A New, Unexpected Day Is Dawning for the United States

Posted February 4, 2008 at 3:17pm

I never thought I’d see this day. Two potential, viable nominees — one female, one black.

[IMGCAP(1)]This was not something I could even imagine as a child who grew up on the other side of the tracks, lived through segregation (de jure and de facto) and felt the sting of discrimination on the basis of both my race and my gender.

But I was politically active before I was eligible to vote, persuading potential voters to register and encouraging them to embrace the Democratic Party. I watched patiently as people in my native South and within my party embraced both female and minority candidates.

With the help of people like the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984, I fought my way into major political meetings and onto presidential campaigns. Along the way, I worked in boardrooms and break rooms in which I was the sole minority. I recognized the irony that sometimes I had gained entrance based on my gender, other times based on my race, and, unfortunately and all too frequently, sometimes based on my being a “two-fer.”

This whole national conversation about which group, women or African-Americans, has waited longer, or encounters greater prejudice, is framed as if these categories don’t overlap. This debate is not only simplistic, it also is meaningless and destructive and distracting. Moreover, it distracts us from the monumental achievement of the Democratic Party.

The party will nominate either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). And with polling telling us that the majority of Americans prefer to see a Democrat in the White House come January, we likely will elect the first female or minority president of the United States of America.

I’ll say it again for the sheer joy it gives me: I never thought I’d see this day.

Let me start with the obvious. I want to thank Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) for running superb campaigns that focused on substance and their incredible experience as lawmakers. While these two failed to break through, they added immensely to the national discussion and helped to shape the race to come.

Special thanks also go to Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the nation’s sole Latino governor, who, with humor and a wisdom gained from his long years in public service, underscored the truth that minorities contribute immensely to making America a great country.

And yes, I can even find words of joy to express the value of having had Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s progressive voice in the race.

We need to change the discussion surrounding John Edwards — away from the theory that his value was in leaving. Democrats owe a world of gratitude to Edwards for inspiriting so many good ideas on health care, poverty and climate change. Edwards had every reason to “stay and fight” on a shoestring and a prayer, hoping against hope that come the convention, voters, delegates and the citizenry would decide that having a first in office sounded good in theory but not quite palatable in practice.

This champion for the poor and downtrodden could have hoped latent racist and sexist sentiment would reinvigorate his campaign, but he didn’t. Instead, Edwards chose to bet that Democrats would fight for the middle class, embrace hope for those struggling to make ends meet and stand up for civil rights and human rights. And for that, we should congratulate him for helping to shape the race to come.

Finally, Democrats must give thanks to the enthusiastic voters who have stepped up, one by one and in the record-breaking hundreds of thousands, to say: “America may or may not be ready, but I am.” You especially have made this moment possible. Just what is this moment and why is it so important?

It’s truly about change. Change from the status quo. Change from following the same old script. Change from the same old formula that led us to the current crossroads we face.

This is a moment in history like none other. When Edwards departed the race, he told the nation that it was time to step aside to allow history to blaze its path. Now is the time for that path to be blazed unfettered by past constrictions, constructs and obstructions.

Now is the time for every American to step up and help pull the country out of its morass. Now is the time for a United States that will protect itself from the terrorist threat while maintaining the rule of law; invest in education, health care and innovation without crying broke when it’s the poor and middle class who stand to benefit; heal itself and once again boast with pride and proof that we are indeed the land of the free and the home of the brave.

To make this day possible and the next day a reality, it’s time we imagine a different future, a different America. Now is the time to truly make the American ideal of “everyone being created equal” a reality.

Those who resist progress through claims that America isn’t ready to elect its first female or minority president need to step aside. It’s time to accept that change is a’coming. It’s time for those who smirk, who enjoy dividing and deceiving people, to consider what we can accomplish if we can only suspend the hyper-partisanship era and embrace a new age of mutual cooperation. This time is truly a time for all who believe in the American Dream to savor the moment of progress and possibility.

I never thought I’d see this day. And let me tell you, it’s even more beautiful than I had ever dared to imagine.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.