Obama: a Naive?
By Dr. Imran Khalid
The American presidential race is perhaps the most enthralling and riveting political drama on the planet, attracting the attention of billions of people across the globe. And this long drama starts gripping the globe at least two years before the actual schedule of the presidential contest that has over the years evolved into a sort of soap with all kinds of glamour, artificial suspense, comedy and shoddy adventure.
Without going into the debate over the factors responsible for turning this extremely serious exercise into a “soap opera” or “reality show,” one thing can be said with certainty that both the Republicans and Democrats are equally credited for this trend. However, there is still a very positive thing about this evolution and that is the opening up of more opportunities for even relatively “naive” political entities to have a shot at the White House. Now it has become a tradition to see an array of presidential hopefuls with diverse backgrounds ? adding the real colors to the whole show. This time, too, we are witnessing a similar parade of some 28 presidential aspirants, but only a handful of them are being considered as definite candidates. Barack Obama, the charismatic and outspoken senator from Illinois, is indubitably one of the most potential Democrats with a serious chance to become the first African-American to win the presidency. His outspoken demeanor and blunt style have made him one of the most talked-about political personalities in the American media. In a very short time, he has emerged as a real challenger to long-time, front-runner Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, who was expected to become the Democrat candidate without much competition.
Obama, a first term senator, is new to US national politics but has been trying hard to distinguish himself by his stern opposition to the Iraq war. In fact, he has shrewdly used his lack of political experience as the main differentiating point to attract the American voters. “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I have been there long enough to know the ways of Washington must change,” he said while officially announcing his bid for presidency. Obama’s rise to prominence is phenomenal, particularly when seen against his compelling biography - son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, his childhood was spent in Hawaii and Indonesia.
For a White House aspirant, this biography is rather “disturbing” which is taking its toll on Obama. His racial identity is the subjected of heated debate in the American media and almost all the leading channels and newspapers are indulged in a sort of “category search” for him. Being biracial, he is neither categorized as white nor black. And being son of a recent immigrant, the African-American community does not consider him to be one of them. He is facing a serious “category crisis” that may hamper his chances. Contrary to the general assumption that blacks would support a black candidate, recent polls suggest that black voters favor Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin over Barack Obama. His dissected cultural and racial identity does not make him “black enough” to win the support of African-American community, which has high regards for former President Bill Clinton’s conscious efforts to heal the racial wounds in America.
This category crisis is perhaps the most disturbing aspect for Obama, who, otherwise, is considered to be a fresh face with fresh ideas to give the institution of presidency the much-needed upfront honesty. Tired of persistent disinformation about the Iraq war and other issues, today’s American voters, more than anything else, want their president to frankly tell them the truth and admit his mistakes. Gaining national recognition after the publication of his two bestselling books, “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope”, Obama has successfully cultivated the image of a forward-looking, openminded and bluntly honest person who has yet to learn the “tricks” of the trade ? creating curiosity among the Americans about his credentials as a relatively in-experienced politician.
This is the plus point that is distinguishing him from the lot. At the same time, his campaign strategy of extreme opposition to the Iraq war is likely to yield positive results for him. His continuous, blunt attacks on Hillary Clinton’s ambiguous Iraq policy has pushed her into a tight corner and she is showing signs of frustration over the debate on her vote for the Iraq operation in 2003. Today, however, she is loudly regretting her earlier support for the Iraq war and vowing to retract the Americans troops there, but the fact is that Obama has managed to smartly overplay this issue to his advantage. Being the youngest among all the contenders for the presidency - he is just 45 - Obama has the potential to make it to the Oval Office one day. He is naive but fresh, blunt, straightforward and young.
Time is on his side. Even if he fails to make it this time, he can build the momentum in the coming years to give the American presidency a new look and vision. He is talking about reshaping the economy for the digital age, generously investing in education, protecting employee rights, expanding health insurance coverage, alleviating poverty, weaning America from foreign oil and countering terrorism while restructuring global alliances. This is a fairly attractive agenda that can win Obama the presidency.
The writer is a freelance columnist and political commentator based in Karachi, Pakistan.