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After The Potomac Vote: A Shifting National Self-Image

Win or lose, Barack Obama has changed America. It's one thing to believe in a picture we'd like to be true -- a society moving toward a colorblind ideal -- and something entirely different to live each day with a personification of that ideal.

"I've actually changed my view of Americans," said Marvin Lawson, a retired black man from Columbia who came with his wife, Victoria, to see Obama speak at the University of Maryland this week. "I've been pleasantly surprised. This country still has a racial divide; we cannot ignore that. But this campaign will take us to the next level, that we really are ready to accept those values we espouse as a nation."

Obama won a majority of the white male vote in Virginia's Democratic primary Tuesday. He won a majority of the seniors there, too, according to exit polls.

Perhaps even more important, both for the fall election and for our polarized, low-participation polity, Obama on Tuesday drew hundreds of thousands of first-time primary voters to the polls. In Virginia, one-third of Democratic voters told pollsters they were participating in their first primary. In Maryland, more than twice as many people came out to vote in Prince George's County as had in the primary four years earlier.

The Obama effect contributed to a remarkable event: Rep. Al Wynn, the eight-term congressman from Prince George's and Montgomery counties, fell to second-time challenger Donna Edwards.

Sure, Edwards's long march in pursuit of Wynn weakened the congressman in his constituents' eyes, but look at the numbers. In the Montgomery portion of the 4th Congressional District, Edwards won 60 percent of the vote two years ago and bumped up to 67 percent this time. But in the Prince George's part of the district, she leaped from 40 percent in 2006 to 55 percent Tuesday -- rocketed to victory by the huge turnout for Obama.

It didn't matter that Wynn, like Edwards, endorsed Obama and showed up to work the crowd at Monday's lovefest at the Comcast Center in College Park. The voters were clear: It was out with the old and in with the new.

But take a deep breath and pause. Let's not pretend that we're dancing hand-in-hand into a new era of comity all because of one charismatic figure. Maryland voters tossed two incumbent congressmen to the curb Tuesday. Democrats ousted Wynn, and Republicans on the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County discarded nine-term Rep. Wayne Gilchrest -- in both cases rejecting men who were deemed too moderate for the taste of more ideologically driven primary voters.

Still, we are experiencing a bump of the nation's political tectonic plates. The changes have been happening for a long time, and we are only now realizing how deep they are. And those changes are not merely about racial attitudes. This is a generational shift as well. What first appeared to be a movement driven by college students is now winning the hearts and votes of boomers -- the very crowd that had been the focal point of the Clintons' appeal.

At the College Park rally, three women from Silver Spring talked about how Obama reminds them of the sense of possibility that permeated their own idealistic youth.

"I brought my daughter here because I was thinking about when I was 8 and my mother took me out of school to see Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson campaigning, and the school gave my mother a lot of grief about it," said Barbara Shulman. "I'm just tired of Bill Clinton. I like this energy. And Obama can beat the Republicans."

"My trust in the Clintons has eroded," said Leslie Garcia. "This feels right."

"How could we not be here?" asked Suzanne Mintz. "It's just inspiring to see jazzed young people. This is the first election where I feel everybody's voting for somebody and it's not just the better of two evils."

It's not hard to imagine these same comments having been made about Bill Clinton 16 years ago, but time alters perspectives. Hillary Clinton today seems to many Democratic voters the embodiment of an inside operator, her experience pitch backfiring against her. Things change.

By Marc Fisher |  February 14, 2008; 7:04 AM ET
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Comments

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Before everyone gets too excited and carried away on the B. Hussein Obama bandwagon, remember, there is a long way to go until he gets the nomination, let alone November.

As yesterday's events in Damascus proved, things in the Middle East could change in an instant and the dynamics that seem to be shaping voters' minds currently could be drastically different if a new war in that region commences or if the terrorists bring the battle back to our shores.

The bottom-line is that a majority of Americans will not pull the lever for B. Hussein Obama in November if national security issues are in the forefront. There is too much at stake.

Posted by: McCain Will Win | February 14, 2008 10:13 AM

Regarding your title, "A Shifting Self-Image," the Potomac Primary showed all of us in the region how working together can yield rewards.

By scheduling MD, VA, and DC primaries on the same day, we became the focus on the political world. The Presidential candidates came to us, and we were not afterthoughts in the process.

In recent years, we have seen somewhat increased cooperation among the three jurisdictions, and some of the historic antipathy has lessened.

We will always have our differences, and often politicians play to those differences. But Tuesday was a lesson to all: what a powerhouse our region can be when we do things together.

Posted by: Mike Silverstein | February 14, 2008 10:28 AM

Speak for yourself Mike Silverstein. The fantastic "cooperation" you speak of enabled me to sit in traffic on Tuesday night for 6 hours and prevented me from voting.

Posted by: Tim Smith | February 14, 2008 10:32 AM

Why am I not surprised to see fearmongering by someone calling themselves "McCainwillwin"? The Republicans' rule by fear is something that has crippled us for too long, and it has done far more damage than any terrorists.

I imagine hope and change would be anathema to such, which is sad for our country.

Posted by: Kim P. | February 14, 2008 10:52 AM

C'mon Marc, where is your Poplar Point coverage? ;)

Posted by: DG-rad | February 14, 2008 11:33 AM

Gee "Tim", it wasn't the "cooperation" that kept you in traffic for six hours and prevented you from voting. It was the weather and your lack of planning. You should have paid attention to the weatherguessers that called for bad weather during the evening rush and voted in the morning. Accept your share of responsibility in the matter and stop blaming someone or something else.

