strategies for a developing world…

One Haitian’s Primary Thoughts on Obama

Barak ObamaToday is the day when Barack Obama moves decisively to claim the leadership of the Democratic Party. He is expected to set the stage for the presidential contest in a speech tonight at the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. In doing so, he will be saying to John McCain, his Republican opponent “you can run, but you can’t hide!”

Back in the days when it was not at all clear that Obama would even get past Super Tuesday, February 5th when several primaries were held at once and Clinton was thought to have the organizational, financial and political advantage, I wrote the following to a couple of friends who had decamped to Europe, awaiting the American Spring:

Not much going on in Maplewood. Obviously Bush’s economy is unraveling fast, laying bare the underpinnings of a weak presidency, sustained only by the fear and hatred of the other… So, unless the Democrats manage to screw it up badly, the White House and Congress are theirs for the asking.

I voted for Obama in the [NJ] primary, because of my distaste for dynasties, whether it be a Clinton dynasty, a Bush dynasty or a Duvalier dynasty. They stifle the democratic debate and insure a lock hold for the very few, what we would call the establishment. This said, I have followed the reporting on Obama, but not really took the time to listen to his speeches, read his musings, or watch the debates. Until this last Thursday when he squared off against Hillary. Frankly I thought that Hillary did slightly better than Obama in handling the questions and the responses. Her biggest liability has and will be Bill. My suspicion is that most Americans didn’t think that Bill should have been given the 3rd degree over the Monica affair, but generally believe that he’s pompous, arrogant and ass… who exploits people to his own end. Obama is new and more attractive. He’s a mutt: neither white nor black, although the 1% rule is used as the measuring stick still in 21st century America. In any case, if my logic holds, he’s got 2 things going for him: a) the presidency remains a man’s job in the eye of most people — not easy to go from gun slinging Bush/Cheney to the female touch; b) women had an easier time breaking down barriers and glass ceilings once Blacks brought them down, so Blacks deserve a first shot at running the White House.

With respect to an Obama presidency, there may be nothing to fear but fear itself. Yet, to run for the presidency, one must have an outsized ego. When people turn to adulation, there comes a sense of infallibility that carries one to victory, but cannot compensate for thoughtful management of a government. Having witnessed the rise of charismatic leaders who managed to screw things up (Aristide), and renege on their commitments once in power (Clinton), I am a little bit weary of promises that will be impossible to keep. As in, “we’ll start withdrawing the troops from Iraq in 60 days…” — in this case by the way McCain is getting a bum rap from Democratic diehards… looks to me that the US may have to send troops to Pakistan too…

The next time I caught up with Obama, Hillary Clinton was on the ropes, working feverishly to save her campaign by achieving victory in the Pennsylvania primary. The press had seized on comments made by the Rev. Wright about the United States, the oppression of African-Americans and a whole slew of things that I will not go into here since they’ve been discussed ad infinitum. The silly equation “Wright = Obama, Obama = Wright” was the only thing that pundits, reporters, commentators talked about, I guess in a way to gain as much attention as possible in order to sell their worth as media buys. There stood Obama before a lectern and television cameras, with a promise to address the issue head on. And out came one of the finest speeches I heard about racism (honest, lucid and forward-looking), getting over its legacy and moving on to build bridges. Listening to the speech, I was amazed that he articulated the issue so clearly and that it did not seem to matter to him that such a speech could derail his entire campaign. What seemed to matter is that he spoke truth to power. “He is the real thing,” said Jocelyn to McCalla. And McCalla agreed, even though he still wearied of the ego.

I sincerely hope that, after winning the primaries tonight, he goes on winning the national elections, and that he keeps the promise of speaking truth to power.

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4 Responses

  1. It took me a long time to get on board the Obama campaign. At first, I had simply resolved to defend Obama’s right to be in the race for the White House, as a fully-accredited U.S. citizen, irrespective of race. To me, that was the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream of a nation where the content of a man or a woman’s character should be determining of his or her opportunities, including that of becoming the President of the United States. That Obama is an African-American, that he is of “mixed race” or whatever they wish to consider him is indeed a significant factor in the modern-day civil rights movement in the United States, but I would entirely agree that this in itself does not qualify him to become the President of the United States. It would take much more than that.

    My resolve to support Obama fully started to take shape when he delivered his major speech on racial relations in this country. Why, you might say? Well, that was the point when I realized that Barack Obama was truly interjecting in the race a new tone, strikingly different from the prevailing one of intimidation and fear of mushroom clouds; oft-repeated lies and deception; evasion and stonewalling; complete submission to Washington’s supposed benevolent dictatorship (read as follow: “we know terror; we know best how to use terror to combat terror, as we have the supreme ability to match terror tactics with deadlier shock-and-awe tactics of our own; we may also violate your civil liberties at will because we only seek to protect you; furthermore, any resistance on your part will only land you on a list of terror suspects”); and finally, willful isolation (“God is on our side, and we don’t give a damn as long as we survive”).

