocate and federal judge Leon Higginbotham, Jr. is born on this date in 1928 in Trenton, New Jersey.

Defining Who We Are

POSTED: September 07, 2012, 12:00 am

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It was clear that this was a different Barack Obama stepping to the podium last night in Charlotte. How could it not have been? The presidency is like a bad relationship; it wears on you and sometimes ages you a bit. This was a President who has endured the toughest economic crisis in our nation’s history since the Great Depression. This was not the wide-eyed neophyte; this was the commander-in-chief who has had to call the parents of soldiers killed in war and witness the “welcome” ceremony for the war dead at Dover Air Force Base. The man standing before the nation last night was the leader who has borne a heavier cross than any man who has sat in the Oval Office, who has had to carry four hundred years on his back, and keep his cool in the face of insults from lesser men and women.

Last night the President showed up.

It would have been easy for Barack Obama to try to match the emotional pitch of his wife’s speech two nights ago or the homespun whit of President Clinton on display last night, but thankfully, he did not try to match applause lines. What he did, and what few realize, perhaps except his opponents, is artfully raise the question of who legitimately are the patriots in our nation and what truly represents the ideals of our democracy. For decades now, Republicans have hid behind the flag preaching a laissez faire democracy, defining America as a game of chance, where the winners cheat and rig the system to the detriment of a battered public. And any voice raised against their run on the land is branded a traitor and unpatriotic. In a stroke of genius President Obama called out Republicans last night and revealed the hollowness of their vision for our nation.

He kept reminding the public that they had a choice come November, and it was no cheap bid for votes though he of course wants their support. Rather, it was a challenge to Americans to come to terms with what type of country we want to bequeath to our children and grandchildren. And he skillfully framed each challenge – education, immigration, health care, foreign relations, energy – as a choice between himself and a Republican challenger whose Cold War mentality still sees Boris Badenov lurking around every corner. This speech was about the biggest of the big questions – what defines an American – and President Obama left no doubt about his alignment with history.

“We also believe in citizenship.” It was a simple but powerful rejoinder to a Republican Party that has shamefully engaged in an attack on the President’s citizenship and treated immigrant children like the enemy. In one breath President Obama cleaned the Birther muck off the soles of his feet and exposed the right for their unpatriotic and cowardly treatment of children who want nothing more than to be called an American. The line was delivered with the subtlety of a Mike Tyson punch.

Many wondered how he would address the nation’s deep economic crisis and the slow pace of the recovery. On a day when one analysis showed a 200,000 jobs gain in August, and on the eve of the official monthly government report on employment, President Obama did not run from the reality of a tough economy. He rightfully took credit for efforts made under his watch to put Americans back to work but he also acknowledged the difficult work still to be done, and properly framed the recovery as dependent upon our collective will. Again, real citizens work together as he reminded “no party has a monopoly on wisdom, no democracy works without compromise.”

It is easy to get lost in the euphoria of partisan rhetoric but the gravity of the times we face suggests that Americans should not roll the dice on their future. The odds are clearly against us if we decide to play a rigged game of three card Monte and risk future generations. Last night the President was more FDR and Churchill than Obama, and perhaps, just perhaps those voters in Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida will finally realize that flag waving is a useless exercise when the country you claim to love is being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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