Black and Blue: Obama and Golda

There wasn't much to read in this morning's Ha'aretz, Israel's serious and left-leaning morning newspaper. Nearly every one of the paper's senior writers has written a piece about how amazing it is that the United States is on the verge of electing a black president.

It is amazing, of course, especially for anyone my age and above, those who can still remember segregation and Jim Crow. But there's something patronizing about all this going ga-ga over Obama's race -- as if voters are choosing him because he's black. In fact, it's his policies and his personality that are attracting Americans; if he wins it will be despite, not because, he's black.

Ha'aretz's swoon over Obama reminds me of how American Jews tend to melt inside when they talk about Golda Meir. Seeing Israel through the lenses of American liberalism, many American MOTs view Meir as a paragon of liberalism and feminism. After all, she was a woman elected to Israel's highest political office at a time when American feminism was just taking off. So her choice must demonstrate the maturity and lack of sexism of Israeli voters.

Actually, she was no feminist, hardly liberal, and she wasn't elected -- she was chosen in a back room by her party's leaders. She was chosen despite her gender, and during her tenure the Israeli leadership remained very much closed to those on the margins -- not just women, but also Mizrachim and Palestinians.

The significance of Obama's victory will be that he has convinced a majority of the American people that the selfish, aggressive, and patronizing America of the Bush administration, and that administration's self-deluding economic, domestic, and foreign policy, has been a disaster. He'll win because he'll have restored to the United States an understanding that military force can only be a last resort. He'll win because he'll have reminded Americans that a free market cannot operate properly without regulation. He'll win because he'll have taught people something they have forgotten--that government can do much to alleviate the ills of American society, and that it is not an undue burden to render taxes to the government so that it can do so.

So the amazing thing we seem to be about to witness is not that America is electing a black president. Like Golda Meir, Obama is no symbol, no token. She held Israel back when it needed to change; Obama promises to push America forward into some long-delayed change. What's amazing is that, after some long, dark years, America is electing a good president.

Cross-posted from South Jerusalem