I am not following the tedious presidential campaign in the USA very closely. I only pay attention when I feel a disturbance in the force. That is, when something momentous, or seemingly momentous, has occurred. Everyone has been weighing in on Obama's surge as a very real candidate. I don't have much to say about him so I'll bring a few quotes I found on the Internet. It is a mixture of quotes from well known journalists and posters on blogs and message boards:
All this easy talk about being a "uniter" and not a "divider" is piffle if people are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I have been droning on for months about how Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about the flat-out racist background of his own church, and about how Huckabee has shown in public that he does not even understand the first thing about a theory—the crucial theory of evolution by natural selection—in which he claims not to believe. Many Democrats are with me on this, but they go completely quiet when Sen. Obama chooses to give his allegiance to a crackpot church with a decidedly ethnic character. (Hitchens, here)
Obama is the opposite of a polarizing figure (and maybe we could use that in the White House). He has a keen and sympathetic understanding of competing positions. He is a Democrat who actually understands economics and the needs of business. He has a stunning intelligence (and maybe we could use that in the White House). He promises to go beyond the decreasingly relevant conflicts of the 1960s and the 1990s. He is a specialist in constitutional law (and maybe we could use that in the White House). On issues ranging from health care to climate change, his policy proposals are careful and pragmatic. (Cass Sunstein, here)
So back to Obama, It’s clear that if he becomes president, the USA will be a safer place for it’s people and the World will be a nicer place for everyone else, because this man has the perfect image of a good diplomat! In some way, he is the Nelson Mandela of the USA….he is the candidate of Moderation , the colour of his skin isn’t a major part of his campaign ( as opposed to Jesse Jackson in the past) , he just happens to be a Candidate who is black and not a Black who is a candidate! …. (From the Good Neigbours blog)
Yes, success to Obama! Genocide to the Kurds! Iraq-turned-Rwanda! Nuclear-armed Iran! USA as a Socialist Utopia in the model of Cuba, China, USSR, Cambodia, Venezuela! Al Qaeda getting nuclear weapons! Complete and unconditional surrender to Islamism!
Vote Obama - for Peace in Our Time! (From the Good neighbours blog)
Obama is a communist and a black supremicist. If elected he will bring disaster to America. (Here)
I don't think Obama is good looking at all. He has blue lips. Ugh. I could never vote for someone with blue lips. I am going to force myself though because aside from his looks I have more confidence that, despite his lack of experience, he will be able to accomplish more because as has been said over and over, Hillary has too much baggage and not of her creating. She has been put in a choke hold because the republicans started going after the Clintons with all their guns from the first day her husband took office and continue to do so with her. They will do the same from day one if she is nominated and wins the election. (From an occasional unwitting contributor to my blog...)
Some of the explanation of Obama's success lies in his background, as well as in the rapidly changing ethnic landscape of America. Though he describes himself as "black", is married to a black woman and was converted to Christianity in a black church, Obama represents something more complicated.
He is the son not of African-Americans but of an African - a Kenyan student - and a white woman from Kansas. He spent part of his childhood in Jakarta with his Indonesian stepfather, part in exotic (even for most Americans) Hawaii, and much time with his Midwestern family
He studied at Occidental College on the West Coast and at Harvard Law School, breeding ground of the East Coast establishment. Then he worked as a community organiser in Chicago.
Many discounted Obama on the grounds of weirdness alone. He was not a mainstream white candidate, nor - in the minds of some black leaders - a "real" black American. Coming from Hawaii and Indonesia by way of Harvard and Chicago, he could not be geographically pigeonholed. And conventional wisdom decreed that no one whose middle name is "Hussein" could possibly win an election in middle America. (Anne Applebaum)
"I've always been a Christian," said Obama, focusing on his own personal lack of practice of Islam as a child to deny any connection to Islam. But Muslims do not see practice as key. For them, that he was born to a line of Muslim males makes him born a Muslim. Further, all children born with an Arabic name based on the H-S-N trilateral root (Hussein, Hassan, and others) can be assumed to be Muslim, so they will understand Obama's full name, Barack Hussein Obama, to proclaim him a born Muslim. (from the Machiavellian Daniel Pipes)
With all these opinions in mind, (Obama's blue lips made a special impression), I came to the conclusion that there appears to be a longing among Americans to generate a little love for themselves in the world and they think they can achieve that by showing to the world that they can elect a black president, whose middle name is Hussein, and who was in fact born into a Muslim (though secular) family. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but there has not been a black elected head of state in any of the Western countries, so Americans may be feeling that to be the first democratic, Western, largely-white country to elect a black man would help restore their tarnished image to its former glinting surface (though I suspect that had never been the case anyway).
It may be a version of “some of my best friends are…” writ large.
Anyway, Hollywood has been conditioning Americans for years to the very real possibility of a black president ("24" is a prime example), so the leap from fiction to reality all of a sudden seems very reasonable, not even a leap, just a small step...
He is indeed an attractive candidate. I take Sunstein's endorsement of his integrity and decency very seriously. And, as David Brooks said in what I suspect is going to become a staple of Obama's campaign:
And Americans are not going to want to see this stopped. When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?
I only wish all this was happening four or eight years from now. A man wants to be elected for what he is, not for who he is not.
I think Oliver Kamm, with his usual linguistic thrift and acumen, manages to describe exactly the reaction to Obama: an admiration for his brilliance as well as a certain trepidation:
I am apprehensive of the foreign policy inexperience of Obama and dismayed at his belief in unconditional direct talks with the leaders of rogue states. But he is a world (or rather, a generation) away from the politics of literally embracing autocrats, as Jackson did to Castro. You can't gainsay the fact that his emergence as a power in the Democratic Party is symbolic in an entirely admirable sense.
Anonymous left a comment which is worth posting here:
If the resonance of Kennedy idealism hovers over the Obama candidacy,(and for those of us old enough to have experienced it firsthand, it surely does,) it is because it reminds not just us Americans, but the rest of the world, what the very concept of America as a unique abstraction is. How else to understand the melted cynicism of the media as they cover him, the empowering effect on people so different from each other? Obama's the product and embodiment of a certain experience-- Everyman as American. He's an "America" not exportable, but essential--not the "old world," not the America of manufactured goods and services, which so easily can be outsourced and duplicated elsewhere, but the epitome and symbol of a kind of life that has always lived in our historical imaginations and in the eye, heart, and mind of the rest of the world. I mean no national hubris by this-- but observe that we Americans, and others as well, have become so weighted down with complexities and insolubles that we suicide ourselves on such a grand scale, politically, intellectually, environmentally, and emotionally, that we seem to have willingly chosen politically assisted suicide......
Obama reminds there is another way-- an opportunity to embrace life.
A dialectic is a controversy, that is, the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments, of thesis and antithesis. The outcome of such an exchange does not have to be refutation a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue. I'm using this term because my friend's comment seems to embody the two perspectives I was trying to articulate: That of Americans looking outwardly, and that of Americans looking inwardly. What I sense is a somewhat incongruent hope that Obama will manage to make America look better and act better by being both cosmopolitan and isolationist.
Speaking of "Another way" of "embracing life" is the kind of language one hears from the evangelicals. And it's not a coincidence that this seems to be exactly the effect that Obama is having on his admirers. They compare him to Martin Luther King!
I am suspicious of such messianic longings. And in my experience, people who can weave magic with words are the least equipped to act in accordance with the lofty sentiments they espouse. The fact remains that Obama lacks experience and does not offer concrete solutions. And no service is done to him by this sort of adulation. The ancient Romans used to show respect to their Caesars by endowing them with divinity.
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Tuesday, January 08, 2008