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Yes we can - no we can't

By Stephen Hagan - posted Friday, 6 February 2009

Barack Hussein Obama (b. August 4, 1961), the 44th President of the United States of America said in his inauguration address on January 20, 2009: “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old.”

It would appear the world has been swept along in a tide of Obama-mania such is the global euphoria surrounding Obama, a former Chicago community organiser, civil rights attorney and three-term Illinois Senator, which is being celebrated after his inauguration as the first African American President of the United States of America.

Back in February 2007, after spending time in California with my wife Rhonda, I wrote in my fortnightly column that “Barack has the ability to embrace nearly whatever qualities he chooses,” because I felt he had rare intrinsic charisma and exalted intellect without the baggage of the civil rights movement that intimidated the fabric of American society in the past and still provokes suspicion today.


Barack at that time was capturing America’s full attention after he made known his intention to contest the presidential elections in 2008. He wasn’t a high profile politician with decades of public service behind him nor was he a renowned actor, sportsman or businessman. I guess in an ironic twist his anonymity back then was the feature that aroused interest from a curious national constituency who sought a fresh face after years of the usual suspects at election time.

At that time also, on reflection, I was heartened by and ambitiously cheering for this handsome, articulate, young, black political figure who I knew was up against challenging obstacles; principally the high level of racial intolerance that pervades public opinion in the US and poses the obvious question that lingered wilfully but seldom asked in public: “Is America ready for a black president?”

Another challenge for the Illinois Senator and father of two daughters, that I saw as being problematic, was gaining partisan support from ageing political power brokers from within his party on Capitol Hill who represent the vestige of white power that still dominates the political landscape in the US.

But as I continued to follow his election campaign throughout 2007 and 2008 while viewing the presidential election coverage on CNN I remained upbeat about his chances as he continued to ride on the crest of a political wave with his election slogan of “Yes We Can”.

And when I factored in the statistical incongruity along racial lines Obama’s chances of success looked slim. The African American population of 41 million accounts for only 13.5 per cent of the total United States population of 306 million. In fact people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity have surpassed African Americans in recent years as the second largest racial group with 44.4 million (14.8 per cent) citizens - as taken from the US 2006 census. Many Hispanics in the crucial state of California were known to be active Republican card holders.

The Native American Indians, very much minority players in this statistical debate comprising only 0.68 per cent or 2 million of the total population, would not be enough to carry the day for Barack if it came down to their numbers.


To win the election Barack Obama had to be upbeat in his campaign and project an affable public profile allied with his charisma and intellect that would transcend race. He desperately needed to capture the confidence of a significant number of the 221.3 million white Americans who comprise 74 per cent of the total population.

And true to his motto of “Yes We Can” Obama staved off a concerted effort from rivals and after a very protracted and at times spiteful election contest he reigned supreme against the odds and assumed his place as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Many right wing commentators have argued that it probably helped Obama that the nation was experiencing two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy had fallen into a major recession that would take years to recover - even worse than the 1990-91 and 2001 recessions which lasted eight months each.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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