Two Leaders, Same Promise: Hope

MOVING AWAY FROM THE CULTURE OF FEAR

Posted: January 08, 2008

NOT LONG before Michael Nutter stepped off the stage at the Academy of Music and into his new life as mayor of Philadelphia, Barack Obama was stepping off the train in New Hampshire.

Because it's been a great month for them both, we can't help comparing the two.

They share more than timing: They are both young and smart. And both are tapping into an appetite for change.

Obama is running on a platform of change for the country. Nutter's goal is changing the legacy of corruption and pay-to-play in City Hall.

And both men aced their first big speeches. In his victory speech Thursday night, Obama talked about turning the rift between red states and blue states into one United States.

Nutter's speech yesterday was equally rousing, with an impassioned and inspiring call for unity in a city often divided by wards, parties, race and class. He announced his goals for reducing crime (to halve the homicide rate over the next five to seven years), reducing dropouts (halving the rate) and increasing the number of college graduates (doubling the current rate of 18 percent of the population with bachelor's degrees).

Both men are promising something that can easily disappear in a city with daunting challenges and a country rent by war, global terrorism and weak leadership:

Hope.

THE historic significance of Obama's win shouldn't be downplayed. An overwhelmingly white state gave thumbs-up to a black man running for president, and, with any luck, American politics will never be the same.

He's not the first black person to run for president. Shirley Chisholm ran in 1972, Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Al Sharpton in 2004.

But Obama is the first viable black candidate for the most important office in the world. That's a notion that's encouraging to some people and frightening to others.

Obama's strong showing in Iowa shows that people didn't vote for him out of sympathy or in protest, or merely because he is black, as many did for Jackson. The mainstream never took Jackson seriously as a candidate.

Obama is a unifier. And maybe his win has concerned those who thought a black man could never be president. They are resurrecting stories of his college drug use - which he has openly admitted, and didn't try to fend off by saying "I didn't inhale." His religious background is being questioned. His win has even unsettled some blacks. They are reluctant to put Obama in the kind of harm's way that befell others like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Some claim he's not really black, whatever that means.

As the campaign gets uglier, it remains to be seen whether he'll continue to appeal to young voters, independent voters and women voters. But progress in politics must be measured in quantifiable steps.

On the national stage, those steps are being reshaped by Obama. And here in Philadelphia, by Mayor Nutter. Both are giving us hope for change. *

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