Friday, May 9, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

'There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and latino America and asian America - there's the United States of America.'-Barack Obama

Barack Obama has all but sealed the deal. And for the first time in America’s illustrious 231 year history, a major party will not send a white male to the presidential race. That he should emerge from the Democratic party never seemed in doubt, but in an election year where change is the theme, it cannot be more fitting that it is embodied by the son of a Kenyan immigrant with Muslim roots.

Tragic though it may be, Hillary Clinton’s inevitable coronation fell flat in the popular wave of support that has now landed Obama the nomination. It may have proven to be Hillary’s first and only shot at the nomination. What must be even more disheartening for her is Hillary’s calculated approach to it, refusing in 2004 to challenge the incumbent Bush 43 on the grounds of inexperience and being a first term junior senator from New York. Obama in 2008 is what Hillary could have been in 2004. The only difference is that he took the risk and challenged the mainstream thinking.

Now that the nomination is secured, she and her campaign have resorted to desperate tactics. They want to change the yardstick by which the nomination should be decided. In essence, they claim that she is the more electable than Obama and would pose a greater challenge to John McCain in the general election. What then, is the point of holding 54 primaries if, at the end of it all she assumes the ‘elitist’ position of telling the people that they don’t know what’s good for themselves and that superdelegates should decide the nomination.

Secondly, she is trying to have the votes in Michigan and Florida count, even though those states were forewarned about the consequences (ie. loss of 100% of their delegates at the DNC convention) of holding their primaries too early. At best, it is a dishonest way of adding to her delegate count since, following the rules as set down by the party, neither Obama nor Edwards campaigned in Florida and did not even have their names on the ballot in Michigan. It is exactly the kind of politics that Obama has denounced on the trail. It is a guttural, do-whatever-it takes, bring-down-whomever-gets-in-my-way politics that Americans seem to have found a way out of, through Obama.

And Obama himself, dogged lately by accusations of elitism and Rev. Wright, has emerged above the fray and positioned himself to become, if elected, perhaps the greatest statesmanesque president since Kennedy. And for good reason. His speeches inspire. His message is one of hope. It is, ironically, in the midst of change and a look to the future, a throwback to the past, where America was viewed as a nation of hope. Where dreams could be realized if one worked hard. Not the capitalistic mess that it has become, where health is in shambles, veterans are taken for a ride and spending is out of control. Obama is the voice of hope. He is the agent of change that people choose to believe in.

But he will have a myriad of challenges. He has to deal with a record deficit and an unpopular war. He will, if elected, for the first time in living memory and discounting the Cold War, inherit a battle that neither he nor his party initiated. And he may even have to battle more than John McCain leading up to the fall election.

Clinton is mortally wounded. The rising tide of young voters and widespread apathy for what passes as normal behaviour in Washington has denied her what she viewed was an entitlement. The Clinton brand is damaged. Bill has hurt his standing in the African American community. There seems to be no respite from the hemorrhage of supporters defecting to the Obama camp. Clinton will want another shot at the presidency. At 60, she probably will have only one more realistic chance, in 2012. And unless she plans to mount an insurgent campaign against an incumbent Obama, it would serve her better if McCain is elected this year to the White House. The impetus that she will gain should McCain fail to vastly improve on his predecessor will once again set in motion a much better prepared Clinton machine to assume the Presidency from what will more than likely be a one-term stint from McCain.

It is Obama’s Achilles’ heel. He may have won the nomination this time. But for all intents and purposes, it will be his only chance. He will either create the most significant bit of history since the abolition of slavery or will fade into the background as another ‘has run.’ It is a challenge and a tragedy for a man of 46. But it is the embodiment of the message that he has disseminated since he announced for the presidency. The message of hope. It is perhaps an indictment on American society as a whole that such a message should resonate so deeply. That things have gotten so bad that they see Obama as a knight in shining armor coming to rescue them. Moreover, foreign policy has been so bad that the world looks on, almost urging Americans not to screw this one up.

They are expectations that Obama will have to play down. Tangible change will not be immediate. In a world of mass media and the internet, he will be the most scrutinized president in history. Any faux pas will be pounced upon as evidence of inexperience and naivety. Success will bring the inevitable challenges, but more so, it will bring to an end the 20 year old Bush-Clinton dynasty. And unless Obama decides to offer Clinton the Vice Presidential post, it will be the first time in almost 24 years, that neither a Bush nor a Clinton would have their names on the ticket. It is this paradigm shift that will allow Obama to capitalize on the notion of change but it is also from such high levels of approval initially, that the only way to go would be down. It is almost surreal that Americans will know the result of their vote on Guy Fawkes day. In a fairytale world, it couldn’t be more perfect.

His rhetoric is almost flawless. His taglines are catchy and they resonate. He has risen above the challenges of name recognition versus the Clinton machine, to name vilification (Osama anyone?), to defending his religious affiliations. He has won the most states, the most votes and the most delegates. He has won the admiration and respect of millions. He is the presumptive nominee, despite the machinations of the Clinton campaign. And, for whatever it’s worth, he has my endorsement. America needs Barack Obama. The world needs Barack Obama. And for 12 hours on November 4th, 2008, if Americans vote with the courage of their convictions, audacious hope would have gotten a man elected to the most powerful position in the world.

'Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.'- Barack Obama

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