    I saw high school kids, college kids, recent immigrants and other ordinary folks being swept by the new dynamics of this political season like no other. I realized that this election is not truly about Obama but about the Obama generation. This election is not truly about Obama but about us. This could be a generational sweep. This could be an affirmation of who we want to be as a nation and a telling rejection of who we no longer want to be: a nation polarized by racism, cultural intolerance, and crude worship of power (financial and military). I saw Obama, imperfect as he may be, as the embodiment of their aspirations. And I had to ask myself: Why not?

    Once again, this is way bigger than Obama. This is our historical rendezvous and we would be remiss not to be present when it really mattered. Sure, it might have been more satisfying to me to vote for Dennis Kucinich because he represents my positions better on the ideological scale. But what is the point really? This is a moment in time when I and others like me can be (or as close as we might otherwise ever be) in a position of power: the power to transform our political environment; not absolute power, not even dominant power, but the power of being in a position where we can create changes and where our voices will no longer be repressed or simply ignored.

    So, as Obama traverses the political minefield that lesser-skilled politicians would not survive, I have to remind myself of all the reactionary forces that are arrayed against him and how he must also play their game in order to remain electable. Surely, he has disappointed me in a number of areas, such as: a) his obligatory tough line on Castro in lieu of pledging unequivocally to lift all travel restrictions, and the dictatorship-boosting economic embargo that never worked as intended in the first place, because the rest of the world does not follow it, for good reason; b) his obligatory surrender to the supremacist interests of the pro-Israeli lobby, because… he would otherwise torpedo his chances; c) his obligatory signal to the military complex that he is “a man with testicular fortitude”, as in his reference to “the good war” in Afghanistan, an oxymoron if I ever heard one; d) his perhaps not so obligatory vote on the FISA bill granting retroactive immunity from civil prosecution to the Telecom companies for their illegal wiretapping of ordinary Americans, simply because Bush and Cheney demanded it.

    At this point though, we have to be pragmatic and count our blessings: Obama offers greater hope on a sensible and comprehensive immigration policy (that used to be McCain’s greatest selling point, but he betrayed it for aligning himself with the forces of fear and intolerance). Obama projects himself as someone who is really interested to know other viewpoints before doing the macho thing about being the greatest military superpower ever with license to kill and obliterate others as pleases him or as benefits corporate structures in a shortsighted kind of way.

    Obama, not for Obama, but Obama for you and me, for our children and grand-children so they have a better chance of sorting out this mess we have created or let others create by our inaction. Obama, not for Obama, but Obama for living without the yoke of oppression imposed by the Bush-Cheney cabal in Washington D.C. and the designated inheritor of their policies, Senator John McCain.

    Ask yourself, whom would you trust to choose the next person(s) to be on the Supreme Court of the United States: Barack Obama or John McCain? To me, the answer is a shut eye slam dunk. What about you?

    Will Obama solve all or most of our problems? Not automatically, not by a long shot! ONLY WE CAN. But I assure you that with Obama as President of the United States, we will have a better footing from which to address our problems than if we continue to be governed by the SAME “neoconservative” pro-imperialist policies that have absolutely ravaged the standards of living and reasonable expectations of not only U.S. citizens but those of World citizens everywhere.

    For those trusting Obama to do all the right things at every turn, they will surely be disappointed. First of all, the man will have to be the President of all Americans and manage all of their expectations. That is a job that I do not envy.

    For those of us however, who realize that this may represent a historic change for a more enlightened leadership in the U.S. with the opportunity for us to wash our dirty linen, not all at once since our washing machine (the government) does not offer us that option or simply does not have that gigantic capacity, but with enough small change (we have to put it in) to produce loads and loads of clean laundry to make the world willing to accompany us on the way to saving this planet from utter destruction, there is simply no other choice. The brand is Obama. The agents of change are you and me.

  2. Juny: I agree with Marcel and her take on the way you analyze issues. Remember Guantanamo, refugees and Aristide, you were right on the money. I thought Obama would go places after monitoring his run for the US Senate, but did not think that America would see, hear and understand him the way chicagoans did.

  3. Juny: once again, you are very eloquent in analyzing the situation and in delivering your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Love your choice of words.

  4. I couldn’t say it better myself. I totally agree wit you on the speech that he gave about racism.
    S. Mc Calla

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