The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 28, 2013

Lost in all of the bickering is significance of Obama election

By Jim Raykie
Executive Editor

---- — Especially with President Barack Obama’s inauguration for a second term fresh in everyone’s mind, it seems as though every newspaper, news channels and unlimited web pages inundate us about the state of the country.

We are bombarded with news about debt ceilings, fiscal cliffs, immigration laws, record deficits and the impact of Obamacare. They are many of the news issues that are dividing the country, especially when stories contain the president’s philosophy regarding them.

Of course, as difficult as it is to believe, the inane non-issues continue to rear their ugly heads when buffoons like Donald Trump still question the president’s country of birth while others doubt that he attended Harvard, claim that he hates God, and that he’s really an evil plant sabotaging to end our country.

Obama has been roundly (and fairly I might add) criticized for some of his decisions during his first term as president. His handling of the country’s debt crisis usually tops the list, along with his fight for the populist Obamacare. The next four years will contribute heavily about how he is remembered as president - not by extremes on the left and right but by history.

But for all of the political division facing our country, lost in the divisive conversation is the significance of his election and re-election to our country’s highest office. While we have a ways to go, electing a black man to the presidency - in a historical context - is an important chapter for America.

As I watched the inauguration, I couldn’t help but think of how far our country has come, to a point where almost 66 million Americans voted for the president. I contrasted that to my time growing up in Farrell and as a teenager in the late 1960s. I watched, from my second-floor bedroom on Emerson Avenue, as militants from outside of the area looted and rioted, burning buildings from block to block on Idaho Street.

I wondered how the racial tensions would affect Farrell, a tight-knit community where whites and blacks for decades had worked together, lived together, ate together, and shared that common bond of putting community first. While the effects, it turned out, were minimal overall because residents realized it wasn’t their own that were spearheading the problems, it did have some. Not on me, but for others, usually misinformed.

I remember vividly a conversation my dad had at the New Deal Club, where I would tag along and have soft drinks, chips and Slim Jims while he talked with the guys. As part of the conversation, I recall one of my dad’s friends telling him he wouldn’t support Farrell High’s fabled basketball program any longer. He gave his reason - he was told that one of the star African-American players was “helping to burn down my town.”

I’m not afraid to speak my mind as an adult, and as a teenager, didn’t back away from joining a conversation, especially when I knew it was filled with bad information. I was angry and told my dad’s buddy that he was wrong. He asked me how I knew. I told him because the player in question and I were on the front porch of my grandfather’s house watching the glow in the sky from the arson and listening to sirens from everywhere - two kids wondering what was happening to our town.

From that perspective ­- and my other experiences in Farrell where the bonds among most blacks and whites strengthened amid the turmoil throughout the country - the election of Obama less than four decades later supports the ideals of democracy. We’ll celebrate another milestone when the first woman is elected as president as well.

I’m concerned that in the various and polarized evaluations of Obama’s performance that the historical appreciation of his election has been lost. Fortunately, historians will get it right.

Jim Raykie is executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is jraykie@sharonherald.com