A quiet social revolution has been taking place in the United States which has now culminated in the nomination of Barack Obama as Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Presidential elections to be held in November. Obama is not the typical Black. He is the son of a Black Kenyan father and a White American mother. His parents had met when they were both students at the University of Hawaii. When Obama was barely two years old his parents got divorced. His father, a non-practicing Muslim, left to pursue graduate work at Harvard but not long afterwards, in 1982, he died in a car accident. Obama'sfather and he met but twice. His mother remarried, this time to a native Indonesian. Between the ages of six and ten, Obama lived in Indonesia.
Years later he was to tell the media that his stay in Indonesia ?left a very strong mark? on him because he got? a real sense of just how poor, folks can get?. But Hawaii became his home during his high school days when he attended a prestigious ?prep? school. Life was a bit confusing because none of his African American friends took him to be one of them?a half White, half Black, a half Muslim half Christian (he had joined the Trinity Church) and a half African half American. It is said that this led him briefly to experiment with drugs. Understandable. In 1979 he left Hawaii for Los Angeles to attend College. Two years later, he went to Columbia University where he graduated in political science. Then he went to Chicago to serve as a Community Organiser for a national project, where he first came to know the reality of life and the agendas driven by ?fear and small greeds?.
He quit the post to attend Harvard Law School in 1988 where he became the first African American (a polite way of describing one of mixed race) to become editor of the University'sLaw Review. Having won his law degree, he went back to Chicago to practise civil rights law and to teach as well, at the Chicago University. He remained active in community affairs, helped Bill Clinton win the state vote in Illinois in the latter'spresidential campaign and got sucked up in state politics. This resulted in his running successfully for the State Senate (equivalent to our Legislative Assembly) in 1996. But Obama was soon to find out that being a State Senator was less then satisfying, considering that a State Senate was hardly equipped to deal with major issues like Health Care and National Security. He, thereupon, decided to aim at higher goal, like membership of the US Senate, no less. At this point, he realised that his name appeared to be a disadvantage. Both his Christian name, Barrack (meaning, blessing) and surname, Obama, were unusual and the latter, especially so, since many confused it with Osama (bin Laden), the terrorist.
At public meetings he would mention this and raise a good laugh. Even charges that as a boy he attended classes in Islamic studies, did not stick. For one thing, his personal charisma was attractive. The Chicago Tribune even described him as ?the most dynamic speaker? at that point in time. In the end he won the election to the US Senate against five major White candidates, thanks largely to the votes of the Blacks, the culturally moderate Whites and the unemployed whose interests Obama vowed to protect. By winning the national election to the US Senate, Obama became the fifth African American to serve in the US Senate and only third since the Reconstruction Era of the late nineteenth century. In that sense Obama represents a new age of African, American status in public life.
How did this happen? According to his biographers, Obama'sexotic surname did not sound like a traditionally American Black name and ?he did not have to overcome some of the bigotry that other African American candidates experience. Additionally, it would appear that Illinois, from where Obama got elected, has a history of electing more Black state-wide officials than any other state in the United States, According to his biographers, again, Illinois is ?unique as it has fairly middle-of-the-road voting public end, unlike other liberal northern states such as Minnesota, has a fairly large African-American constituency, comprising 15 per cent of the population?. So far so good. Having won the Democratic Party nomination he will now have to face a presidential battle against Republican candidate John McCain, and it is this that countries like India have much to wonder and worry about.
What sort of President will he make, if he succeeds George Bush? What are his specific interests? Obama has said very little on foreign policy matters, unlike McCain. He has his dissatisfaction with the Iraqi War. No big deal. He has to. America has lost too much in men, material and international respect and is, as a result, sliding gradually from its position as the world's only Super Power.
A wise American President has to reverse that trend, if it wants to regain its past position. As the Americans did in Vietnam, so now, they have to withdraw from Iraq even at considerable loss of face, Obama made headlines with his trip to Africa in August 2006. That is only natural, considering his Kenyan background. He wants the US to take a more pro-active interest in the continent. He is quoted as saying: ?Unfortunately, our foreign policy seems to be focused on yesterdays, rather than anticipation the crises of the future. Africa is not perceived as a direct threat to the US security at the moment, so the foreign policy apparatus tends to believe that it can be safely neglected. I think that'sa mistake?. He is not known to have made any policy statement on international affairs, and the text of his announcement for presidential candidacy reveals nothing about his thinking on America'srelations with the rest of the world.
The only reference is indirect and concerns energy, when he said: ?Let'sbe the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternate fuels like ethanol?.? That doesn'tsay much about Obama'sviews on Britain, the European Union, Russia, China, India, the United Nations, terrorism and so many other urgent matters say, like the 123 Agreement.
At least McCain has claimed that he supports the US-India Civil Nuclear Accord as a means of strengthening America'srelationship ?with the world'slargest democracy. On such issues as US-Pak relations, proliferation etc, Obama has been remarkably silent. Perhaps he will come alive to these issues once the fight for the Presidentship starts in right earnest. One can only wait and see. The immediate question is whether a semi-Black man with ?Hussein? as his middle name will make it to the White House. McCain is a tough fighter, but then leaders like Edward Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and a few others have offered to back Obama. Obama can perhaps make it. But the operative word is ?perhaps?. If he does, he would make History and in the process even make Hillary Clinton his Vice President, considerably raising America'sdwindling status in the world.