Commentary: President Obama and the Change That's Come to America

Keith Boykin

Commentary: President Obama and the Change That's Come to America

A look at how the nation has evolved in the last few years.

Published May 29, 2015

When a 45-year-old freshman senator announced his campaign for president on a chilly February morning in Springfield, Illinois, in 2007, not everyone took him seriously. At the time, Sen. Hillary Clinton held a double-digit lead over her chief rival in the polls and held onto a huge lead among African-American voters.

But young Sen. Barack Obama reminded America that day "that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it." In a speech that mentioned "change" nine times, Obama called on Americans to "transform this nation."

A year later, when he accepted the Democratic nomination for president in August 2008, Obama again spoke of change. "History teaches us, that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington," he said. "Change comes to Washington."

That's exactly what has happened in Washington and other capitals in recent years. Just look around. The world is changing rapidly, in ways both minor and monumental.

Start with a couple of quick examples from the news. The State Department announced today that it had removed communist Cuba, America's 50-year nemesis, from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. And a few days ago, Catholic-dominated Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Also this week, the nation's first Black female attorney general Loretta Lynch announced sweeping corruption charges against international officials involved in the powerful world soccer organization, FIFA. And red-state Nebraska became the first conservative state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty.

Although police killings of unarmed African-Americans continue across the country, a grassroots movement has finally focused attention on this shocking criminal justice failure that has been neglected by white America for decades.

Our attitudes are also changing on previously divisive issues like legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage. The majority of Americans now support both. And although there's been some backlash from trolls, we now have Black male basketball star Dwyane Wade wearing toenail polish and Black male pop star Jaden Smith wearing a dress.

When it comes to religion, the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

And our attitudes are changing about parenthood and marriage as 61 percent of Americans now say having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable, according to a new Gallup poll.

This is not a world that President Obama created. He was slow to evolve on marriage equality in his first term in office and his new attorney general has spoken out against legalizing marijuana. And although he was able to overhaul the nation's health care policy and financial laws, he has not been able to fulfill campaign promises about closing Guantanamo or reining in the government's surveillance power.

The change that is happening is bigger than President Obama, although it is symbolized by his election as America's first Black president. That election was largely a reflection of our changing demographics. Despite all the recent nonsense about a post-racial America, white people did not elect Barack Obama to be president. He lost the white vote to John McCain in 2008 and to Mitt Romney in 2012.

But this is a country where white students are no longer the majority in the nation's schools, where white residents are no longer the majority in the nation's largest state and where white Americans will no longer be the majority in the country by 2043. It's a country where a Black president can be elected without the support of the nation's white majority.

We live in a time when citizens no longer need old-fashioned opinion leaders to determine what is right or wrong and no longer want to be bound by the tired old rules of the past. But now, as new leaders campaign to succeed President Obama, what, if anything, do they have to offer to the people of this rapidly changing country?

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Keith Boykin


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