Thursday, October 09, 2008

Obama: President? Not yet.

Only about four weeks are left for the presidential elections in the United States and from all indications, it looks like Barack Obama, the African-American senator from Illinois state is going to win the battle. The financial crisis that has afflicted capital, credit and property markets in the United States (and consequently in the rest of the world) is what that has tilted the balance of public opinion toward Obama. The Republican nominee John McCain seems to have been identified (and rightly so) with the eight year disastrous rule of George W. Bush, and this has pushed him more than 5 points behind Obama in many an opinion poll on the presidential elections. But no way is the battle over and no where is victory assured for Obama. This article explores the issues that are contributing to an Obama surge and those that could still derail his candidature.
Cartoon courtesy John Deering's Editorial Cartoons

The operation of subterranean racial feelings among many Americans is feared to be one of the reasons that could work against Obama, despite the resonance of his message with most Americans, who are slowly feeling the brunt of the extended financial crisis that has afflicted their economy. What is termed, the "Bradley effect" (wherein potential voters suggest that they prefer the African-American candidate in question, but eventually end up voting against her/him due to the racial factor), could undercut the possibility of a strong win for Obama. Or as has happened recently in executive elections in the US, substantial populations belonging to the impoverished African American background could just be dis-enfranchised for one reason or the other, a factor that could hinder Obama again.

Yet, what is going for Obama now is the fact that his message has such a resonance that is in particular drawing immense support from the younger sections of America. These sections having been brought up on race transcending cultural influences of sport and music have rejected the argument of race in large numbers even as Obama has tapped their support by relying on a fantastic campaign built solidly on new technology (the internet and mobile telephony), catchy and youthful phrasing of political messages and a reliance on viral networking and volunteering). This surge in the role of the young in American politics could offset the traditional emphasis on race that runs subliminally in America still.

The bad tanking of the American economy, an offshoot of irresponsible de-regulation and the failure of the neoliberal model has helped shore up the Obama message of change. Obama has not offered any radical alternative to the current system ( in contrast to a more progressive and steady message emphasised by long shot independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader), but simply the call for oversight and regulation of the financial hubs of American capitalism, plus a departure from the overly market reliant policies of the Republican administration in various sectors such as health and education, has been enough for Obama to steal a march over his Republican opponent, McCain. More and more Americans, worried about their savings and investments (in the case of the middle classes and the small entrepreneurs), about their jobs (in the case of the working classes) are rallying behind Obama and his message.

The McCain campaign's early response was to draw a line between its candidate 's experience as an American war hero, a patriotic senator who has served in the senate for years particularly as an expert on national security and foreign affairs and Obama's inexperience. Trying to emphasise Obama's relative inexperience as a US senator and therefore calling into question his ability to show leadership on issues such as foreign policy, was the first tactic by the McCain in its discredit Obama campaign. But Obama has largely held intact while facing these criticisms and has even enhanced his standing among voters over the issue of foreign policy by two ways.

One, he has played pretty much to the gallery on the issue of foreign policy. He realises that unrestrained nationalism is still the paramount impulse on various international matters in mainstream opinion in the US and he has never tried to articulate a progressive alternative to it. Be it his position on the Russian-Georgian affair, or the so called, "war on terror" or even the American strategy in west Asia and Latin America, Obama has kept his positions well and truly within the permits of mainstream American nationalism, no matter how dangerous to the world these stances are, from a progressive viewpoint. This is exemplified by his choice of the liberal imperialist Joe Biden as vice presidential nominee. Yet, this positioning of Barack Obama still draws a contrast to the recklessness of neoconservatism, something that drove the presidency of George Bush and is retained by the ultimate war-monger John McCain,. That public opinion on the US invasion of Iraq is negative and that Obama from day one of his executive political career has opposed the war, has helped him.

Secondly, the Obama march has been helped by a reckless mistake made by McCain: the choice of his running mate, Sarah Palin. Palin, the governor of Alaska was clearly chosen to please the social conservative base of the Republican party. With some really regressive views on a host of social and political issues such as the separation of the church and state, the issue of abortion, and even global warming, Palin plays right into the huge gallery of social conservatism and communal religious sections that abound America's rural areas and small towns and are staunch Republican supporters. Even as the conservative base has been revved up by the Palin choice, the sheer stupidity exhibited by the governor in issues such as foreign policy and international issues has come to become a severe undoing of the McCain message of experience in the same areas. Sarah Palin, among several gaffes, touted her foreign policy experience owing to the fact that she governed a state that bordered Russia and thats that! Her views on international diplomacy are as good as non-existent and she prides on being a reckless warmonger - witness her responses to questions on the Russian-Georgian affair or about the volatile situation in west Asia involving Israel and Iran.

Hence, on domestic and international issues cumulatively, Obama has managed to convince voters that he is a better choice than his rival. This has helped him make a dent in states that are traditional Republican voting hubs, such as North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia and others. Despite such good tidings for the Democrats, the overall expectation of an Obama victory is cautious. Why is this so?

The McCain campaign in its attempt to deflect the attention of Americans from issues such as the state of the economy and the disastrous state of his ticket has now relied upon the tried and tested weapon, that is sure to yield some kind of dividend: slander. Trying to "turn a page" over the economic issues (as a McCain aide put it discussing campaign strategy with the media), the McCain campaign is now using Sarah Palin as a weapon to fire in bullet after bullet about Obama's links with "terrorists" and "America-haters". The reference is to a former radical William Ayers who was part of an organisation named the "Weathermen" which placed bombs targetting public institutions (a la Bhagat Singh) to bring notice to opposition to the ruthless Vietnam War 40 years ago. Since then, after incarceration, Ayers built up his recent reputation as an expert on child education and by engaging in community service in the city of Chicago. The prominence of Ayers as a Chicago progressive and his links with community organisers in the city got him acquainted with Obama and this "association" is what that has brought into question by the Republican ticket, which has gone on to denounce Obama's "domestic terrorist links" and consequently his judgment. Obama has pointedly denounced Ayers' past and his methods and to call him an associate of Ayers when Obama was 8 years old during Ayers' days as a radical is surely a ridiculous argument, which has still been sustained by the Republican attack machine.

While this denouncing and slander of Obama has yet to gain a lot of traction in terms of shift of support (opinion polls still point to a stable Obama lead), the Republican attack machine ( so termed for the precedents such as the "Swiftboat attack" on John Kerry, the previous Democratic presidential candidate) has now used this as their primary ammunition in their war against Barack Obama's nomination. This attack could well enmesh itself into the subliminal territory of racial fear of the "African American", who is still not an atypical American for some who still harbour feelings for the other on the basis of skin colour in the country. This could well turn out to be a substantial roadblock in Obama's road to the presidency, or atleast so hope the Republican ticket. This roadblock therefore prevents any dispassionate (or otherwise) follower of American politics from making a prediction that "President Barack Obama" would be inaugurated on January 20th, 2009, presiding over a new United States of America.

Article published in The Post, Lahore

1 comment:

Srinivasan Ramani said...

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