Senator Barack Obama has acquired the necessary pledged delegates to become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in this year’s U.S. presidential election. This means 46-year-old Obama is the first African American candidate to lead a major political party for the White House.
The Illinois Senator outlasted New York Senator and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton during the historic Democratic Party primary campaign that saw record number of voters. Senator Clinton, who did not concede defeat Tuesday night, reportedly said that she is available for the position of vice president.
About 150 years ago, black people were slaves in the United States. F. Christopher Arterton is dean of George Washington University's School of Political Management. He told VOA that having a black presidential candidate for one of the leading political parties is a milestone for the United States and black people in particular.
“This is an extraordinary day for the nation and even for the world. This is the first African American who’s been nominated by a major political party in any of the northern countries, and I think it’s quite stunning to see a young man come from a very small position in politics – a state senator – and now he is the presumptive nominee. So it’s a historic rise politically,” he said.
On August 28, 1963, black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech in Washington. August 2008 will mark the 45th anniversary of the King speech, and it would be the same week that the Democratic Party would have its national convention in Denver, Colorado.
Arterton said if Dr. King were alive he would say that his dream has been realized or on the way to being achieved because of Senator Obama’s success story.
“I think this is very symbolic that a nation which has a political system where African Americans have not had success certainly at this level and have fought their way through the Democratic Party into major positions both in the House and in the Senate now it looks like an African may capture the White House. So it’s quite historic in that sense,” Arterton said.
He said the political successes of Senators Barack Obama as an African American and Hillary Clinton as a woman may help embolden many around the world who are fighting for the democracy.
“I think it does show that when you have a system that is open for people of all kinds to mobilize their supporters and to address issues and to advocate for positions that it is the best way possible of solving social difficulties. So the fact that we had the first woman in a situation where women have not held political office for a long time and the first African American and constituencies that supported him, the fact that these are constituencies that have been able to seize power through the instruments of democracy, is a lesson that should not ignored by the rest of the world,” he said.
Senator John McCain, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party has criticized Senator Obama of lacking experience and Senator Obama’s pledge to end the Iraq war.
Arterton said the issues of likeability and much of the excitement of the campaign favor Senator Obama.
“I think that experience can a factor about which people can argue, but on the other hand, if you go back and look at the 2000 election there was a rather inexperience governor of Texas (George Bush) running against a sitting vice president (Al Gore) who was a most experienced people in the world, and the nation elected the person without much experience. So I think likeability issues that are raised, I think this is a race in which many of the issues and much of the excitement favors Senator Obama,” he said.
In her speech to her supporters Tuesday night, Senator Hillary Clinton recognized Senator Obama for what she said was his extraordinary campaign that inspired and empowered Americans. But she not concede defeat.
Arterton said Senator Clinton’s Tuesday night speech sounded like someone who wants the vice president position.
“I think that she will make a decision sometime in the next couple of days that it is inevitable that Senator Obama is going to be the nominee. She did not declare that then. But she did use the past tense in talking about the race. So I think she’s a realist; I think we will hear an announcement coming in the next few days. But I think she would really like to be on the ticket,” Arterton said.