Having voted by absentee ballot, I happened to be on business travel last November 4 and arrived at the Philly airport mid-afternoon. On impulse, I grabbed a rental car and boogied to Independence Square, arriving barely an hour before closing time. It was cold, drizzling, dreary, and deserted save one middle school class on tour.
I didn’t know yet if McCain or Obama had won, but just the fact that a black candidate might become President was its own huge achievement. And I couldn’t help but reflect that it all started here, Independence Hall, July 4, 1776, when 56 men from 13 puny colonies signed the Declaration of Independence and stared down England, far and away the world’s greatest superpower at the time.
“We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Sure, historians and others are quick to jump on the hypocrisy between the lofty ideals and visions in the Declaration, and the personal biographies of many of the signers. But since when is nation-birthing a clean and perfect process? It is just the opposite.
For the Hillary Clinton supporters, it would have been a lot better had the Declaration started, “…that all men and women are created equal.” That said, the first woman ever elected governor was elected in Wyoming in 1925, over eight decades ago. Since then, a total of 30 women have served as governor in various states, soon to be 31 when Arizona’s Jan Brewer replaces Janet Napolitano who is moving to DC to join the Obama Administration. Both the Democrats and Republicans have now run women Vice Presidential candidates, and I suspect that in my lifetime I will see a woman President in the White House. It would be consistent with international politics. Worldwide, scores of nations have elected women leaders in recent decades, including some of the biggest and most powerful such as Germany, Great Britain, India, Israel, and Pakistan.
Regarding race and “…created equal,” many of the 56 signers were slave owners. But many were not, and within four years two states, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, had abolished slavery. Indeed, one of the signers, Benjamin Rush, later became the President of the American Society for the Abolition of Slavery.
It has nonetheless been a terribly long road for blacks in society in general and in politics in particular, which makes Obama’s election all the more remarkable. The first post-Reconstruction black governor was not elected until 1990 (interestingly in the “southern” state of Virginia,) and since then only one other black governor has been elected, Deval Patrick in Massachusetts in 2006.
Worldwide, as best I can ascertain, never before in recorded history has a predominantly non-black nation elected a black leader, which makes Obama’s election truly extraordinary and a moment to savor 233 years after an audacious group of men signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.