The surprise guest is not Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE). Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) announced at 3:00 AM on Saturday that he had picked his colleague as his traveling companion, aka Vice-Presidential nominee. They will be hitting the road together when the Democratic Convention ends on Thursday August 28 hoping to convince voters come November that the presidency of the United States should switch hands and not remain firmly in the Republican Party’s corner. They will be eating plenty of dinners together.
According to news reports and analysis, Obama settled on Biden because of his grasp and knowledge of foreign policy, given the 30 years he has spent on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, some of it as its Chairman. Leslie Gelb, of the Council on Foreign Relations calls him “quintessential pragmatic centrist realist,” according to politico.com.
I take away from reading up on Biden that he will be tough on the McCain ticket, compete with them on which team, Democrats or Republicans, can be tough on Russia, look into Russian Prime Minister Putin’s eyes and not blink first, challenge or tamper China’s rise to the top, mobilize troops if necessary to protect the United States’ strategic interests and wage the so-called war on terrorism. In short, Biden brings experience and continuity in dealing with emerging and decadent superpowers, major allies and foes.
He appears to bring less knowledge and experience in dealing with the developing world. For example, I could find little of substance with respect to Biden’s take on Haiti when in 1994 President Clinton decided to back with military might President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s determination to return to the office that was usurped by Haiti’s tin-can soldiers three years before. Neither could I detect much of an involvement nor a pronouncement beyond common rhetoric when President George Bush thought in 2004 that he could not appear to cave in to President Aristide’s threat of a surge in boat people and decided to remove him militarily from office.
Yet, beyond managing superpower issues, dealing successfully with the developing world may just be the bellwether of “change that we can believe in.” Which brings me to my initial question: Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Well, last week, Vanity Fair (Italian Edition) claimed to have found Obama’s long lost half-brother in Kenya… living in a makeshift “hut in a ramshackle town of Huruma on the outskirts of Nairobi,” according to The Telegraph, a British newspaper which goes on to lift the following quote from the magazine: “I live here on less than a dollar a month.” CNN sports the following story on George Obama.
Wow! It’s challenging enough for citizens of the United States to come to terms with the content of their character as they consider breaking with tradition and choosing between McCain and Obama, a man who fits nicely the notion of white (Caucasian, non-Hispanic) vs. a man who is neither white nor black, but stands at the multidimensional crossroads of ethnicity and culture that defines most Americans today. But bringing the developing world right at the doorstep of the White House could be just the issue that Obama’s opponents will seize on to argue that breaking with tradition (and Bush Administration policy) may not be in the voters’ best interests.
Vanity Fair’s find is already prime material for stoking derision and hatred by conservative talk radio hosts around the country as well as by the GOP, yet in progressive circles, nary a word. This is a problem and here is why:
- One ignores the problems of the developing world at one’s own perils. Hatred of the United States was bred and cultivated in ramshackle towns and hamlets across the world and in particular in Afghanistan where it fed the growth of Bin Laden and his ragtag band of unenlightened religious/nationalist fanatics, otherwise known as Al-Qaeda.
- The United States has devoted troops and trillions of dollars to winning the so-called war on terrorism in Iraq, yet it is no better off today than five years ago when it shocked and awed the Sadam Hussein regime into submission and vowed to promote American-style democracy throughout the Middle East.
- When the brother of a rather successful politician now on the verge of achieving a sea-change in US politics is found living in abject poverty, it’s embarrassing: it raises questions about the degree of compassion or the views held by that politician. It does not matter that George Hussein Onyango Obama is a half-brother whom Barack Obama met only twice in his life. It does not matter that he should not be held responsible for his late father’s philandering. It does matter however that Barack Obama has acknowledged his half-brother’s existence and his extended family connections in Kenya.
- Compassion is supposed to extend to next-of-kin and beyond that to the poorest amongst us, so that we can all be lifted up. If it is true that George is living on less than 1 dollar a month, it is entirely in his brother’s capacity to provide him with a lift that is 10, 20, 30 or 100 times that much without so much as one tiny speck of sweat falling from his eyebrow. Heck, any Obama supporter for that matter could do the good deed in his stead.
- Remittances from the developed world top bilateral and international aid to the developing world by quite a big margin according to studies produced by the International financial institutions. These remittances are THE lifeline for most of the world’s impoverished. Thus the issue of what kind of foreign aid policy will an Obama presidency portend for the developing world is very much what is at stake here through the meetup of George and Barack.
- Beyond that are the matters of class, and immigration. George and Barack may share common parentage but they are definitely not of the same class. Can the two co-exist or can the gaps between the two be reduced significantly? The most recent effort to develop a US immigration policy for the 21st century resulted in a stalemate. At issue was the family-preference system in force since the McCarren-Walter Act of the 1960s, the unauthorized immigrant population whose growth to 12 million has been fueled in part by the lack of capital investment in the developing world, and the US’ kneejerk response of building detention centers and prisons as the answer to its socio-economic frailties.
Guess who’s coming to dinner? You can bet that the McCain camp is going to jump on the lost half-brother angle to make sure that no one who looks like George Obama crosses the threshold of the White House at inauguration time. Failure by the Obama campaign to deal with the perceptions and issues identified above may well contribute to lowering its standing amongst the voters and facilitate a McCain surge.
Post-Scriptum: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was the title of a major feature film released in 1967 that dealt with the controversial subject of interracial marriage which had been illegal historically in most of the United States, and was still illegal in 17 Southern U.S. States up until June 12 of that year. For more on the film and the epoch, click on this wikipedia entry.