The following was my submission to the November issue of the Filter Copy.
“America is too great for small dreams”-Ronald Reagan
As a country America continues to inspire and confound the global community. After eight years of Bush’s de-facto war on anything Islamic and irresponsible economic policies, America might just elect a young black man as their next president whose middle name happens to be Hussein. The global community does not ask whether Barack Obama will be the next president of USA. Rather everyone asks whether USA will let Obama become president as if when we keep prejudices aside, the presidency is Obama’s birthright. Never since the Kennedy campaign has any individual energized the American population in such a manner and the impossible- America regaining the respect and credibility it had before Bush- looks a distinct if not a sure possibility in event of an Obama presidency.
It all started in 2004 at the annointation of John Kerry in the Democratic National Convention. A relatively unknown junior senator from the state of Illinois was asked to deliver the key-note address. The oratory, charisma and style displayed by Barack almost shifted focus from Kerry himself. Political pundits and observers, who were already cynical about the stumbling Kerry campaign, proclaimed Obama as the new boy wonder and predicted a great future. No one then expected him to clinch the nomination just four years later. It would have been just too early. And of course Hillary Clinton’s name had already started doing the rounds for 2008 and a black first time senator stopping the Clinton juggernaut was too farcical to even imagine. But the die had been cast a bit before 2004. In 2003 when Bush laid his plans to attack Iraq before the country, the populace was sharply divided and in retrospect Obama chose the right side. Hillary supported it. McCain vociferously supported it. Obama did not. This foresight put Obama and his sense of judgment several notches above all other more qualified candidates and proved to be his primary way of distinguishing himself from the rest four years later.
Obama is not the first black politician who gained prominence on the national stage and nor is he the first one with sights on the White House. In recent years Rev Jesse Jackson and Rev Al Sharpton have tried and lost. Colin Powell fiddled with the idea before accepting the Secretary of State carrot. And there have been a half a dozen other before them. But Obama’s candidacy has been very different from all previous one for he has successfully avoided the death trap of all black leaders- being type cast as a leader of the African-Americans. Obama ensured that none of his actions or efforts would be painted as being community specific. He went out of his way to court the whites and the Hispanics and chided any voice from within his own community who asked him to focus his attention only on his people. Speeches where he literally scolded black fathers for not being responsible enough about their parental duties may have made him seem patronizing but brought him closer to the whites who felt that there was no bias or any sense of historical prejudice in him. Obama never came across as one out to right the wrongs of the past on behalf of his community.
The biggest asset which caused Obama’s meteoric rise is his oratory. In a short span of 5-6 years Obama has left behind himself a slew of tremendous speeches which will continue to inspire generations. Whether it’s his key-note address in 2004 or his candidacy proclamation on the historic steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, he has held his audience in total rapture by his deft use of words and statesman like body language. He has made a habit of coming out of very tight spots with speeches of remarkable clarity, honesty and forthrightness. Let’s take the Jeremiah Wright issue as an example. In the middle of his historic fight with Hillary Clinton, videos of his pastor Jeremiah Wright surfaced condemning America and her policies. The event had all the ingredients to ensure an early end to Obama’s campaign. Here was a black pastor denouncing the country and the whites and Barack didn’t even utter a single word of condemnation. Showing amazing boldness, Obama refused to condemn the man and in turn came out with one of the most unforgettable speeches in recent American history. He dealt with the race relations in the US and how he views it through the prism of his unique background of having a white mother and a black father.
Obama’s fight for the democratic nomination was a much more complex and difficult affair than his current run for presidency. Hillary Clinton had been fashioning herself as the next president of the United States for quite a while. Here actions since becoming a senator all indicated where her ambitions lay. And the democrats were not sad about it. In the middle of the horrendous Bush years, the Clinton brand rose in its net worth. Democrats repeatedly got nostalgic about the prosperous Clinton years and were getting ready to nominate Hillary even if it meant Bill Clinton would wield powers again but by proxy. Quite a few expected Obama to run too. But it was supposed to be a dry run for a more serious attempt four years later. After all he had spent just four years in the senate and was the least experienced when compared to the seven other candidates. So when he announced his candidacy at the very place Abraham Lincoln had given his ‘House Divided’ speech, he had started out as the classic underdog.
