Perhaps nothing sums up the paradoxes and complexities of the Equality vs. Hierarchy dichotomy in American than the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In the past, his election would have been impossible, even unthinkable, since no blacks or members of other minority groups could have aspired to the presidency. Apart from John F. Kennedy in 1961-63, all the other presidents from 1789 to 2008 were white, Protestant males. In this sense, there has indeed been progress because of the civil rights movement, although the Right-wing has also mounted constant racist attacks on Obama, even questioning whether he was born in the United States. Moreover, the problems of poverty, exclusion and inequality for blacks and other minorities remain, just as they always have. Obama's tone in "A More Perfect Union" (2008) was very cool, intellectual and rational, which seems to be quite typical of his personality.
As the first black nominee of a major party for president, he had to draw in enough white voters to stay competitive with the Republicans, and Democrats had not been very successful at that since the 1960s. Obama's tone was that of both a transformational political leader but also a pragmatic candidate running for office. For this reason, he was far less emotional, impassioned and moralistic than Martin Luther King in his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington in 1963. On the other hand, both men referred to the founding documents and principles of the United States that promised liberty and equality for all, and noted that the country had failed to fulfill these in practice, especially because blacks had suffered centuries of slavery and segregation. They expressed optimism about the nation's ability to do so and rejected the politics of violence, racism and divisiveness, whether from blacks or whites. Obama referred to economic issues far more frequently than King, however, and used the rising poverty, unemployment and inequality in America as a central issue in his campaign. He recognized that the U.S. had made progress since the 1950s and 1960s, and indeed that if it had not he would never have become the nominee of a major political party. He acknowledged the debt he owed to the entire civil rights movement, without which he would have had no opportunity to be elected president. Obama realized that this work had not yet been completed and that racism and segregation were still very real obstacles that blacks and other minorities faced in their daily lives in America. Nevertheless, he also wished to create a movement that was broader than issues of race, and that addressed social and economic justice for all people in the United States.