Sunday, February 11, 2007

Obama begins

US Senator Barack Obama is now officially a candidate for US President in 2008. He made his announcement at the old state capital building in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln called for an end to slavery, famously declaring “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

America now finds itself every bit as divided politically as it was in Lincoln’s day. Then, the issue was slavery; now, the issues are more varied. What they have in common is a kind of cynicism. In Lincoln’s day slavery was championed by those who had the most to lose by its elimination. Now, self-interest and/or self-righteousness drives much of the right wing, allowing them to rule a country that is nowhere near as cynical, as self-centred and certainly not as right wing as the Republican Party has become.

Can Obama become the first African-American president? It’s big ask, especially as the current front runner for the nomination of the Democratic Party is Hillary Clinton, who is trying to become the first female president. Chicago media reported that Obama will need to raise an obscene $US100 million before the end of 2007 just to be competitive with Clinton.

Primary election voters tend to be at the more extreme ends of party supporters (Democrats tend to be more liberal, Republicans more conservative, than party supporters generally). Obama may, then, have an easier time with some Democratic voters in the nomination process since many of these voters will be uncomfortable with some of Clinton’s more conservative views, as well as her initial support for Bush’s Iraq war, something Obama opposed from the beginning.

If his campaign is centred on bringing people together, as he has been saying, it could be just what’s needed to win not only the Democratic nomination, but the presidency itself. But there’s still a lot of work ahead of him.

There are plenty of other Democratic candidates in the race already, any one of whom could catch fire with voters. Still, the early lead of Hillary Clinton, and the undeniable popularity of Barack Obama, will make it more difficult for the other candidates.

My own guess is that well before the end of this year, it’ll be clearer who’s a serious contender for the nomination. Right now, my bet is that Obama will be one of them.

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