By all accounts Barack Obama won the first of the presidential debates on Sept. 26 over John McCain, who was widely considered to have more experience in foreign affairs.
He won by exceeding expectations, exhibiting that he had a substantial grasp of issues and that he was presidential, while McCain talked in generalities and showed his disdain for Obama, not according him proper acknowledgment by refusing to look at him.
But whatever advantage McCain was thought to have over Obama by his familiarity with various heads of state and, as he intoned, having been involved in every major crisis in foreign policy in the past 25 years, Obama came back several times, diminishing McCain's winning points.
I understand the problem he has. On one hand, he can't feed into the "angry Black man" racial image and turn off some White voters; on the other, he has to establish a level of policy competence and physical ease that lets him appear presidential. But I give him a triple because he could have been much better.
Then next evening, however, when Barack Obama stepped on the stage to give the keynote speech at Congressional Black Caucus annual dinner, that he was home could be witnessed by everybody who was on their feet, rocking to the music of, "Here I am baby, signed sealed delivered, I'm yours…."
Obama was given the CBC's Harold Washington Award, named after the former mayor of his home city and he proceeded to acknowledge those who had paved his way – again, leaving out Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. who sat at a table in front of him.
But as Obama got into his speech and began to warm up, he answered the criticism of myself and others, by dealing with critical aspects of the Black agenda.
Time and again, he brought the crowd to its feet by observing that this historical moment was not just about him, but about the children who might benefit and who might live to actually see a Black person in the White House. He defined change with his stock presentation on issues like ending the Iraq war, enacting adequate health insurance and health care, and ending the failed No Child Left Behind education program. He also linked shoring up inadequate schools in poor neighborhoods to college attendance and good jobs.
Most important, he showed that he was conversant with the problems of urban America. And he felt that we should not only be "tough on crime," but smart on crime. Gone was the patronizing language of moral responsibility as the only solution. This was not only good for the audience to hear assembled there, but it was fuel for fundraising and for the message of a strong black turnout that rippled through the CBC forums all week long.
So, I give Obama a home run for his performance at the CBC and feel that he has not only put many of the questions raised to rest, he also teed up a number of issues he will bring to the table in the debates on domestic issues.
Dr. Ron Walters is professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.