Obama's Victory would Transcend Politics

Published: Sunday | November 2, 2008

Will President Barack Obama have any kind words for George W. Bush in his inauguration speech? He certainly should.

No individual has been more responsible for Obama's triumphant march to victory in the United States on November 4.

By making first Colin Powell and then Condoleezza Rice, secretaries of state, 'Dubya' made Americans familiar with black persons in high political office. He also started an expensive and unnecessary war in Iraq. Most crucially, Bush's 'voodoo' economic policies of tax cuts and massive spending increases plus recklessly deregulated banking brought the US economy to its knees. He's probably ruined the Republican brand name for at least another eight years.

Ahead in polls

Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, talks on the telephone with a potential voter at his campaign office in Brighton, Colorado, last Sunday. - AP

Obama is a mesmerisingly telegenic speaker, and judging from his well-tooled campaign, an excellent organiser. But in the present atmosphere, any credible Democrat, including Hillary Clinton, would waltz to victory.

Barring some unprecedented scandal or event, this election was essentially decided when Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy sent stock markets plunging, signalling a likely recession.

Before Lehman, John McCain led in the polls and betting markets. A week later, he trailed badly in both. Now, Obama is ahead seven plus points in collective polls, and 85-15 in the markets.

Irish bookies have already paid out on an Obama victory. A McCain win would be the biggest upset since David trounced Goliath.

Vice-presidential woes

As Bill Clinton campaign once said, 'It's the economy stupid'. But forced to fill columns and airspace, the media keep spewing red herrings.

Vice-presidential choices never affect the outcome, yet they are obsessed with Sarah Palin. Some even blame her for McCain's impending defeat, as if an Abe Lincoln-Ronald Reagan reincarnated ticket could win a third straight Republican presidential term in this economic climate.

Palin surely performed better in her convention speech and vice-presidential debate than Dan Quayle, the victorious George H.W. Bush's running mate. She might well become the Republicans' 2012 presidential nominee.

An Obama victory will transcend politics. A black man as US president, arguably the world's most powerful position, will feel redemptive to those millions of blacks treated so long as second-class citizens, in America and elsewhere. Martin Luther King's dream of a man being judged by the content of his character and not the colour of his skin will be realised.

Racism in America

Yet, although America has embraced a 'Bob Marley black' man as president, is it ready to accept a 'Peter Tosh black' one?

But hey, let's give the US credit. Outsiders love to berate 'racist America' and yes, it has often treated minorities unjustly.

Yet, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. For no other country discusses race so honestly, or puts disadvantaged minorities into so many positions of real power.

Two recent pre-Obama examples are the East Indian-descended Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.

Those who have visited, know supposedly 'rainbow' Brazil is far more racist than the US. In Europe, including Britain, black and brown faces are largely invisible in the top ranks of business, media and politics. Canada's last two governors general may have been an Asian woman and a Haitian woman, but it's a long way from electing an ethnic minority prime minister.

Jamaica's position

And Jamaica? Well, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently lauded this island as being 25 years ahead of America in open-mindedness about racial minorities: "In the western industrialised world, the idea of electing a member of a racial minority to the highest office seems an astonishing breakthrough. But Jamaica's 95 per cent black population elected a white man [Edward Seaga] as its prime minister in 1980." (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/23/opinion/23kristof.html)

Actually the three-quarters white Michael Manley was more white than the half-white Obama.

Indeed, Norman Manley, and probably Alexander Bustamante, and Donald Sangster were half-white. And the black Hugh Shearer was never elected - he was chosen prime minister by fellow Parliamentarians after Sangster died in office.

It can be argued that Jamaica did not elect an ethnic majority representative leader until P.J. Patterson in 1993, 49 years after universal suffrage and 31 years after independence. What that means is for another discussion.

Ethnic inter-breeding

Obama will also be the first non-full European to lead a primarily European power. Future ages might well see him as a world historical figure marking the beginning of the end of the European dominant age that began in 1492.

With a Kenyan father and European-descended mother, he is also a vivid symbol of the increasing ethnic inter-breeding worldwide that might be creating a post racial 'brown' Earth. We all came out of Africa looking alike maybe 120,000 years ago, and somehow diverged into different hues. Is that differentiation process reversing into skin tone convergence?

If you judge him by what he's done as opposed to what he says - and actions are more accurate predictors of future behaviour than words - Obama will be the most liberal president in American history.

Given that Dubya's legacy will be a massive presidential win and huge congressional and Senate majorities for the Democrats, Obama might turn America so far to the left that it might start to resemble - gasp! - Canada.

Which, to anyone who has lived in both, would be no big deal. The US is a bit richer per capita, thanks mainly to larger population economies of scale.

But Canada is at least as tolerant and well run, and measurably less violent and longer lived. Though not as grandiloquent, 'Peace, order and good government' seems to work just as well as 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.

Revolution myth

Indeed, it can be plausibly argued that the 1776 Revolution had a long-term negative impact on America. Had the US stayed part of imperial Britain, perhaps its slaves would also have been freed in 1838 with the rest of the British empire's, and there would have been no civil war killing 500,000.

(The American Revolution is a classic case of national myth diverging from reality. In a flag-waving Fourth of July memory, the brilliant general George Washington and his sharpshooting, ragged irregulars defeated the British unaided. According to Joseph J. Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington, Washington lost more battles than he won, had no confidence in untrained militia, and played 'a minor role in America's greatest victory of the war', the Battle of Saratoga. The decisive battle of Yorktown was "essentially an exercise in engineering and primarily a French operation".)

For all its 'land of liberty exceptionalism' boasts, the US can be credibly viewed as a rough approximation of the English-speaking commonwealth. Drop England on to the east, Canada on to the north, Australia on to the west, and the West Indies and Scotland and Ireland on to the south, and few would notice much difference. Are the streets of New York any freer than those of London, Melbourne or Toronto? Now strip away the hype and Obama is just another ambitious politician, albeit a remarkably assured one, who has hardly put a foot wrong since taking the national stage.

No happy ending

But the media's uncritical adulation of Obama is a bit reminiscent of the unstinting praise heaped upon Alan Greenspan a few years ago. And that former 'maestro' is now looking like an emperor without clothes.

Going back further locally, 'Obamania' brings to mind the 1972 'hail the man' idolisation of Michael Manley, which did not exactly end happily.

Those who cry racism at every criticism are doing Obama no favours. It's shameful to hear a decent man like John McCain, who publicly defended Obama on a political platform, being compared to George Wallace by people who should know better. His supporters, and perhaps Obama himself, should remember that a challenging press which grounds soaring rhetoric in reality can be a politician's best friend.

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