America grows up

A few days before the poll novelist Maya Angelou was quoted in the media as saying, “if he (Obama) wins, it means my country has agreed to grow up”. America has since ‘grown up’. What’s more,  the decisive mandate has given Americans reason to feel ten feet tall. As columnist Alexander Cockburn put it,  America is a country eager to stand tall once more in the eyes of other nations.  

In India and rest of the sceptical Third World, I belive,  Barack Obama has changed  the way see America. The Obama win made me feel the same way I did when Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa President.  David Frost anchoring the US election coverage for BBC put it in perspective  when he mentioned that not so long ago the blacks in the US couldn’t even get to vote. Today, a black has been elected President.

African-Americans who lived through the days when they were attacked for going to the poll were among the multi-racial multitude that turned out to hear the President-elect in Chicago on election night. Civil rights activist Rev. Jessie Jackson was moved to tears, as he stood there, in the crush of Obama enthusiasts. Another face in the crowd was celebrity  talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. The sight of such notables taking their pace in the crowd (I expected them to be on  stage) ought to have a humbling effect on our own busybodies who claim entitlement whereever they go. 

People fooled pollsters- they predicted a win, but not an  electoral  phenomenan .  The  Obama sweep meant that too many voters had dodged pollsters on their electoral preferences.  After the event, however,  we heard TV commentators saying what the poll reflected was “beyond belief and stranger than fiction”. It is reckoned that Obama has a larger mandate than any Democratic president-elect since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. 

In an earlier post, in July when the McCain-Obama race was getting closer I  referred to a  question that haunted the political minded in the US – ‘what, if Obama gets elected’.  Dick Morris, former Clinton aide, had made it his political mission to educate people on why they shouldn’t vote Obama. He wrote a book – Fleeced – cautioning those falling for Obama-speak. 

There is no dearth of the likes of Dick Morris, waiting for Obama to take a mis-step or make a wrong move, so that they could write an  I-told-you sequal to Fleeced. Within hours of his victory speech in Chicago came the first salvo from Cockburn, the First Post columnist.  He wrote, “Obama has pledged, if elected president, to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to  attack Pakistan’s sovereign territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden…A fresh start?”

Those familiar with Cockburn’s column don’t expect anything different from him.  But it doesn’t minimise the fact that Obama is in for a rough time; and his presidency would face critical scrutiny at every step of the way. And then, there is a sense of high expectations among the millions who got inspired by the man and his message.

Those close to him say that right through the campaign Obama kept asking them, “what, if I disappoint people”. The question, I guess, would keep haunting Obama during his presidency. As the first ever black president he has to be smarter than his critics and rivals; and has to work harder than anyone else in his position, in order to prove himself.

Obama made an impact during the campaign by transcending race.  America may have sent a resounding signal to rest of the world that it is ready for a black President. But the US is sill a long way from racial reconcilliation. What the Obama win has done is  pave the way for a public and open debate on unspoken racial fears and prejudices.  That Obama has happened in the US has given impetus to race relations and brought what many thought was a ‘mission implausible’ within the realms of possibility.

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4 Responses

  1. Yes, we Americans feel redeemed and proud. I being an immigrant having lived here for almost 40 years would love to think that this transformation is permanent and our ignominious past will be just a bad memory. Although we are moving in the right path, in terms of race relations, I am not about to declare victory yet. If this had happened under better economic conditions I would have felt very confident. The jury is still out there.

  2. A correction. It was not David Frost but David Dimbleby.

    Even among my black friends his victory raised mixed feelings. Obama is half-white and is not from the slave stock of the American deep South. In South African terms he is a ‘coloured’ The baptist Southern blacks, the ‘colour purple’ folks voted for Hillary Clinton during the primary. Jesse Jackson’s tears shows his hypocrisy considering his shameful outburst only a few weeks ago. The finacial tsunami changed the world in many ways and the Fed bail out and its aftermath changed the presidential race as well as the way America practices capitalism. The latter is more momentous than the former. Who would have thought Keynesian economics will rule, nationalisation will reign supreme. Hank Paulson had to swallow hard before
    brandishing the $700 billion bail out. That was indeed the turning point in American history, the throwback to Roosevelt’s1930s.

    The 1930s protectionaism is a very strong possibility. With the GM and Ford going to Fed with cap in hand , the job losses, the terrible downsizing will hit hard. America is all but bancrupt with billions spent on wars and Obama has a very hard task to meeting the expectations of people. As far Indians the gravy train of outsourcing will hit the buffer.

    He is the real Africa-American with Kenyan father and American white mother. I do not think it changes very much even though a ‘coloured’ president with his black family lives in a White House.

  3. Just to add to my earlier comments. America is changing demographically, becoming more hispanic. It is expected that in 2042 the Anglo-Saxon European whites will become a minority race. One can expect a Hispanic-American president with a name like Gonsalez then. In 1960s when I visited Memphis, blacks were in lowly paid jobs. Today, they are undercut by hispanics. Blacks are unemployed. They can no longer get those lowly paid jobs. This will have more profound consequences, more than a black president. Because, hispanics are catholics, pro-lifers, anti-choice and anti-abortion and are blind followers of the Pope. There will be a grand coalition of catholics caucus: Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans and Hispanic-Americans and Irish-Americans. Imagine what will be Chicago then with its Polish and perhaps a large hispanic population in 2042.

    Except Brazil, the whole South America is Spanish and add to that a hispanic majority of USA. English will be reduced to a second language. This is not exaggeration.
    My political professor friends say that hispanics who were voting Republicans hither to shifted this time and voted for Obama. Add to this the extraordinary reception the current Pope Benedict got when he visited recently in America and addressed a large congreagation in NewYork in Spanish!
    Never happened before not even when Pope John Paul II a
    Polish Pope addressed Poles in Chicago. The Spanish like Italians are excellent in Latin networking. Those like me who have many Spanish and Italian friends can ignore them at my peril!

    The message from so many is that the future generation, the babes in mother arms now should start learning Spanish at an young age.

  4. Sorry a further tail piece. While the blacks and the rest of the world assumes that the Democratic Party is gentle towards
    blacks and the home for blacks, they should pauce and look at the history of America. The GOP, the Republican Party was created with one of its tenets as an anti-slavery movement. Hence not surprising Martin Luther King was a Republican under the worst seggregationist, the Alabama Governor, George Wallace a Democrat. Andrew Jackson, the first recognised Democrat- President kept slaves in his plantation. The last names like Wallace, Jackson.. indicate the strong Scottish Presbytarian tradition which tended to be narrow and sectionlised in its outlook.

    The shift of blacks supporting Democrats and becoming members of the Democratic Party is of fairly recent origin as the Republicans shifted towards the right of the political spectrum.

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