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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