COLUMN: A great day for all

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By David Giuliani

You don’t have to be a Democrat to be proud of our country today. This is great day for everyone.

Ever since George Washington took the oath of office in 1789, every one of our presidents has been a white man. That was the ultimate example of the lack of diversity in the country’s leadership.

Today this all changes when Barack Obama puts his hand on the Bible and swears in as the 44th president. That’s quite amazing when one realizes that just 45 years ago, the law still allowed segregated facilities for blacks and whites. Only 44 years ago, the South could use poll taxes, literacy tests and other unfair procedures to keep blacks from voting.

For Obama personally, it’s an enormous achievement. His rise to power has been quick. At the 2000 Democratic convention, he couldn’t even get in because he lacked the proper credentials. He tried, but he was turned away.

For America, Obama’s rise to the presidency says great things about our democracy. How many other white-majority countries have picked a black man to be their president? Not a one.

Last year, I got into an e-mail discussion with a German about Bush and the United States. I agreed with him about his criticism about the president and some of our failings as a country — there is always room for improvement.

But then he attacked Americans themselves. By that time, it was apparent that Obama would likely become our next president. I asked the German about why the millions of Turks inside his country had next to no representation in his country’s leadership. He said he and others were working on that issue, but he had no good answer about why the United States was so far ahead in this regard.

The same goes for France and other European countries. Millions of blacks live in France, most of them from North Africa, yet only one member of the French parliament is black. There’s no good excuse for that.

To be sure, we have to recognize our country’s shortfalls. Women are still far under-represented in government leadership positions and the upper levels of corporate management, so we have a lot of work as a country in this area.

Despite Obama’s accomplishment, blacks and Hispanics still lag far behind whites economically. And that’s one of the dangers of Obama’s becoming president. Some people will insist that racism is no longer a problem, but that’s a silly argument. Even during last year’s election, a woman in a county office told me that she feared Obama was a terrorist. I’ve never heard such an assertion about a white candidate. So please don’t tell me that Obama’s election has eliminated prejudice in our country.

It’s not unpatriotic to admit our country is flawed in some ways. Indeed, the United States has always been a work in progress. Our struggle has always been to make sure more and more people enjoy the fruits of what makes this country great.

Today, we pause to admire the virtues of our country. Tomorrow we get back to the work of making it still better.

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.