Inevitable? Not so fast.

Check out this interesting clip from the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinnerposted on Michael Tomasky’s blog. In it, Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy are talking about race. Poitier says something about how he hopes his children (whose mother would be Tracy’s white daughter) would grow up to be president some day. Tomasky’s comment about the clip:

I was a little boy when the movie came out (as was the president-elect) and I remember clearly how ridiculous this notion seemed at the time. Truly something.

I have a different reaction. I was about 11 when this film came out. I don’t remember it very well, but I do remember that I believed back then that it was very likely we’d have a black president some day… as well as a female president. You see, when I was young, I felt that the United States was on an ever moving platform of progress. Yes, we had problems, but we would continually overcome them and be better. Racism, sexism (if I knew what that was at the time), pollution, poverty… these were problems that were going to go away. Tolerance and consideration and respect for the planet and ALL its inhabitants was our destination.

Then I slid into adulthood and Ronald Reagan became president, and suddenly my notion of continuous progress was severely challenged. America was revealed to be full of hate, greed and intolerance, and these prejudices were all too easily tapped into by slimy political pimps the likes of Michael Deaver, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. The older I got, the more it seemed that the America of my boyhood mind was a true fantasy. I had lost almost all of my faith in my fellow Americans by George W. Bush’s second term.

Does Barack Obama’s selection to be our 44th president change this opinion? A little. But my optimism is damped by this: 46 percent of voting Americans STILL chose to vote for John McCain. Think about that for a moment. Then remember that Barack Obama had these advantages working for him:

  1. Multiples more money to spend than John McCain;
  2. Running against the party of the most despised and discredited president of, perhaps, all time;
  3. Sarah Palin on the opposing ticket;
  4. A disastrous war, started by the opposing party;
  5. A disastrous economy, largely blamed on the opposing party;
  6. Arguably the most aggressive and well-run campaign by a Democrat… (ever?)

Despite those factors working in Obama’s favor during the election of 2008, if just 3.5% of Americans had changed their votes, McCain would have won — at least the popular vote (the electoral college map is a lot more complicated). I find that a very sobering reality.

So I am not ready to acknowledge the return of the America of my youth. But I am hopeful.

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