The initial arrogance of the Clinton campaign helped Obama to quietly put his plan his place. He was already very popular among the democratic voters for his unique background and ability to inspire. He publicly refused to take donations from any lobbyists and interests groups and said his campaign would run only on the generosity of the individual donors. This unprecedented step endeared Obama towards the middle class in particular and the money flowed in. Just on the basis of very small amounts from individual donors Obama managed to raise 35m dollars in his first month. For the record that juggernaut had continued to roll since then and he raised 150m dollars last month, a record. A steady source of money proved to be a big boon for the campaign and it also gave early indications that people were considering Obama more seriously as president than the experts would like to believe. 2007 saw one debate after another among all the candidates. Obama held his own in all of them but made no significant dent in Hillary’s popularity. National polls showed Hillary with a seemingly unbeatable lead over Obama. The main issues hampering Obama were the facts that he was less experienced and absolutely no one believed that in spite of his popularity he could ever stop the Clinton monster truck. Then Iowa happened.
The Iowa caucus was the first event in the Democratic primaries and it happened on 3rd January, 2008. Obama scored an emphatic win, followed by John Edwards with Hillary a poor third. These results changed the course of the whole race. The Obama campaign proudly proclaimed that they had proved everyone wrong by actually showing that they can win and that too in such a resounding manner. Somehow the fact that Obama can win projected him in a very different light. All this while he was this brilliant leader who could sway the masses but was not equipped to stop much more formidable and experienced opponents. That myth lay in pieces and the nation rallied behind him in an instant. His numbers started climbing in the national polls and was within striking distance of Hillary. The Clinton campaign, rattled by Iowa finally realized the brilliance of Obama’s grassroots tactics and how he had reached out to so many people in such an effective manner.
Then started the most fascinating primary race USA had ever seen. It was undoubtedly more gripping than the eventual presidential race itself as Obama clinched one victory after another with Clinton barely managing to keep up. The Clinton campaign kept claiming that on Super Tuesday when 22 states would have their primaries together, Hillary would wrap up the nomination belying any initial gain made by Obama. But that didn’t happen. Obama’s new found ability to win propelled him to surpass Clinton on Super Tuesday too. This was the last straw and from then on it was just a count till when Clinton would feel it is no longer possible to clinch the nomination. Sensing the sudden change in fortunes, noted democrats made a beeline for Obama leaving Clinton further in the lurch.
The presidential race have seen a much more mellow and cautious Obama. The race has since been more characterized by the McCain campaigns gaffes and Sarah Palin’s comedic rhetoric than anything else. Obama’s conduct and campaign has been so proper that the infamous Republican propaganda campaign could find absolutely nothing from his history to attack him with. In all the three debates with McCain he came out as a calm, collected and person keen on bridging divisions. He refuted his own liberal credentials by adopting a more central path on key issues like gun control, abortion and gay rights hency by ensuring the conservatives do not fear his presidency. Obama’s performance as a first time senator may not have been amazing but he was always found at the right place at the right time. Whether it is framing bills on climate change and nuclear terrorism or supporting checks on federal spending, he had smartly positioned himself as a leader with a sense of acute awareness of all the important issues. He has also managed to successfully dent McCain’s foreign policy and security credentials by insisting repeatedly that security will always be top priority for him and by crafting bills for the welfare of the armed forces.
The story of Barack Obama has been fascinating and that made him a darling of the press. The media had a good hand in creating the perception of Obama as a new-age prophet who has come to rescue the country from a terrible morass of insecurity and economic downturn. If current national polls are anything to go by Obama should cruise to a comfortable victory. The world is waiting with bated breath for the results of this extraordinary election and is wondering whether America can yet again prove to the world that it continues to be the land of opportunity in spite of being on the brink of losing its sole super power status. Barack Obama knows that a story like his is possible only in the United States and does not shy away from reiterating it again and again. His ways of reaching out to all sections and striving for unity has involved the whole population in a political process they had begun to lose faith in. No one is expecting dramatic changes in their lives and neither does Obama’s record as a senator show him as one who would change things forever. But people do believe Obama is the only one in the current vitiated atmosphere who can try and brig the USA back to a standing it enjoyed in the pre-Bush years.
Ten years since IIT and all that - In Dec last year, I attended the tenth year reunion at IIT. Technically it will be this year that I will be completing my ten years since graduation but ...