Obama forges ahead, crossing barriers
By H.K. Dua, who was recently in Washington
The United States of America is headed for big change in the story of the evolution of its plural society. Even a hurried visit to Washington suggests that Barack Obama has emerged as a front-runner in the race for the White House.
Obama, it appears, has already left Hillary Clinton behind in his drive to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination. So confident is he that, of late, he is not even focussing his campaign speeches on Mrs Clinton. Obama is now simply targeting the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, to win Presidency.
Sensing danger ahead, the Republicans are returning the compliment by training their guns on Obama who is certainly cutting a more confident figure in the contest for one of the most powerful jobs in the world.
That the Republicans are getting increasingly worried about losing the Presidency after eight years is evident from George W. Bush’s below-the-belt attack on Obama, accusing the Senator from Illinois of being soft on terrorism. Choosing Israeli Parliament, of all places, President Bush accused Obama last week of even believing in a policy of appeasement towards terrorism and States like Iran, which in Bush’s eyes are still a part of the Axis of Evil. Rather than distancing himself from George Bush, John McCain has begun echoing the President’s language. Obama’s campaign managers are not surprised at the Republicans choosing to play dirty. They think it is a sign of desperation on their part, born out of the slow progress the Republican Senator’s campaign is making.
Obama himself has reacted fast, hitting back at George Bush for choosing foreign soil for his “appeasement” speech attacking Obama’s desire to engage Iran into talks. Obama has, in turn, accused Bush of “fear-mongering” and “hypocrisy”.
Obama and his aides have pulled out a 2006 interview given by John McCain, in which he had pleaded for talks with the Hamas to resolve the Palestinian question. “That is the kind of hypocrisy we have been seeing in our foreign policy”, said Obama in his counter-attack on Bush and McCain.
The clash on policy towards Iran only indicates how bitter the run-up to the Presidential election due in November is going to be.
Obama, at 46, is reminding old-timers of John Fitzgerald Kennedy who brought intimations of change and hope to the United States of the early 1960s. Obama’s speeches also reflect change and hope for America.
The language and the quality of Obama’s message, his oratorical skill, the vigour of his campaign, his youthful energy and charismatic appeal have been attracting the youth, white-collar workers, intelligentsia and many of those who have been feeling frustrated at the failures of the Bush presidency, particularly in the areas of foreign policy and the economy.
In his campaign to win the Democratic nomination and deny it to Hillary Clinton, Obama has also encashed the party’s disenchantment with the Clinton years. It has not been a walkover for Obama, considering that Hillary Clinton is a tough fighter who is still carrying on the battle, even if she has been trailing far behind Obama in most primaries.
Her never-say-die spirit is attracting comment, but it is not enough to win the Democratic nomination. Pressures are mounting on Hillary Clinton from senior Democrat leaders that she better concede victory to Obama to help the Democratic Party put up a united fight to recapture the presidency from the Republicans.
There is also a move to persuade Mrs Clinton to stand for Vice-President on a joint ticket with Obama, but he himself has given no indication that he wants Mrs Clinton to team up with him.
The bitterness of the Obama-Hillary campaign for the party’s nomination makes it highly unlikely that she would be asked to be a running mate of Obama, who is certain that he will be the Democratic candidate against John McCain.
That both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could aspire to be President itself makes for a change in American society and politics. Even if Hillary is unlikely to be President, she has made the point that a woman can be President of America. She may not get the presidency, but it will be so not because she is a woman, but because she is a Clinton, who has lived eight years in the White House already.
Apparently, Americans don’t like the familiar celebrities to resume tenancy of the premises they have already vacated. They would rather experiment with a new tenant. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been fighting the disadvantage of being an African-American and has a Hussein in his name. His reaching close to the White House, even the run-up, or the enthusiasm his campaign has generated, highlight that all said and done, racial prejudices are giving way, although slowly.
Not that race has not mattered in the campaign, but most Americans have so far not taken kindly to it being brought up either by the Hillary camp or the Republican functionaries in the field.
For John McCain, who is a Vietnam war veteran, it is a long and difficult climb ahead. And then he is to carry George Bush’s baggage on his back.
McCain must be finding now how unwise it was for him to support George Bush’s Iraq war. The war never made Bush himself popular among the people; it cannot help John McCain either. Hillary Clinton must have also observed that she should not have backed the Iraq war either if she had presidential ambitions.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, is among those leaders who have opposed the war in principle. It is not surprising that most of the anti-war constituency, which is very large, is backing Barack Obama, giving him marks for consistency and clarity on the issue which is dividing America.
George Bush is also leaving behind a difficult economic situation, made worse by the severe recession the United States is struggling against. Not that Obama has spelt out how he intends to pull the country out of the recession, check unemployment it entails, and win the confidence of the people and the market. For McCain, the problem is going to be the tendency of the electorate to punish the incumbent for the economic malaise, even if the challenger has no cure to offer.
Barack Obama’s rise to become an eminently suitable candidate for President, however, does not mean that race, or religion, or lineage have disappeared as issues in American society and politics.
Obama’s becoming President, or even the run-up, however, can help in a big way the continuing assimilation process the US society has been going through for years since the days of Martin Luther King.
Obama’s reaching the White House will be like climbing the societal Mount Everest in an age going through fierce debates on the “Clash of Civilisations”. Often, there are contradictory trends in societies; it all depends who is on the winning side.