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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 30

Obama as Presidential Candidate in the US

Wednesday 16 July 2008, by Shree Shankar Sharan

Obama is an altogether new phenomenon in America, even traumatic to some. The phenomenon looks even bigger from a distance in Europe. Coming so soon just 40 years after the grant of civil rights it seems an earth-shaking event to his people in Kenya and Egypt from which we have a feed-back. Such is the global importance of the US that who becomes the President is a matter of global interest and concern.

Is Obama’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate a mini-revolution as some in the US and many outside see it? Is it a sign of levelling of races in White countries faster than they had imagined as the Blacks across Europe see it? Is it a vindication of the Moslem and African pride because of Obama‘s Moslem father as evident across Egypt, Kenya and all of Africa? Whether it is all this or not, it is proof of the fast pace at which events move today than in the more peaceful yester years.

The leap in history seems all the longer because it has come only 40 years after the grant of civil rights in the USA. Even the end of apartheid in South Africa and the installation of Black rule seemed a local event whose tremors would not reach the safe European or American continent. Yet the tremors of Obama’s nomination have travelled to all the shores of the world.

To us in India the colour of the skin has never been a problem. Even race has not been one because we nearly elected a lady of Italian origin as our Prime Minister, though some murmurs against it were heard but ignored by the electorate. Yet, as one of the surprising victims of racialism of the ignorant English or the Westerners, we cannot but feel good about the event.

BIG wrongs are always righted in a big way. The slave trade of Black Africans was one of the blackest deeds in European history. The slave was the image in which America saw its Black men.That historical wrong is about to be righted if Obama wins and becomes the President. The law had already made the Blacks as equal of Whites. But it is political power that completes the promised equality.

There was yet another wrong without which Obama may not have surfaced. It was the invasion of Iraq by President Bush on the false pretext of Iraq hiding weapons of mass destruction which was never found.Yet Iraq has been ravaged and emasculated as few nations have by the senior and then the junior Bush. The war in Iraq seems interminable because of a determined fight by the Arabs, the Shia-Sunni divide and the moral and material support that the insurgents enjoy in all surrounding countries and Afro-Asia generally. Equally tired is the American voter who sees no end to the futile war with few gains and a huge drain on American resources, loss of American lives and a push in oil prices. To end the war tne Democratic Party and Obama and not Hillary with a Clintonian past seem the answer.

America from time to time has covered itself with glory as a free country. She has added to it an element of courage of conviction. After all, she fought the civil war to abolish slavery and thus undid the grievous wrong it had done to the people of Africa by treating them as animals. She bravely took part in the Second World War without which Nazi defeat may not have been possible. She advocated independence to India and her journalists put Gandhi’s non-violent struggle on the map of the world. She opposed the invasion on Egypt by the Anglo-French force to secure the Suez Canal.

It was her obsession against communism that started her off from one error to another. It is now her obsession against Islamic Jihad morphed into a suspicion of the Islamic community that has brought her and the world into difficulty. These trends take time to correct themselves. Obama, if he is elected the President, if there is no White Backlash, promises such a correction.

Being Black is no assurance that he will walk the right path. Others have preceded him in key offices like Condella Rice as the Secretary of State or Collin Powel as the Commander-in-Chief and Secretary of State but they have followed the mainstrem rather than lead it. Obama has promised to lead by his powerful slogan of change.

Not that change is easy having regard to the American role as a superpower and her responsibility to safeguard her and global security when called upon by the Security Council or under a treaty obligation, her vengeful enemies responsible for 9/11, and her rivals in the business of both achieving and threatening global security.There is the difficult problem of alleviating global poverty and deciding on fair terms of trade by compromising on exclusive American interests. He will have to run into a lot of opposition on these scores and on the score of ending the Iraq war by macho nationalism represented by the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. But if one man could make a beginning, it would be Obama. Let us wish him victory and godspeed.

A word needs to be said on the American mode of election first in the primary and then the election. Anything more costly and wasteful is difficult to imagine.The fundraising it needs is wholly abhorrent. But the alternative of several persons contesting one office is even worse as an option. Two good candidates could cancel each other’s vote and give the highest office to a dark horse . Another feature is the popular vote being superseded by the assigned states’ votes. Such a situation did arise and elected President Bush. Perhaps a correction to this anomaly should be thought of.

The author is the President, Awami Ekta Councial, Patna/Delhi.

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