- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2008

More than 18 months ago, voting rights activist Lawrence Guyot and I made a wager on a first-class meal at one of Washington’s premier white tablecloth restaurants.

My learned friend was so certain of his preferred Democratic candidate’s success, that he pronounced way back then that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama “will be the next president of the United States.” Not only will Mr. Obama fail to garner the highest office in the land, I countered incredulously, he wouldn’t even defeat the formidable Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Today, I will be forking out the dough and eating cheese.

Why? Simply put - history. I based my bet on the wrong side of history. On the history of an American past stepped in racial prejudice and injustice, instead of on an America history that hints of a postracial future.

However, in this unconventional and unpredictable 2008 presidential campaign, history for blacks - or for women in the personage of Republican vice-presidential running mate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin - may not be enough to win the White House.

Mr. Obama, who enjoys a lead among blacks and women in the polls at this point, received the predictable bounce from the Democratic National Convention even before his historic speech in the Invesco Field with more than 80,000 spectators and 40 million television viewers Thursday night.

But 16 percent of white voters in a recent New York Times-CBS News poll said they feared that an Obama administration would “favor blacks over whites.” Though he won in predominantly white states, like Iowa, during the DNC primary season, Mr. Obama falls behind the presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain in critical swing states, especially in the South among white, male voters with the general election less than 70 days away.

From Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” lament in 1851 at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, to Michelle Obama’s eloquent “Improbable Journey” speech in 2008 in Denver’s Pepsi Center, and from Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” to Mr. Obama’s forceful acceptance speech “The American Promise,” Mr. Guyot celebrated not his win of a wager on a meal, but his unshakable faith in “the dream deferred” as poet Langston Hughes wrote in the 1930s.

“His speech exceeded my expectations,” Mr. Guyot said of Mr. Obama. “As a person who helped bring about civil rights and the Voting Rights Act, I’m very elated, and I know that a lot of people who gave their lives would be just as proud.”

Like many, the 70-ish Mr. Guyot never thought he’d witness this day during his lifetime.

Much has been made of the historical significance and coincidence that Mr. Obama gave his acceptance speech as the first black to win the presidential nomination from a major political party on the same date - Aug. 28 - that Martin Luther King rendered the quintessential civil rights call in his 1963 “I Have A Dream,” speech.

Even the ever-optimistic Mr. Guyot offered a caution, or reassurance, depending on your perspective. “Obama can’t solve racial problems,” he said. “He’s running as the American president, not as the black president. He will be elected as president of the United States, not as president of the NAACP.”

I’m not taking the bait on that wager this time.

But there are rumblings of discontent among the sisters and brothers, and Mr. Obama cannot afford to lose a single vote to a family feud.

While most blacks shed tears and beamed with pride, saying that Mr. Obama’s nomination brings the nation a step closer to fruition of King’s dream, others, including educators Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux, bristled after Mr. Obama’s acceptance speech, arguing that he gave short shrift to civil rights and racial inequality, and he failed to mention King by name.

In fact, Ms. Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, went as far as to characterize Mr. Obama’s speech as “a whitewash” on PBS’ “Tavis Smiley” show. She also predicted that black voters and volunteers may not work as hard for him.

Joseph Johnson, a DNC superdelegate and confidant of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, said there were “people who really felt that [Mr. Obama] did not do as much as he could [regarding civil rights], but they are giving him a pass because they know that the Republicans and pundits were there waiting to make a wedge issue of race.”

But Michael C. Rogers, a health care lobbyist, disagreed. Mr. Obama “gave due deference to the moment and everyone knew he was talking about King.”

“Those who are trying to pick apart every little sentence [in the speech] are focusing on small things, as [Mr. Obama] points out,” he said. “He’s got to win the presidency before he can do anything.”

Mr. Guyot said, “Anyone who expected [a speech dealing with race] from Mr. Obama on Thursday night does not know him and does not know American history. He is moving to transcend race and bring racial equality to America. He will have to be pushed on social issues, and race is the first one.”

Whatever your political preference, a new chapter in American history will be made come Nov. 4 in America with either a black man or a white woman on the winning White House ticket.

Now, that’s an easy bet.

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