Mike Pride: Obama’s America – Twenty-four years later, Rainbow Coalition has arrived
A week ago my face was one of thousands gazing up North State Street at the two presidents. Mine is a white face, a white male face, a Medicare and Social Security recipient’s face, but none of those slices of my electoral profile even occurred to me as I looked around at the other faces in the crowd.
Many of the 14,000 people there came from elsewhere in New Hampshire and beyond, drawn by Barack Obama’s campaign machine and by the chance to see Bill Clinton at the president’s side. They waited in the morning chill as the soundtrack blared on and on through towering speakers. After a while, some moaned at the start of each song. When the crowd half-heartedly took up the “Four more years” chant for the sixth time, a fellow behind me called out, “Four more hours!”
That was almost exactly how long I waited – longer than some, less than others. This gave me ample time to people-watch. Such a crowd never before gathered in Concord for a political event. There were African-Americans, Asian-Americans, immigrants, young people by the hundreds, women, women, women. Modern America had poured into State Street.
The last political event I attended before Sunday occurred on the eve of the 2010 election. It was a Tea Party rally on the State House lawn. People, mostly white men like me, cheered when a speaker called Obama a communist. And that was one of the tamer moments. John H. Sununu, the state Republican chairman at the time, embraced this ragtag movement. As wrongheaded as this seemed, the party fell into line and won a landslide on Election Day.
Not long afterward, our presidential primary kicked into gear. I love politics and history. During the eight previous primaries, I often traveled long distances to see candidates of both parties on the stump and to write about them for the paper. I sat out the 2012 campaign. The
Republican candidates held no interest for me. Even Mitt Romney, the most moderate of them, kowtowed to the mean, angry, irrational elements I had seen at the Tea Party rally.
Initially, I didn’t like President Obama much either. I blamed his lackluster performance for the success of the Tea Party in taking over the State House in 2010 and inflicting a reign of terror on New Hampshire.
Over time, though, I came to appreciate Obama’s heart and mind as he tried to right his presidency and solve national problems. He was a beacon of reason in a madhouse. Republicans, meanwhile, in their obsession with denying him a second term, ignored the good of the country.
Finally, after the long wait last Sunday, Bill Clinton stood at the microphone, his black coat and the morning sun accentuating his white hair. After all these years Clinton still says “Con-CORD” instead of “Conquered,” but his regard for our state is genuine.
“I never tire of coming to New Hampshire,” he said, pointing out that it had been more than 20 years since the state started him on the road to the White House as “the Comeback Kid.”
Clinton’s post-presidency and Hillary Clinton’s diligence as secretary of state have made people forget, or at least forgive, how sordid his presidency became in the long months of scandal and impeachment of his second term.
This year, he truly helped Obama, delivering zingers about Romney’s math and becoming a symbol of Democratic Party harmony and continuity. His presence stood in contrast to the absence of George W. Bush, the campaign’s invisible man.
But the crowd that day was Obama’s, not Clinton’s. This was about the future, not nostalgia. Once he reached the microphone, I lost sight of him as people in front of me stood on their tiptoes, raised their cameras and lifted their children to see him.
As I looked around, the straining, uplifted faces brought to mind an even earlier presidential bid: Jesse Jackson’s.
Jackson ran in 1984 and 1988, a period when Democrats were fumbling around in the dark, their star eclipsed by Ronald Reagan. Jackson was the candidate of the Rainbow Coalition. The phrase wasn’t his originally, but he used it to describe his vision of the emerging America that the Reagan agenda was ignoring.
The Rainbow Coalition has arrived. It was right there on State Street, and it was arrayed before Obama early Wednesday morning when he came out to claim victory. In that beautiful speech he said:
“I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”
What is different now is that new generations are shedding – have shed – the prejudices of their elders. What is different is that demography is on the side of diversity. Obama has accelerated these trends by inviting people of all colors, including old white guys like me, to participate in the new America.
That is the moment I sensed in the crowd last Sunday. The election two days later proved that it had been no illusion.
(Mike Pride of Concord is the Monitor’s editor emeritus.)