by Katharine Daniels
Executive Editor, The WIP
For The WIP’s first article of the 2008 United States election season, I am dedicating this piece to three of the underrepresented voices in American politics: Women, African Americans, and Latinos.
In the United States women make up half the population, nearly 42 million Latinos are residents, and it has been over 135 years since the Fifteenth Amendment gave African Americans the vote. Yet we still have never had a President from any minority group.
I sat among delegates and the press listening to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and Denis Kucinich appeal for support. I was pleased to hear both a local and a global message from each candidate.
I wonder if such candidates can change politics through the introduction of a new perspective, a perspective that develops from the bottom-up versus the traditional top-down power structure we are so used to in the United States.
The WIP has invited each campaign to submit stories about their candidates introducing them to our readers worldwide.*
“I think we owe a debt to every child in this country who may not have had as good a start as some of us had … [and] the children still going without health care in this country,” Senator Hillary Clinton said, “it’s a disgrace and it outrages me.”
The first day at the convention began with Senator Hillary Clinton, exuding confidence as she told her experiences pre-first lady, as a first lady, and as a senator. She stressed her commitment to education, healthcare, the environment, and especially to our nation’s children.
Senator Clinton shared the story of a Maryland mother who couldn’t get a dentist to see her Medicaid child for a toothache. She recounted how the toothache became an abscess and how the abscess burst causing an infection that landed the boy in the hospital. $300,000 later, that boy died from what could have been corrected during a routine dental visit costing $80.
Senator Clinton’s message targeted many of those who have been invisible during the Bush presidency—the workers of America, soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, victims of Katrina who are still living in trailers, grandmothers worried about our nation’s debt, working parents who can’t afford childcare, small business owners affected by rising energy costs—all Americans, all invisible.
“You are not invisible to us. You are not invisible to the Democratic Party and you will not be invisible to the next president of the United States of America,” Senator Clinton promised.
Many have criticized Senator Clinton’s stance on the war in Iraq, but at the convention, her message was strong and clear.
“I want you to know that the very first thing I will do upon taking office is to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home,” Senator Clinton said. “Probably better than anybody else, I know how difficult the problems will be that we will inherit from this President. To be President anytime is a very hard job. It is going to be even more so now. I don’t think we know half of the damage that [George Bush] and the Vice President have done together, but I believe that I am ready to run a campaign that takes on the hard issues.”
Barack Obama is a candidate many Americans have been waiting for a long time. A charismatic leader whose message invokes possibility, he presents himself as someone who will fearlessly challenge what has become the status quo—a country that has overdosed on ideology and corporate influence, consumed by politics that trump the responsibility leaders have to its citizens, and a citizenry that is deeply divided.
The energy in the room when the Senator took the stage surpassed any other candidate. He told the delegates that an awakening is taking place among new voters. People who have never attended political events are coming out to support him. He shared stories of crowds in places never before visited on a campaign trail.
The message Barack Obama delivered to the cheering crowd was: the United States government is not for sale. The solution he offers is to turn the page—turn the page on politics, health care, education, and on foreign policy disasters like the Iraq war.
“There are few obstacles that can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change,” Senator Obama said, “and that is exactly how you and I will change this country.”
He offers “a new kind of politics.” He calls for both national and global unity and hopes the United States will once again return to its position as leader of the free world.
“We must find a way to come together in this country, to realize that the responsibility we have to one another as Americans is greater than the pursuit of any ideological agenda or corporate bottom line,” Senator Obama said.
“Whether it’s terrorism or climate change, global AIDS or the spread of weapons of mass destruction, America cannot meet the threats of this new century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. It is time for us to lead.”
Governor Richardson is clearly not a consultant driven candidate. On Saturday I found him candid and straightforward, stressing his domestic and foreign policy experience. His message was that he’s brought countries together and can do the same for the United States.
Governor Richardson’s resume demonstrates his expertise, experience, and commitment as a diplomat, as an ambassador to the United Nations, as a congressional representative, and as Governor of a border state, New Mexico. In his speech and in response to reporter’s questions, the Governor referred to his ability to succeed in foreign policy where the current administration has failed.
Recently, while other candidates were on the campaign trail, Governor Richardson was in North Korea leading a delegation that pressed North Korean officials to restart the stalled nuclear disarmament process. His team met with the main nuclear negotiator for North Korea and brought back the remains of six American’s from the Korean War.
On immigration reform, Governor Richardson calls for a return to compassion and supports a legalization program that stresses family reunification. “The first thing I would do as President,” he told the crowd, “I would tear down that wall between Mexico and the United States.” His comprehensive plan would include working with Mexico and President Calderón, a man Governor Richardson knows personally.
During the post-speech press conference, I asked the Governor specifically how he planned to rebuild alliances and improve America’s image abroad.
“[I] would say to the Third World, to Asia, Africa, and Latin America, you are important, you are the centerpiece of our foreign policy,” the Governor answered. “I would say to Latin America, I would have a new alliance for progress that is cooperative. That involves renewable energy. That deals with the immigration issue. That deals with associating ourselves with democratic populous governments. [With] Africa, I would say that Darfur should be a centerpiece of our foreign policy…I would say that the ideals of this country need to be reflected in our foreign policy.”
*The WIP is extending this invitation to Republican, Democratic, and some third party candidates.
All photos by Kate Reifers, Director of Research at The Jon Elliot Show