Posted by: BDWESQTM | February 14, 2008 11:53 AM

"Hope and change?"

Hope and change by themselves are no great virtues. Many a despot provided "hope and change" but brought corruption and hegemony, which are no better than fearmongering. I would prefer that a candidate respect the inate, inalienable freedoms of all citizens, embrace limited government (both in size and cost), and encourage laissez-faire capitalism not regulation to support oligarchical corporate interests. Unfortunately, Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin, and the principles that have provided wealth and freedom to Americans are not well-represented by the major parties anymore.

As to Fisher's race-centric focus on Obama, this is typical for the professional journalists to create an issue where none exists. Mainstream America has been mostly color-blind for a long time, while the fringes on all sides have embraced racial politics. The disenfranchised whites, disenfranchised blacks, and disenfranchised latinos hold onto their race-centric approach at their own peril. David Dukes, Jesse, Jackson, Al Sharpton and MEChA don't speak for most Americans. The fact that white males favored Obama shouldn't suprise anyone who isn't constantly looking at the world through a prism of race-consciousness. He does get it right in that Obama recent supporters are largely anti-establishment. That is definitely a big issue for Clinton now, and one McCain might have a little trouble with in the fall.

Posted by: Leesburger | February 14, 2008 12:37 PM

The voting profiles from many regions across the US have shown that white males are more open to vote for a black person than white females. It would have been true even if Hillary was a man instead of a woman. Many university studies have shown that men in general are less racist since they have historically engaged in conversations and working relations with other races. White females on the other hand, can be divided into two classes, the working woman and the housewife. White women who have spent more time at home tend to regard other races with fear and caution. That is what we are seeing in the election results. Of course Hillary being a woman, these housewives have an excuse to say that they are voting for a woman, when in fact they are voting for somebody of their own race.

Posted by: Sarah Baker | February 14, 2008 1:51 PM

Women do NOT ever understand. This is not a race of colour, white black, whatever. This is a Race that Men always come before Women. America is more Sexists that Racial.
America cannot be forgiving enough to believe that a mind of a woman is an important asset to the country! That proves that point that Sexism, is worse counted upon worse than Racism. We have no problems choosing a black man that is carrying the name: Barack Hussein Obama, but we have problems with a WOMAN being a president of the USA. That's clearly what it is : Sexism! A woman's place in society is LOWER than a man's place in socity; color is NOT an issue - that's apperent!

Posted by: Men Before Women Always | February 15, 2008 12:27 AM

"We have no problems choosing a black man that is carrying the name: Barack Hussein Obama"

It sounds like you should take the log of racism and religious discrimination out of your own eye before complaining about the speck of sexism in someone else's.

Posted by: Leesburger | February 15, 2008 11:15 AM

Yes, my comments are so real and truth, just look at the comments posted here anti gender comments are over-looked. Racial comments are a big deal.

The fact is that America has chosen a black man who is endorsed by a very powerful successful celebrity female.

She has yet to learn what's wrong with her selection, but first she had to prove to The Black Society of America, that she is NOT a traitor. Successfully as ever, she has done so. With her celebrity persona, she possibly created the "next American President" - in order to prove the black community that she has NOT betrayed them, stating in a stadium; "I am not a traitor"
Perhaps that factor will costs American a lot of future painful 9/11 moments, inviting what may be obvious - while choosing the next American President to be: Barack Hussein Obama. There are NO Problems, nor there is prejudice on my behalf - if anyone else who is an African American would have been a candidate for this presidency over Hussein barack Osama, Sorry, I mean, OBAMA!

For example: Like what if they chosen Stadman to be the Next American President? AN Excellent choice to have had for the United States of America people. (It seems Stadman has taken his wings off this bet shortly before Oprah started to support Obama. Stadman is an Educated Human Being, he is very intellectual, I bet his perception was: OBAMA is posing futuristic problems to the VERY CORE OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Oh, Oprah, Obama may have success for the endorsement you pulled for him, but - the big question: IS United States of America going to survive your choice, or benefit this selection? Did you help open up a can of worms? Sadness bestow upon earth, since USA Security is in thy hands of a woman who has grown rich, and a spoiled celebrity persona. Days, months and years ahead will entail the truth. I wish this entire thought would NOT be truth - I'd be celebrating if USA would be a safer better country upon earth when Democrats will be choosing the candidate that is most suited for this great huge responsibility.

Posted by: Really? | February 15, 2008 8:59 PM

I am Canadian and as a neighbor of the United States I follow the politics of the U.S. Closely. I had the extreme good fortune to attend the Obama Rally in Seattle, and I can tell you this man will be the next President of the United States, he reminds me so much of JFK and his vision it's uncanny.

Many of the attendee's were talking not of electing the next President but of changing America from the ground up, and being willing to work to accomplish that.

If in fact Obama is elected President it will be a wholesale change in the perspective of the U.S.A. for the better, many many outside the U.S. view Obama as the the next step in restoring America to it's place in the World as a true leader in human rights, foreign affairs, and true democracy.

I can hardly wait.
He's an inspiring man with fantastic vision

Posted by: Ken | February 16, 2008 10:40 AM

It's astonishing to see the widespread fear, bordering on panic, issuing from right-wing pundits and republicans at every level of government.

It's as if they know, for the first time, that the American people will finally hold them accountable for their egregious failures, greed, and mendacity.

The greatness of Obama will, however, echo the greatness of Lincoln, when he leads this nation out of these sick political times towards a better stronger America, and with malice towards none.

Posted by: Obama Defeats McCain | February 18, 2008 8:27 PM

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