Throughout American history, presidents have been expected to represent all the people. If you doubt this, read accounts of newly elected presidents’ almost-inevitable promise to be the chief magistrate of all Americans.
The thrust of Barack Obama’s speech on the night he was elected president on November 4th, 2008 and his first inaugural address on January 20th, 2009 implied that he would be president of all Americans.
Yet, Obama has been haunted by the specter of race from the beginning of his quest for the presidency. Start with the fact that Obama’s acknowledged father was a Kenyan. In addition, when it was revealed in 2008 that his pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, had made inflammatory remarks about the United States as well as preached the divisive Black Liberation Theology, Obama was compelled to clarify his views about race in a speech in Philadelphia on March 18th.
Most analysts hailed the speech, and claimed that Obama had defused the race issue. Obama, so the assertion went, was a “post-racial” candidate. Hence, a vote for him would virtually remove the stain of slavery, thereby diminishing, if not eliminating, race’s importance in American politics.
Only a few individuals, such as Rush Limbaugh, warned that Obama’s ascension to the presidency would result in increased charges that any criticism of Obama and his policies stemmed from “racism.”