Obama: a special man for a serious time

Barack Obama is more than the man of the hour, or year. He is a man for our time. A man for American dream fulfillment. But even more, a man for the harsh global realities we must face.

Confident, cool and wise, he comes with the right cultural DNA. The genes of Africa and Kansas, nurtured in Hawaii, Indonesia, California, New York, Chicago and at Harvard.

And yet it took a long time for me to support his presidency.

Much has been made in recent weeks of the fact that, in 1971, when Obama was 10 years old, I predicted with great confidence that I would live to see an African American president of the United States.

The statement happens to be on film. Somehow, this clip survived and can now be seen online as part of a remarkable project called the Civil Rights Digital Library. Log on to crdl.usg.edu and you'll see Jim Whipkey, a TV reporter in Atlanta, ask me, "What about the chances of a black being elected president or vice president?" to which I quickly reply, "I think we'll see that in our lifetime also."

It was a time of great optimism. The United States, pre-Watergate, under President Nixon, espoused affirmative action and supported black capitalism. The White House, with the help of Nixon special assistant Robert J. Brown, was working with Coretta Scott King to build the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The war in Vietnam was exacting a terrible price, but the U.S. was talking to its enemies -- to the North Vietnamese, to the Soviet Union, and later, to China. The economy was flourishing.

I was a candidate for Congress in the deep South and beginning to win wide support, even with my civil rights, antiwar and labor-organizing background. I got elected in 1972, the first black representative from Georgia in 101 years. As I said, it was a time of hope and optimism in the South.

But over time, I must admit, at least some of that hope and optimism of the early '70s was hard to remember. At the height of the civil rights movement, we hadn't thought change would come so quickly that any of us would live to hold public office. We thought what we were doing would give those opportunities to our children's children.

Two years ago, as the campaign for the 2008 presidential election began in earnest, I was a supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'd known her before she married Bill, since she was in college, and I'd known Bill since he lost his first race in Arkansas, in 1974.

Even after Obama announced his candidacy, I could not abandon years of friendship simply because he was black and she was white. After all, King's dream was that we would elect "persons of character, vision and integrity" -- not candidates of any particular color.

And, early on, Obama was untested. I knew he would have to run a magnificent campaign, stand the pressure of nonsense and scandal-mongering that I was sure would come. Hillary was a safer choice of the Democratic candidates. Her enemies had been trying to destroy her for 25 years and failed.

But I underestimated young people, the Internet, the disciplined campaign and Obama's controlled demeanor. And as events unfolded, I too began to see and believe.

President Obama is the right leader for this moment. Republican laissez faire started an economic pendulum swing from John Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman that has gone too far, too fast. The present crisis requires a president of global vision, character and respect. Obama.

He proved, not just to me but to the entire world, that America could live out the true meaning of its creed: "that all men [and women and children] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights ... . " The world has taken notice, in Kenya and Indonesia; Berlin, Rio and Oslo; in Jerusalem and Jeddah.

Soon, our president, our hope for change, must gather the nations of the world -- in a forum reminiscent of World War II's Bretton Woods conference, led by Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and seek agreement on an economic mechanism that will restore confidence and stability to the global marketplace. Global economic equilibrium is the change that we require.

There is an old Quaker proverb: "The wheel goes round, because the center is at rest." May God continue to give Barack Obama the "peace ... which passes all understanding," that he might lead us to a season of calm and prosperity for all the world's children.

"Yes, we can."

Andrew Young served three terms in Congress. In 1977, he was appointed ambassador to the United Nations, and in 1981, he was elected mayor of Atlanta. He is a co-founder of the consulting firm GoodWorks International and the producer and host of a series of nationally syndicated television specials, "Andrew Young Presents."

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