Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hynes | Obama + Ann Richards ‡ + The New Generation

Hynes | Obama
Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, a major political figure in the state with ties to all the most powerful Democratic politicians, was the party's official pick for the Senate seat that prickly Republican Peter Fitzgerald vacated in 2004. It's likely he might be sitting in the US Senate had he not had to face then-State Senator Barack Obama, who trounced him (and a handful of other Democrats) in the primary, and then went on to a historic victory in November 2004. Although the usual tendency in Illinois is to nurse political antagonisms and then strike back when your opponent is vulnerable (even if it's a family member, etc.), Hynes did a remarkable thing today: in a truly moving valentine (which the reactionary Chicago Sun-Times published today), Hynes urges Obama to run for the US presidency in 2008. I mean, he really loves him some Obama (as a majority of Illinoisans do--his approval ratings are among the highest in the US Senate). Hynes notes dreamy Obama's undeniable charisma, his popularity (did I say he trounced Hynes), his leadership potential, and his larger political vision, which melds a progressive view of society with careful bipartisanship, arguing that they are what the Democrats and the nation need not only to mark a turnaround from the 8-year deep abyss of Bush Republicanism, but also as the embodiment of the promise inherent in the larger political vision of a prior president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. This aspect of Hynes's paean, his calling for a living politician to openly serve not only because of his leadership skills but also overtly because of his symbolic power and the political and cultural capital it contains, fascinates me; to put it another way, Obama as president would represent a kind of payment of a historical promissory note (though the realities of racial and ethnic, gender and class conflict, of social inequality and hierarchization, and so on, will hardly have diminished by 2008). And Hynes isn't off base, in some key ways. One potential outcome of the centuries-long battle for Black freedom and equality in this society, which predates Lincoln by 200 years, is, at some point in our future, a Black head of state; as politicians of any color in this country go, Obama is one of the better ones, which it pains me to admit isn't saying much, but then the current political context, which continues to shift ever further to the right, verges on a limit case. It's hard to know how far along legislatively Obama might be were the Democrats in power; he has been somewhat active, to the extent possible, and his statesman-like visit to Kenya gave notice of his willingness to take risks, even if he hasn't gone as far over here. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next two years; if Al Gore were to run again, he'd be the favorite, and John Edwards also has the inside track, but a host of bland, uninspiring, even-more-cautious-than-Obama, which is to say, center-right Democrats, like Mark Warner and Evan Bayh, are already lining up to jump in. And then there's John Kerry....

Ann Richards RIP
I always think of her as the sharp-witted and tongued, colorful former Texas governor who wowed the crowd at the 1988 Democratic convention and then had to suffer the humiliation of being defeated by the empty zealot who's since become the Worst President Ever. But what I only vaguely knew but have learned from several obituaries is how much of a socially progressive pathblazer Ann Richards was during her term. According to Yahoo! her record was significant:

As governor, Richards appointed the first black University of Texas regent, the first crime victim on the state Criminal Justice Board, the first disabled person on the human services board and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education. Under Richards, the fabled Texas Rangers pinned stars on their first black and female officers.

Ron Kirk, the black former mayor of Dallas, said Richards helped him get his first political internship during a state constitutional convention in 1974 and later, as governor, made him secretary of state.

She also presided over a fall in high school dropout rates and a supposed rise in test scores. The Yahoo! obit goes on, however, to list her strong support of NAFTA and the doubling of the state prison system, which are two low points, in my opinion. Nevertheless, her 4-year record represented a sea change for Texas, which has since barreled in the opposite direction. Just think of what might have happened had she defeated Bush in 1995; he might have decided to run another oil company (into the ground)...

The New Generation
Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark (elected earlier this year, at left), Adrian Fenty, Mayor of Washington, DC (just elected Wednesday, at right): How successful will they be in enacting real social and economic change and in marking a political break from their predecessors?

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