Saturday, June 07, 2008

Real change needed for Obama victory

Article written for The Post

After a long drawn out struggle through the primary process for the nomination of the presidential candidate from the Democratic Party, Barack Obama finally ended up with a majority of pledged delegates and super-delegates to overcome his powerful rival Hillary Clinton and thus clinched the nomination. The campaign saw unprecedented mobilisation of newer voters to the primary process, with both the candidates offering something new on their part: the ability to create history. Hillary Clinton enthused millions of women voters to turn up and put their hands together to anoint the first woman presidential candidate in the US, while Barack Obama’s magnetic campaign based on “change” and a charismatic call for rising above partisanship, plus his rich racial and cultural family background, saw a surfeit of young people, African-American voters and liberal graduates flock to vote for him in droves.

The unprecedented show of support by people in the Democratic primaries mirrored the popular dissatisfaction with the current Republican regime led by George W. Bush, whose reign as president over a nation in war has brought about an astonishing fiscal deficit, a financial crisis wrought out of sub-prime loaning schemes, unprecedented war budgets, hundreds of lost American lives, lakhs of Iraqi deaths and a destabilised energy and food environment that has threatened to wreck the world.

It would have been a no-brainer for a change from this apocalypse of a Republican administration to a fresh and energetic Democratic administration led by Barack Obama who has defeated his formidable opponent, Mrs. Clinton. More tellingly, the Republican nominee John McCain has promised to continue in an even more hawkish manner the pigheaded foreign policies of the Bush government, and has offered no substantial change from the completely flawed and pro-rich economic policy of the incumbent government. Anyone who would have watched the political and economic story of the US from outside would have been convinced of a smooth and easy change in government. Surprisingly, neither is Barack Obama’s becoming a president a slam dunk surety nor is the hope of substantial change in the US’ overall foreign and economic policy a guarantee. Why is this so?

The answer to the above question lies in some objective and some subjective issues in the US. Let us look at the latter first. The long drawn out primary battle involving Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has hurt the Democratic Party more than creating any chance of a strong party. Clinton, in particular, was guilty of using underhanded and perverse tactics to try to capture the nomination that was virtually awarded to Obama after his string of victories in state after state in February. In desperation, Clinton started using the woe begotten but effective cards of race and class, as she pitched a theme that “hard working Americans, white Americans” was uncomfortable with Barack Obama’s candidature. Obama’s strength of a composite cultural background was pitched forward to threaten an already paranoid American public with fears being created about his immediate forefathers’ religion in subtle manners.

Then there was the issue of questioning his faith as well as his guide toward Christianity, his pastor. As videos surfaced of his pastor’s remarks about the deep fears and insecurities of the African Americans toward both the US’ foreign as well as domestic policies, Obama was forced to answer for the utterances of his pastor mentor. In a stellar speech, that addressed the race issue in the US frontally, Obama managed to link his message of non-partisanship and inspired leadership with the contents of the fears expressed in his pastor’s speech even as he distanced himself from the beliefs that were expressed in the same. Obama, in the end, came out of the controversy scathed but his honour and message intact. Clinton could not pounce on this predicament of her opponent’s but she sure was able to arrest the landslide that was threatening to pitchfork Obama as not only the sure-fire nominee but also the presumptive President in the forthcoming elections.

With the race dragging on, the latent insecurities of the rural and working class American voters were out in the fore and this decided that Obama could not win decisively once these voters gravitated toward Clinton. But the saving grace for Obama was the fact that the Democratic Party establishment never gave up on him and support trickled down to him slowly, and later in droves as it became more and more clear that he was not going to be surmounted by Clinton. On the other hand, Clinton did not quite give in either as she twisted and turned the mandate to create a spin that she had the popular vote. The result of all this intense politicking is that there has been a significant polarisation of voters among both the Clinton and Obama supporters, who affirm that they would only vote for their preferred candidate or none at all. No wonder, John McCain has benefited out of this subjective fight within the Democratic Party. It remains to be seen how Hillary Clinton would endeavour to unite the Democratic Party and enthuse her supporters to vote for Obama, even after this prolonged slugfest.

This alone does not explain the relevance of John McCain’s candidature as a formidable one. Objective conditions in the US also form important reasons. There exists a deep right wing shift in American polity that was affected by fear-mongering about the world outside and because of the strong wedding of corporate power and politics. Add to this the heady mix, the strength of the corporate media that refuses to look at the issues from the perspective of the under-privileged, be it the coverage of US’ imperialism in West Asia or even domestic economic battles. Accrued to this is the presence of significant hold of the religious, evangelical trend over peoples’ lives, particularly in the predominantly rural and traditionally conservative areas of the south in the US. All this has explained that the coalition that was forged out of religious conservatives, corporate right wingers, neo-conservatives and which has supported the Republican Party has remained formidable even now.

Barack Obama’s answer to this strength of the Republican Party has been to dilute his own inspirational message of change, by papering over the conservatism with small doses of political correctness. Witness his position on West Asia and militarism for example. A just position for the US would be to stop its interventionist policies and eschew its policy of rejecting multilateral bodies, such as the UN, from playing the primary role in world affairs. But Barack Obama does not promise a clean break from unilateralism or militarism. He offers only to privilege dialogue as a necessary means but refuses to rule out the above. On economic policies, he tries to shake hands both with corporate power and labour by being selectively protective. He promises to strive for universal healthcare for example, but refuses a fully mandated insurance programme, ostensibly not wanting to displease corporate medical insurance vendors. No wonder, such dilly-dallying on coming up with a fully progressive agenda to overcome the right wing polity has meant that despite the inspirational message of Barack Obama, candidates such as Ralph Nader are also in the fray for the presidential elections. Nader, with his impeccable record as a consumer rights activist and articulations on public policy, which are staunchly pro-consumer, pro-people and progressive, is bound to cut into Obama’s vote share unless Obama re-invents himself as the original progressive candidate. Subjectively, if Obama could somehow change his domestic agenda to incorporate Clinton’s and John Edwards’ ideas for mandated health care insurance, it would be easier for him to get the former’s undiluted support for his candidacy.

Thus, latest opinion polls suggest that despite the overwhelming freshness in Obama’s campaign and the unprecedented voter turnouts for the Democratic Party, Obama and McCain are neck and neck in popular support. Obama has to not only continue his refrain that McCain offers no substantive change from the Bush years and is cut from the same old conservative mould, but also use his inspirational message of change to formulate a thorough break from the conservatism and forge a new progressive consciousness that would encourage the American voters to vote directly for him.

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