Tuesday, March 18, 2008

American Presidency

Unfolding political drama in America

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Since the Republican presidential nomination race has been finally settled in favour of the 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran Senator John McCain, all that he has to do is to keep himself alive in the media so that during the intense and protracted primary contest between two Democratic contenders, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, the old man is not forgotten. However, public attention, no less than the news media, is focused on Democratic contenders for their party nomination.

Just out of curiosity, I casually asked a visitor, the insurance appraiser who had come to inspect my car for collision damage, as to who he would prefer in the Democratic primary that was being held that day, Clinton or Obama; he responded that Obama sounded better. The Obama people called him the previous night asking for his vote. I could feel the uncertainty in his voice when he added that he liked Clinton too but insisted that to him gender and race did not matter. Although this might not have been a representative voice, the ambiguous response has been the trend throughout the country, in spite of the fact that blacks everywhere have been overwhelmingly voting in Democratic primaries for Obama, a 48-year-old charismatic African-American senator from Illinois, with a remarkable gift of eloquence.

Obama traces his biological lineage to his black African father from Kenya and his white American mother from Kansas. He has been saying publicly that his father walked out on the family when he was only two years old and he was “raised by a single mom”. But he seldom mentions that his mother, according to Janny Scott’s report in The New York Times, was a highly energetic intellectual woman and somewhat of an adventurer with wanderlust. After her second marriage to an Indonesian, the family moved to Indonesia, where Obama’s half-sister was born. Perhaps because Obama comes from a racially and culturally mixed background, African, Asian and American, he has such broad public appeal, though the blacks won’t let him forget that he is, after all, a black. In the Mississippi primary, 90 percent of blacks voted for him. Nor would his wife, Michelle Obama, who comes from a Chicago black family, let him forget who he is: “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country,” she told a political gathering sometime ago in Milwaukee, “because it feels like hope is making a comeback.” Her remark raised lot of controversy and she receded into background.

When Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice-presidential nominee and a Clinton fundraiser remarked that Obama is leading in the primaries because of who he is and “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, ” she was accused of stirring racial controversy. She quit the campaign but refused to disown her comments.

Race is a factor, no doubt, but it seems to be favouring Obama more than Clinton. Since the beginning of the primary season last year, Americans have been deeply engrossed and conflicted about the Democratic nomination race for the White House particularly between these two powerful political personalities, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama; between their respective claims of political experience and the necessity for change in Washington; and between their catchy slogans “Yes, we will” and “Yes, we can.” The upsurge in political engagement amidst all demographic and social strata, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women and youth, has been unprecedented.

For the first time in decades, few Americans have remained aloof from the vital political process, which is partly due to the foreign policy conundrum regarding the war in Iraq and the impending recession triggered by sub-prime lending and the sliding housing market. But more than that, it is the first time that a woman and an African-American have dared go to the top and emerged as very competent and viable presidential candidates; and because they have come so far might change the course of American history, whether they win or lose.

Perhaps no one would have put the voters’ quandary better than former President Bill Clinton, who while addressing a church group last month, said, “I’ve been waiting all my life to vote for an African-American president. I’ve been waiting all my life to vote for a woman for president. ... I feel like God is playing games with our heads and our hearts.” And lately he has been suggesting that perhaps there would be a dialectical synthesis between the two senators’ positions on healthcare, war in Iraq, free trade (NAFTA), job outsourcing, immigration and other issues, bringing them together on a joint platform and making them an unbeatable team against the Republican presumptive nominee, Senator McCain.

From Regular Joe to Joe Millionaire ~ and let us not forget women, who have been playing a tremendous role in this election ~ everyone is excited as well as divided about Clinton versus Obama, and how either of them would face a most redoubtable opponent, the Vietnam War veteran McCain, who has said repeatedly that he would rather lose the presidential campaign than the war in Iraq, which he called “necessary and just.” In sharp contrast, both Clinton and Obama have vowed to bring American troops back home at the earliest convenience and within a reasonable timeframe.But with Iraq front becoming comparatively quiet thanks to Bush’s surge policy that McCain wholeheartedly supported, another “necessary and just” war is raging at the home front, which no one knows how to fight. And it is called Recession.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University, Vermont.)

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