Thursday, January 18, 2007

Barack to the future?

Barack Obama, US Senator from Illinois, has announced the formation of a Presidential Exploratory Committee. It’s probably the first step in announcing he’s running for US President in 2008. If nominated by the Democratic Party and elected by American voters, he would be the first African-American President.

Few would argue with him when he said in his announcement:

Challenging as they are, it’s not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most. It’s the smallness of our politics. America's faced big problems before. But today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions.

Let me disclose my biases: Actually, I can’t think of any—I have an open mind about his candidacy. Even though I’m
Illinois born and bred and spent many years in Chicago, none of that makes me any more or any less likely to support him. But neither am I prepared to fall in behind his candidacy, at least not yet.

The right wing is flapping around, saying he’s too “inexperienced” to be President. And that’s important why, exactly? George Bush/Dick Cheney were both “experienced”, yet they’ll go down in history as having run the worst presidency in American history—and the most incompetent. In their case, clearly “experience” was meaningless.

The far right also accuses Obama of being an “extremist liberal”. Yeah, right—as if there was such a thing in mainstream American politics. Putting aside the fact that the American Right uses “liberal” like their parents once used the word “communist”, the fact is that Bush and especially Cheney are “extremist conservatives,” and look what a disaster they’ve been. Let’s try something different so we can have different results.

I could point out that another skinny man from
Illinois entered the White House with no executive experience, yet Abraham Lincoln is widely regarded as one of the best US Presidents. Ironically, when he ended slavery Lincoln helped set the wheels in motion for an Obama presidential campaign to be taken seriously.

Obama isn’t
Lincoln, of course. He may not be great—he may not even be simply “good”. There are things that make me uncomfortable about him, like his strongly religion-oriented view of things. But he also opposed Bush’s Iraq War before it began, unlike every other Democratic candidate for president.

In his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama summed up the traditional values of the Democratic Party:

Alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.*

The Republican Party doesn’t believe those same things, even if sometimes it tries to make people think it does. In that same speech, Obama also talked about what makes the Democratic view of politics different from Bush and his Republicans:

There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. Wecoach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people…*

In time, we’ll see if this rhetoric is backed up by substance. And, we’ll see if Americans are finally ready to see beyond the colour of a person’s skin.

To be honest, I have concerns about my fellow Americans. In the 1986 Illinois Democratic Primary Election, two followers of a right wing political extremist with “normal” names defeated two Democrats with “foreign sounding” names. Can a man with the name “Barack Hussein Obama” succeed in a land ripped apart by divisions caused by Karl Rove and the rest of the Bushies?

The neocons will work overtime to discredit Obama. And, maybe he doesn’t have what it takes to mount a successful campaign, much less be president. But whoever is nominated, and whoever is elected, I’m hoping it will fulfil the closing sentiment of Obama’s 2004 speech: “Out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.”

*Quotes from Obama's 2004 speech taken from the 2004 Democratic National Convention Official Site,
www.dems2004.org, no longer in operation.

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