Next to JFK, Obama is a newbie, but that's beside the point
Update: Here's an interesting discovery I made in my search for articles by Dallek: the History News Network has a page that shows the list of historians who endorse Barak Obama. You can read the list by clicking on the link. Below is their joint endorsement article.
Our country is in serious trouble. The gap between the wealthy elite and the working majority grows ever larger, tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance and others risk bankruptcy when they get seriously ill, and many public schools do a poor job of educating the next generation. Due to the arrogant, inept foreign policy of the current administration, more people abroad mistrust and fear the United States than at any time since the height of the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, global warming speeds toward an unprecedented catastrophe. Many Republicans and overwhelming numbers of Independents and Democrats believe that, under George W. Bush, the nation has badly lost its way. The 2008 election thus comes at a critical time in the history of the United States and the world.
We endorse Barack Obama for president because we think he is the candidate best able to address and start to solve these profound problems. As historians, we understand that no single individual, even a president, leads alone or outside a thick web of context. As Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend during the Civil War, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."
However, a president can alter the mood of the nation, making changes possible that once seemed improbable. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and kept the nation united; Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Americans to embrace Social Security and more democratic workplaces; John F. Kennedy advanced civil rights and an anti-poverty program.
Barack Obama has the potential to be that kind of president. He has the varied background of a global citizen: his father was African, his stepfather Indonesian, his mother worked in the civil rights movement, and he spent several years of his childhood overseas. As an adult, he has been a community organizer, a law professor, and a successful politician - both at the state and national level. These experiences have given him an acute awareness of the inequalities of race and class, while also equipping him to speak beyond them.
Obama's platform is ambitious, yet sensible. He calls for negotiating the abolition of nuclear weapons, providing universal and affordable health insurance, combatting poverty by adding resources and discouraging destructive habits, investing in renewable energy sources, and engaging with unfriendly nations to ease conflicts that could otherwise lead to war. He takes more forthright stands on these issues than do his major Democratic competitors.
But it is his qualities of mind and temperament that really separate Obama from the rest of the pack. He is a gifted writer and orator who speaks forcefully but without animus. Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness - or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself. Like Kennedy, he also inspires young people who see him as a great exception in a political world that seems mired in cynicism and corruption.
As president, Barack Obama would only begin the process of healing what ails our society and ensuring that the U.S. plays a beneficial role in the world. But we believe he is that rare politician who can stretch the meaning of democracy, who can help revive what William James called "the civic genius of the people." We invite other historians to add your name to this statement. You can do so by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Ralph Luker, email@example.com .