strategies for a developing world…

And Now Comes the Character Test

profile3_obama Now that Hillary Clinton has made it known that she’s winding down her campaign, will not take the fight for the nomination to the Democratic Convention and that she will formally endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy, now comes the character test. Has Obama demonstrated that he has the leadership qualities that America desperately needs at this juncture? Yes. Does he have the capacity to match wits with Senator John McCain? More than enough in my opinion (full disclosure: back in the early 90s, I debated Sen. McCain on the matter of US policy towards Haiti more than once and I don’t put much stock in his debating skills). Can he build party unity, infuse the electorate with a sense of purpose, and get it to understand that the stakes are bigger than one individual’s aspirations? Yes.

I am not referring to the content of his character. The question is whether voters can really see beyond the skin color of both Obama and McCain to base their decision on the content of their character. Will voters be able to pass their own character test?

Obama’s ascendance to the leadership of the Democratic Party is being celebrated as an historic first: the first African-American to be the nominee of a major political party in the US. Undoubtedly, he brings pride to African-Americans, and to other people of color who faced and continue to face discrimination and segregation, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I confess that I am very much aware at all times that I am seen as a black man first, or the black (Haitian) man who is the exception (that confirms the rule). So I also confess that his rise gives me pride as well.

However, as Obama himself has tried to point out subtly at the Xcel Convention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, he is neither white nor black: he’s a mutt. His first thank you went to his maternal grandmother. I get the feeling that had she been able to travel from Hawaii, he would have been sandwiched on the stage between her, and his wife Michelle. And that would have made for quite a symbol.

As much as the candidates may try to downplay the race issue, I am afraid that racism is still too deeply entrenched in America for it to not be a factor in the presidential contest. It’s been clear that Sen. Clinton tried to come back from the Super Tuesday shock of Obama’s victories by playing up the race card with the “white” working class. She did that, because most people still seem to not have reconciled with the fact that the blood that runs through everyone’s veins is simply made up of red and white blood cells. And that if one needs a blood transfusion, what matters is that the blood types are compatible, not that the blood itself is drawn from a man or woman from Mongolia, South Africa, Haiti, Canada, Norway, China or the US.

The worse part in this scheme is not that people are unable to leave behind their race-based biases or prejudices. I believe that they can. The worse part is that the pundits and reporters whose cacophony reverberates through the media may not let go of the race card. It’s just too juicy for the ratings.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe, just maybe, most Americans will take their cue from Obama’s leadership and force the talking-heads to stop the verbiage in order to focus on the challenges that we face together as citizens and immigrants, today and tomorrow.

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4 Responses

  1. Bahamas is for Obama. If Obama was running an international campaign he would win hands down.

  2. I see that your articles are drawing some very educated feedback from your readers. Congratulations once again on your observations and putting them into words so eloquently.
    As for me, I’m very optimistic, with a tad of apprehension for the very reasons you stated in your article, that our president will be Obama. The waive of support and passion I’m witnessing for Obama is unprecedented and we’ve got 5 more months to build on this momentum. I believe this will also give us enough time to sway the majority of the upset Hilary supporters Obama’s way, although we may not get them all back. This country is in a strange mood right now and a lot of issues to deal with, principally the economy, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and several other pockets throughout the rest of the world. The time is right for Obama because he gives the message of hope and unity we all so desperately need. And he delivers the message like a true statesman.

  3. We are not in Europe where rampant racisms still exist! Obama can win the presidency and this will hinge on the kind of campaign Obama and his team launches. I have noticed Obama make great strides in communities he wasn’t supposed to win. As Obama travels around the country, meeting people, discussing the issues in townhall meetings, people get to know the real Obama. He also has to choose the right VP and I would much prefer to see him offer the position to someone with a military and foreign affairs background who knows the issues very well (Webb or Clark). We have to be realistic… there are still racists in this country who have not evolved with the changing time… he will probably not win these people over who are stuck in their ways. Nevertheless, if Obama is able to bring in the hispanic and jewish votes, and stick to the looming crisis at hand, the war, economy, healthcare, and education reforms, he should be able to become the next US President. I should also add getting the Clintons’s support – not by words – but their actions!

  4. JMC – Nice piece as usual…The test has actually already started and we’re getting very close to its results…
    The race card is meaningful but fortunately to a declining few…as it midly affected Obama’s ascent….I am observing a more thoughtful voter this time around as well…One who hasn’t casted a final vote in favor of patience and caution…Most of the voters have registered as independent, the very group that has catapulted Obama to his current position. I also consider the large number of independent voters a weak sign for republicans given Obama this time is the alternative. In states where Obama won the primaries (i.e. the majority of states), data I have downloaded today (I am on vacation)show that Obama even got a larger number of votes than McCain did. The republicans haven’t shown any sign of change of the status quo. McCain looks to me a replica of GW Bush in his idiotic and narrow-minded views. While making Obama the next U.S. president appears idiosyncratic, 16 years of the Bush/McCain combo is even a worst alternative…
    We should never underestimate the power of ignorance and its prejudices…and McCain might just swing by just because he exists.


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