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Obama’s win and the “era of race”

Jack Carter is a businessman and politician. He is the son of former United States President Jimmy Carter.

It was a night that makes me proud to be an American and proud of all of my fellows who call her “Home”. Barack Obama won a resounding victory with a message of change presented as much by the color of his skin and the sound of his name as by his philosophy of community and shared responsibility as an antidote to the problems before us.

The path before him may not be easy, but it is well-defined. He must move to heal the partisan rift in our country so we can mobilize broad-based support for the targeted solutions we need to stabilize our financial crisis, repair our foreign policy, and develop our infrastructure so we need not fear competition from the rest of the world.

He must do this without antagonizing his Democratic supporters who formed the foundation of his election or bowing too much in their direction.

That is surely easier said than done, but he has several assets on his side:

• His substantial win and long coattails hand him a mandate from the American people to achieve these goals. The margin of victory gives him room to maneuver.

• The remarkable staff assembled to bring him a win in the campaign and so obviously expert in strategic planning and execution will stand him in good stead in defining and executing his roadmap.

• He has a direct line to the American people through his oratorical skills which can be used to bring pressure on Congress.

• He owes very little to the old Party veterans or to the lobbyists who have overrun our government, giving him the freedom to focus on the country as a whole instead of its pieces.

• His campaign has intimately involved him in the problems and strengths, the hopes and dreams, of Americans in a uniquely personal manner. Spending 21 months campaigning all across the country is a special education available only to a select few, an education required to be a successful President.

• These times require solutions instead of partisan politics, and every elected official is well aware that this is the case. This is a great handle to use to lever disparate groups together.

The first step for President-Elect Obama is to assemble his team. He’ll spend the next several days naming his Cabinet. I’m sure these people have already been a part of his campaign. And I’m equally sure that his transition planning will have their early responsibilities and goals already laid out. In the spirit of reaching-across-the-aisle, I expect him to appoint a Republican to a significant cabinet post – possibly either State or Defense. This process will occupy the news for several weeks.

I expect the Obama Administration to hit the ground running in January with a well-oiled machine like the one we just watched win the election. I’m looking forward to it.

Before I sign off on this year’s election, I’d like to give a personal view of Obama’s election beyond my belief that his platform is best for our country.

I have written about the experience of living through the 1950s and ‘60s, a thrilling but traumatizing era. My wife Elizabeth and I both grew up in the South. We were teenagers in the early ‘60s when race turned our sleepy little towns into tense confrontations between civil rights and force. I graduated from a totally segregated high school in Plains, Georgia, in 1965, and had to face the fact that I participated in a racist society.

It dawned on me that the white people in the South at that time were all racists divided into two groups. One group wasn’t bothered by it, the other group was.

My family was bothered by being racist. We worked hard to erase that ugly part of our psyche and were fairly successful at it. But those who lived then still remember that part of us.

Our children, all in their 30s, don’t think of race that way. Race is a minor part of their lives, ignored unless their elders bring it up. My nephew, Hugo, is 8, a different generation. When Dad asked him how many African-Americans he had in his school class, Hugo didn’t know. He never noticed.

I believe that Obama’s victory is largely for the young. He will mobilize all Americans for the future, for our children and grandchildren. But CNN showed Jesse Jackson, a Civil Rights leader who marched with Martin Luther King, crying as he awaited Obama’s victory speech.

MSNBC talked with Rep. John Lewis who also marched with MLK. He spoke of tears and disbelief that a black man could be elected President in a country where 50 years ago he couldn’t ride in the same taxi with a white man much less vote.

By the same token, Obama’s victory is meaningful also for Elizabeth and me. When Dad won the Presidency, I thought, “The Civil War is finally over. The South is truly back in the Union.”

Obama’s victory marks the end of the era of race in our country…not the end of “racism”, the end of the “era of race”. It sets us free.

I’ll end with a story a voter wrote on a blog today. She was entering a polling place when she met a 95-year-old black man leaving in a wheelchair after voting for the first time in his life. When he told her, she started crying. He said, “Missy. This ain’t a day for crying. This is a day for Glory”.