Obama overcomes barriers of time and cultures
By H.K. Dua
Barack Obama has won US presidentship and with one long jump marked America’s date with history. In the process, the youthful African-American has pushed much of the nation’s past and ingrained prejudice into the dustbin.
His sweeping victory came in the face of the suffering which can be understood only by the generations of those who have gone through it over 200 years, and for no fault of theirs, but because of the accident of birth and the colour of their skin. That an enormous majority of whites fought shoulder-to-shoulder with African-American compatriots to make Obama win shows the change that has taken place in the American psyche and society that many doubted the country was actually prepared for.
In political terms, what has helped Barack Obama sweep the election is the havoc George W. Bush has wrought on his country during eight years in power.
The Iraq war, which President Bush and his chosen men fought with the arrogance that often comes with power, split the United States — for and against. The collapse of the world’s most powerful economy, the emptying pockets of the Americans living under mortgaged houses and surviving with the help of plastic money called credit cards, and the fear of losing jobs — all had pushed the mighty United States of America into acute anxiety, bordering on despair that called for outright rejection of the Republicans — neocons or otherwise.
In essence, the US was wanting change and needed someone who promised hope to the country that had fallen on bad days. Barack Obama strode across the US for two years, felt their pulse and addressed the causes of their anxiety that was sapping much of their energy and creativity and promised change and a better future.
Judging from size of the mandate, the Americans have accepted Barack Obama’s promise, saying ‘No’ to John McCain because he belonged to the same party and adhered to the same ways of thinking as other Republicans who were the cause of their problems and who could not provide a cure.
The United States of America, despite not being a super power and equipped with a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, is living in adversity these days. Barack Obama has understood what afflicts his country, nevertheless. In his victory speech, he has spoken to his countrymen in the language of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, not as a leader of the African-Americans but of the entire nation of whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, those of Indian and Chinese origins and all others who made America their home over two centuries to help it become a super power. He appealed to them all for values that weld a nation to face the crisis the US is caught in. The applause and jubilation across the vast swathes of the United States shows that a major chunk of Americans trust his ability to lead them at this time with new ideas and self-assurance.
Barack Obama has indeed inherited a huge pile of problems — both domestic and international — left behind by George W. Bush. His campaign speeches, as most campaign speeches go, do not, however, give any indication how he is going to go about tackling them. Some vagueness always helps line up greater support before the polls, it proves a liability afterwards, however.
Obama now has to work out his priorities. He has to ensure how to pull the US out of the economic crisis that has hit his country bringing into question the very nature of capitalism the US has been built on, a free-for-all banking system that has left their coffers empty and the bankers rich, and the policies that are pushing the US into economic recession.
To be a success at the White House, he has to ensure that there is more cash with people to buy off the shelf, more petrol in their cars, enough money to pay for the house under a credible mortgage system, good education for children and the medicare they can afford. It is really a tall order, but the test of a leader comes at a time of crisis, not when the going is good.
The United States, a mighty super power, has been wanting to shape the world in its own light. It is now finding that it is no longer possible for it to do so. The hubris that sometimes comes to an individual, or to a nation, stands deflated. And the US prestige and the ability to influence events in other parts of the world are greatly diminished, possibly frustrating for it.
The world of the 21st century is bound to see new power equations. Europe and a Russia sitting on oil, are re-emerging, wanting to be counted. The rise of India and China during the next couple of decades is going to make a difference in what essentially is a multi-polar world where the US alone cannot call the shots.
How Barack Obama restores American prestige abroad remains to be seen. The speeches, before and soon after the election, do not indicate whether he has as yet evolved a clear set of polices towards other countries that merit presidential attention. But he is unlikely to be isolationist in what is now a globalised world.
What place Barack Obama will find in history for himself will depend on how far he succeeds in restoring the US’s confidence in itself, and a respectable place in the world around it. Both will depend on what he actually does with power now in his grasp and the enormous goodwill that he has been able to evoke at home and abroad. Good luck to him.