Now that the US presidential race is a straight fight between Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney, your correspondent revisits his 2007 column.
A bright 20-something who lives in New York City captured the essence of political debate in the US.“If you back Obama, the feminists will get you; support Hillary and risk being branded a racist,” she said. As voters turned up to select nominees for both parties, Republican and Democratic, it was evident that the contest in the Democratic Party between Senators Barack Obama (Illinois) and Hillary Clinton (New York) drew most ink.
On the face of it, Democrats mustdecide their nominee on ‘primordial considerations’ of race and gender. But there’s some rational selection criteria.
While the Republicans appear to have settled on John McCain as their presidential candidate, the Democratic aspirants are running neck and neck. With most states having completed their primaries, no clear winner seems to have emerged.
Analysts say the race may not be decided until April and most agree that the balance is now tilted in favour of Obama, an African-American with a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas.
Brought up in Hawaii and having lived in Indonesia, Obama’s curriculum vita is a sparkling record at Harvard Law School and as a community organiser in Chicago. Hillary Clinton’s resume is as glittery: Yale Law School and eight years in the White House as First Lady.
In the achievements department, both candidates sort of cancel each other out. Obama’s campaign seems to be more sophisticated and better-financed.
His message of change has a subtext in which is an acknowledgment that the days of the ‘boomer generation’ are over. This refers to Americans born between 1946 and 1964, during which a post-war boom saw the US emerge as a global superpower.
During the time it dominated public consciousness, in politics, in business, in the arts and in the academy, this generation also came to be known for what the critic Christopher Lasch called ‘the culture of narcissism’. The term was a catchall for a set of beliefs and fears including worship of fame and celebrity, fear of aging and aversion to commitment and lasting relationships.
Obama is 46 and can be considered a late boomer. He first perked my interest when he was quoted as saying that turn-of-the-century America was dominated by the rule of two major boomers, Bill Clinton and George W Bush; that the dorm-room debates of the ’60s and ’70s over ideology and lifestyle had carried over into national and global politics.
Stirred by the Vietnam War, these differences have polarised America as never before, especially with the ‘shock and awe’ invasion of Iraq ordered by President Bush.
Phrases such as ‘coalition of the willing’ and ‘either you’re with us or against’ sharpened the divide. Obama wants to change that, bringing Democrats, Independents and some Republicans together to restore America’s standing in the world and to bridge the rifts at home.
With this central theme, Obama challenged Hillary Clinton, whose candidacy at the start of the primaries seemed to be a shoo-in. Now that he’s managed to overtake her, the Hillary camp appears to have panicked.
Campaigning in Wisconsin, a top Hillary aide accused Obama of plagiarism, claiming he used words from a 2006 campaign speech by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.Obama was quick to dismiss the charges as a ‘desperate’ effort to stay in the race.
The Democratic race is now a fight devolving on character. Both candidates have turned to economic populism posing against the wealthy bankers, oilmen and corporate executives, who amassed huge fortunes under the benign Bush regime and its free-market policies.
As the primaries draw to a close and one of the candidates, woman or black, secures the nomination, he or she will have to contend with the effective dirty tricks lobbies of the Republican underbelly.
It could get down and dirty. In the end, we will have the answer to the crucial question: Is America ready to elect a non-white or non-male President?
This column appeared in DNA, February 20, 2008
The US poll battle: race vs gender
The US poll battle: race vs gender