Are you ready to step up to the plate?

Have only watched two pitches of the major league baseball playoffs.  Like many other blacks, the game has lost its luster for me as its number of African-American players has declined.

However, Ryan Howard did catch my eye the other night while channel flipping, and like the prime ttime player he is, he hit a home run on that pitch.

While in a restaurant last night, Alex Rodriquez was at the plate.  I watched because he has a reputation for not performing iin clutch post-season action.    Just before he swung, the announcer was making a reference to his different body language.  Sure enough, he belted a homer too.

If I don’t see any more baseball, it won’t be a big deal, because there is a real World Series going on around us.   In major league politics and governance, the number of African-Americans in positions of influence is growing.

The significance of the decisions to be made in the next few weeks — from troop deployments in Afghanistan to whether all Americans will be covered with health insurance to a global treaty on reducing emissions–can not be overstated.

However, there are media reports that African-American voter interest is lagging in the off-year elections slated for the first Tuesday in November, most notably the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.

It is partially understandable.  The intense excitement of last year’s election was followed by a daunting economic downturn, making the casual observer of politics perhaps feel that things have not changed.

The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize was a recognition of how thoroughly the Obama administration has changed the course of the country for the better in just nine months.   Many of the changes will take years to be visible, but the President and his Cabinet are delivering on the change they promised in 2008.

Delivering health care for all was the mantra in 1992, but a fierce reaction by entrenched special interests kept any legislation from coming to the floor of Congress.

Obama has provided the leadership to get a bill through both the House and Senate, perhaps by Thanksgiving.

U.S. troops are leaving Iraq on schedule, the issue that propelled him to the front of the campaign last year; and the conflict on the Afghan-Pakistan border now has the direct involvement of Pakistan’s army, which is the gamechanger that the previous administration never attracted, even from a military dictatorship.

These changes are happening because African-American voters took a leap of faith, beginning in South Carolina, that the most improbable, the most far-fetched thing most of us could ever contemplate would occur.

Yet, as the troubles of New York Gov. David Paterson indicate, progress is rarely a straight line, and popularity can shift in an instant.

The tides of the battles over these issues can continue to move in a positive direction as an unexpected force, just as been the case in Pakistan, comes to the battlefield.

In Virginia, black voters understood  that electing James Webb would transform the national landscape by creating a Democratic majority in the Senate.  He wasn’t particularly exciting and some of his past statements were problematic.  But they acted on the permanent interests philosophy articulated by Frederick Douglass.

I had the chance to help send out that message during that election and witnessed a similar transformation when black voters helped Debbie Stabenow win an upset in Michigan.

The notion that only the President can get black voters to turnout is disrespectful to their good judgment.

However, there are forces at work to divert their attention in the final days before the election.  I’ve been troubled by the fact that one of the most conservative activists, Phillip Anschutz, through his control of AEG Entertainment, has the rights to much of the Michael Jackson legacy.

The release of the new rehearsal footage film just a week before the election has the opportunity to distract voter attention in November.

But I lean to the belief that the ideas that Jackson espoused in his music will cause voters to become more active as they peruse the person in the mirror.

President Obama didn’t make the change in 2008.  Voters did.   To maintain the pace of change, voters must stay at bat, ready to take the big swing in the clutch.   As the H1N1 flu strikes, the need for near-universal health care coverage is all the more important.   As the polar ice caps melt, we can’t wait another decade to do something about climate change.

One doesn’t have to have a big contract to hit a home run in this World Series, one just needs to get in the game.


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