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Obama and the American Presidency

June 4, 2008

After the long Democratic primary race, today offers sweet relief for those of us on either side of the aisle, that it’s over. Regardless of how you feel about Obama’s politics, the fact that he captured the Democratic nomination is a historical first that shouldn’t escape unnoticed. Ezra Klein, I think, offers on his blog at The American Prospect, the most humanities-esque analysis I’ve seen today.

I quote the the first half here, but the whole thing (it’s pretty short) is worth the read.

Towards the end of the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Dr. John Wade Prentice, played by Sydney Poitier, sits down with his fiance’s white father, played by Spencer Tracy. “Have you given any thought to the problems your children will have?” Tracy asks. “Yes, and they’ll have some…[But] Joey feels that all of our children will be President of the United States,” replies Poitier. “How do you feel about that?” asks Tracy, looking skeptically at the black man in front of him. “I’d settle for Secretary of State,” Poitier laughs.

Written in the late-1960s, the exchange was, indeed, laughable. The Civil Rights Act had been passed three years prior. Two years before, the Watts riots had broken out, killing 35. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated a year later. But here we are, almost exactly 40 years after theatergoers heard that exchange. The last two Secretaries of State were African-American and, as of tonight, the next president may well be a black man. John Prentice’s children would probably still be in their late-30s. They could still grow up to be cabinet officials or even presidents, but they would not necessarily be trailblazers.

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