Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President Barack Hussein Obama

Obama's win through a impeccable presidential campaign heralds a significant moment in US history

Barack Hussein Obama is now the 44th president of the United States of America. For the lone African American senator in the senate (he has merely served 4 years) with a composite ethnic and racial upbringing, a former community organiser and a constitutional law expert; being elected to the presidency is a major accomplishment. That Obama has achieved this victory representing the Democratic Party in a country that had racial segregation only forty years ago underlines the significance of his win for the nation.

Barack Obama was able to not only win the “electoral vote” decisively by capturing more than 350 of the 538 electoral college votes, he even carried nearly 53% of the popular vote, thus defeating his opponent from the Republican party, John McCain, resolutely. Obama's comprehensive triumph is reflected in the fact that he won in hitherto strong Republican states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana, besides winning in the traditional battleground states such as Ohio and Florida and capturing states that voted for Bush in 2004 - Iowa, Nevada and Colorado.

The unpopularity of the George Bush regime, a recession like situation engulfing the nation's economy, the long drawn out military occupation of Iraq have all contributed to McCain's defeat, apart from the drubbing that his party received in the concurrent senatorial and congressional elections. As of November 5, the Democratic Party had a representative in the White House in Barack Obama, had a decisive majority in the Senate (with atleast 56 seats) and in the Congress. The widespread Democratic victory is an indication that the philosophy of unregulated “free market economics”, naked militarism, and the politics of fear that characterised Republican rule for the past eight years during the presidency of George W. Bush have been thoroughly rejected by the electorate.

It is not as if the Democratic Party had much to offer in the form of alternatives to the Republican philosophy or that Barack Obama had a substantial programme of “change”, even if he made it the theme of his campaign. On foreign policy, Obama's views were for the continuity of an unilateral course of action by the imperial United States against it's perceived threats – he merely had a problem with the diversion of the “war on terror” to Iraq and he has promised a change in “battlegrounds” to Afghanistan and even Pakistan.

On economic policy, he promised regulation of speculative financial activity, but no major course-change involving state intervention in reviving the economy beyond liquidity injection into capital markets, or anything beyond protectionism in reviving employment. But on some domestic issues such as healthcare, social security and energy policy, even Obama's centrist positions were enough to draw a contrast to the rabid market fundamentalism of his Republican counterpart. That he had a sound and pioneering understanding of the use of networking technology in garnering funds from many small donors on the internet, and had promised solutions in building energy alternatives to counter climate change were also great pluses. Barack Obama's ability to draw large numbers of the youth in the country transcending race and political partisanship, through clever marketing of his agenda of “change” was the hallmark of his year-long campaign.

The US presidential elections system consisting of long drawn out party primaries essentially featuring only the two major parties, followed by extensive campaigning leading up to the final polls, places a very high emphasis on formal aspects of candidature such as image and the correct packaging of an enduring message for the campaign. Obama was consistent in harping on the message of “change”, contrasting himself to the incumbent president and by linking John McCain to the failed presidency of George W. Bush. McCain on the other hand, tried initially to emphasise his experience, then reverted to “change” highlighting the “maverick character” of himself and his running mate, Sarah Palin, only to run into the deepening economic crisis with no specific ideas. This led his campaign to turn negative and to try to play upon the subliminal feelings of racism and the fear of the “other” in many Americans. That none of the “high voltage” accusations and the politics of fear could help McCain win, pointed out to how much American citizens had got tired with this phenomenon, yet another legacy of George W. Bush and his party's politics.

He might have achieved a significant victory, but Barack Obama's upcoming presidency faces tremendous challenges. He would preside over a new administration at a time when the US is widely hated across the world for the imperial excesses of the current regime. He will inherit and have to repair a trillion dollar deficit economy ravaged by war spending, debt and which faces a financial crisis nearly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s.

His packaged message of “change” was good enough to win an election by transcending partisan political differences expressed as the “conservative” versus “liberal” debates among ordinary Americans and by overcoming the politics of hate and fear. But only a substantive policy orientation- welfare and employment friendly economic policies, rejection of imperialism and unilateralism while strengthening cooperation and multilateralism in international affairs- will result in genuine and transcendent change in the US, attributed to president Barack Obama.

Upcoming editorial for the Economic and Political Weekly

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