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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 49

Understanding Obama’s Victory

Tuesday 25 November 2008, by Arup Kumar Sen


Barack Hussein Obama made history by becoming the first African-American President to occupy the White House. In his victory speech at Chicago he hinted at a dialogic concept of democracy for resurrection of the dream of the Founders of the United States of America. He argued: “Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.” In his tough journey he has promised to listen to voice of dissent:

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep....There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know the government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.

The big challenges identified by Obama are the two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), a planet in peril and the worst financial crisis in the 21st century. The world will wait to see how the new American President faces these challenges.

Millions of African-American voters did not care to vote in the past. This time they came out to vote in far greater numbers cutting across class barriers. The poor Black neighbourhoods in South Chicago are also celebrating the victory of Obama, observes Dipesh Chakrabarty of Chicago University.

One can cite the civil rights movement of the 1960s as the antecedent of Obama‘s rise to power. But the reality is quite complex. The Whites also voted for Obama in large numbers. The eminent sociologist, Dipankar Gupta, tells us that perhaps the American Whites needed Obama more than the Blacks did. This was their big opportunity to expiate their past and emerge clean into the present. Gupta further notes that unlike in the 1960s and later, when the best among the young, Black and White, and every colour in between, opted out of the system, this time they made their will known from within.

No one can predict the socio-economic outcome of the new regime. But, Obama has no doubt that his victory is an outcome of multiple expectations. To put it in his own words:

It is the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled—Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states; we are and always will be the United States of America

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