Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama victory-A phenomenon

Senator Barack Obama completed a landslide 52%-47% victory over Republican Senator John McCain to become the 44th President of the United States of America. Rarely do such momentous occasions come in history and the world has indeed witnessed an occasion that will go down in history, popular culture and become part of folklore. Obama, 47, defied all political fundamentals to win over not only the establishment in the form of the Republican Party and a Republican White House, he won against the establishment within his own party by running a political campaign that will be taught in universities and discussed amongst political strategists for decades to come. The man who brought the 'audacity of hope' of our lives is now promising to bring change that has not been witnessed in America for the past two decades. His now famous phrase of there being 'no red states or blue states, but only the United States of America' truly touched a chord with the electorate who came out in record numbers and handed him victories in states hitherto Republican for decades like – Virginia, South Carolina, Colorado, Florida and Indiana. Such was the appeal of this political phenomenon that today he can claim himself to be the leader of both red states and blue states.The most obvious interpretation of Obama's victory is the fact that after years of race tensions and barely 40 years after the civil rights movement in America, an African-American has finally made it to the White House. Columnist Thomas Friedman has called this the moment when the American Civil War (for racial equality) finally ended. The fact that America will have a black President is indeed the most enduring legacy of this election and points towards an America that has moved beyond race and racial politics. It is not to say that race-relations will dramatically alter overnight, but the road to normality between races passes through an Obama White House. Having said that, this election offers a much bigger outcome for the world. 2008 will be marked as the end of the twentieth century as we had known it and the real beginning of the twenty first century. The politics, culture and attitudes of the twentieth century have given way to a new way of thinking and outlooks best embodied by Obama. Much of the worlds political, economic and social problems will remain, however, the fundamental change will be the manner with which we deal with them and Obama offers that fresh perspective and outlook for a new century and a new generation. This decade will be remembered for two events – the September 11th attacks and the election of President Obama and in weighing the two one can say that the 9/11 attacks and the years after it were where the last principles of the twentieth century were applied; from 2009 the rules of engagement change considerably. It could be argued that Obama brings a cyclical change that is inherent to politics. The rise of Reagan and Thatcher in the 80's or the victory of New Labour and Bill Clinton and their 'Third Way' in 90's all embody the change that Obama is now part of especially after a disastrous Bush Presidency. However, that cyclical change does not reduce the significance of this political victory for Obama.One must spare a thought for Senator John McCain. The war hero and multi-term senator ran an effective and dignified campaign till August of this year. Indeed he was the only man in the Republican Party who in a 'change election' could be considered a fair chance against the Obama phenomenon. However, rather disappointingly, just like the mistake Hilary Clinton made, McCain forgot that change was the mantra for this election. From August onwards, he relied on the old Lee Atwater style of politics that put George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush in the White House. The man who abhorred the below-the-belt tactics that ensured his own defeat at the hands of Bush Jr. in 2000 readily indulged in it himself. The Republican Party clearly was willing to extend support to McCain if he toed the Karl Rove style of political campaigning. Clearly, without the support of the party, his chances would have further diminished, but then again in compromising with his party's ultra-right wing, the maverick that he so personified seemed like a pale shadow of himself. Obama understood his weaknesses and in order to fortify them chose Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. In that one tactical move, Obama ensured that all questions about his foreign policy credentials were laid to rest. There was an experienced man behind him and that reassured voters. McCain rather disappointingly, never acknowledged his weakness – economics. With the economic downturn gripping the country and the world, the McCain campaign decided to chose little known Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin to be his running mate. She was young, a woman and a Washington outsider. However, she was also woefully inexperienced and was not ready to be commander in chief if the oldest president in history were to be incapacitated. Moreover, a candidate like Governor Mitt Romney would have been far more complimentary as a running mate given his economic skills. However, that was not to be and McCain will forever rue the fact that in the ultimate analysis while Palin may have become a star of her party, she did not bring any advantage to the fledgling ticket.The challenges facing President Obama are indeed daunting. The man has been in continuous campaigning for the better part of his political career. Many argue that he has never run a state, government organization or even a city. He has been a one term senator and has spent the better time of his senate term running an election campaign. Fears have been raised about how different a political campaign and running a country is, a count on which Obama is a true novice. However, having run a successful campaign organization, one can be reassured about his skills and leadership. Moreover, Obama's willingness to hear competing points of view and the ability to seek advice from across the aisle will hold him in good stead. The world has some major challenges. The two wars and an economy on the brink are just the first that Obama will find on his desk. The more delicate task will be to manage an America in transition. Gone are the days of unilateralism and the years when America ordered and the world obeyed. The world's levers of powers are changing and redistributing power to other countries. This is a reality that Obama must begin to fathom and start to chart a course that best suits his country. He will also be challenged to win over people who have doubts about him in the initial few months in office; his policies and bi-partisanship are the only means to ensure that. However, the world today has witnessed history in the making. The young man from nowhere is today the most important man in the world, offering hope to millions the world over to dream and think big. Even if Obama proves to be an average President in office, his biggest contribution to the world will remain his embodiment of hope and the idea that to dream big is not only for the rich, powerful and influential but a legitimate aspiration for every man, woman and child on the planet.


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