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On The Road To The White House

Hopes and Possibilities

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 19, 2008

On Tuesday, May 20, Barack Obama would have received sufficient pledged and super delegates to become the official nominee of the Democratic Party for the 2008 Presidential elections. Significantly, he intends to make his acceptance speech in Iowa, the state that made his meteoric rise onto the American political scene possible. While his speech to the Democratic convention in 2004 brought him national attention it was his crushing victory of Hilary Clinton at the Iowa caucus in January that removed her halo of invincibility and set the stage for his rise in American politics.

On Tuesday night we will get the results of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. Although Mrs. Clinton is slated to win the Kentucky primarily, Mr. Obama's victory in Oregon should secure his nomination, an unprecedented feat in American politics. From there onward, Obama begins his fight for the most important post in the free world: the president of the United States of America.

Most of the discussion, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, has revolved around the question: can a black man win such a coveted post?

The answer is yes. He will.

The reasons are many fold but we must first get away from the notion that a black man cannot take such a coveted position. When Obama began his journey, no one thought he would be able to defeat Hilary for the nomination, not even the blacks. In fact, African Americans began to come out in their numbers for Obama only after he won the Iowa caucus. In their caution, many influential African American politicians endorsed Hilary. Among them were Charles Rangel of New York, John Lewis of Georgia, and Maxime Walters of California. After Obama's victory in Georgia Lewis saw the light and switched to Obama.

Part of the reason for Obama's triumph has been his fund-raising abilities and organizational strength. When the campaign started it was a foregone conclusion that Hilary would raise more money than he. She relied upon the fat cats who were willing to contribute the maximum of $2,300; he relied on small donors who contributed $250, 100, $50, or even $25. At the end of 2007, Obama had raised 100 million dollars from 470,000 donors; the average size of each donation was about $250. Such small donations became inexhaustible. Overall, he has raised over one quarter of a billion dollars and has the capacity to raise even more.

After her loss in Iowa, Hilary declared, "the fun has just begun." Given her confidence and air of invincibility, she felt that the campaign would be over by the time the campaign reached Super Tuesday on February 5. As a consequence she did not plan for in any systematic way for the primaries and caucuses after February 5. That was her undoing. Obama planned for the entire primary season, anticipating that the campaign would go to June 3 when the last primary would be held in Puerto Rico. He was correct. After Hilary split the vote on February 5, she was unable to wage a successful campaign thereafter. Everything was catch up from that point on.

Hilllary also placed too many of her eggs in the basket of the big states. She took it for granted that once she won the large state she would be home free. Given the fact that the allocation of delegates was divided proportionately, Hilary victories in the big states such as Texas and Pennsylvanian were more psychological that rich in delegates. In Texas, for example, Obama garnered more delegates that she did.

Obama mined the small states and picked up delegates there chirup-chirup (little by little). He was also wise to concentrate on the caucuses which the Hilary ignored to her peril. As a result, Clinton won only three of the caucuses which she declared to be unimportant after the fact. The caucuses proved to be delegate-laden for Obama and proved to be his margin of victory in the pledged delegates.

And then there was Obama's engaging personality. In fact, the more people came to know him the better they began to like him. He appealed to the future (hope and possibility-"Yes, We Can,") whereas she froze her campaign in the past. Her mantra was experience; her slogan "Ready from Day One." His slogan was "Change we can Believe In." He placed emphasis on his superior judgment, implying that her judgment was flawed on the crucial issue of the decade: Iraq. Where she insisted upon being negative; he remained positive and upbeat never descending into petty attacks. While Hilary and her husband introduced racial stereotypes into the campaign-working class whites would never vote of Obama-- he insisted that American had become a post-racial society where race and racism do not have the kind of appeal they had in the past.

Such a contrast explains the blocs that supported Hilary and those that supported Obama. Whites over 65; less educated; and those who live in rural Americans tended to support Clinton; African-Americans; better educated whites; and young people tended to support Obama. His secret weapon was to get the young children to pounce upon their parents and grand parents and get them to jump aboard the band wagon of hope and possibility.

The clearest example of this kind of phenomenon-that is, the young leading the old-can be gleaned from the experience of Geroge McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee, who switched from Hilary to Obama. In 1972, the Clintons worked their hearts out to support McGovern. Naturally when Hilary announced, he was one of the first persons to support her. As Obama's momentum increased so too did the pressure upon McGovern to switch his vote (he is a super delegate) to Obama. A few days after he switch allegiance, he explained his position: "I've got to confess the one reason for my decision [to switch] and that is I have three daughters and one son and 10 grand children. Right after I endorsed Senator Clinton all 14 of them enlisted in the Obama campaign. That is some measure of influence I have at home."

In announcing his decision to support Obama, Mc Govern declared: "It is time for us to united and get ready for the fall campaign." In spite of Hilary's intransigence (I believe that she will bow out of the campaign gracefully after the Puerto Rican campaign) the entire Democratic Party will unite around Obama to bring home the big prize in November. It is not for nothing (even unprecedented) that 75,000 persons came out to hear Obama on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon on Sunday.

For those who harbor doubts about Obama's victory in November one only has to look at the results in the recent Mississippi House race where a coalition of African Americans and progressive whites came together in the heart of one of the most racist states in the Union to defeat a Republican candidate in a state where George Bush has won 65 percent of the electorate in the 2004 elections.

In the general elections in November Obama's liberalism, freshness and newness will stand in stark contrast to conservativism and reactionary impulses of John McCain. He would be able to show up staleness of the old and the promise of the young. Obama, I believe, will be able to demonstrate that Mc Cain represents the failed policies of the Bush era and an inability to lead America into the future. When McCain himself changed his tune on Iraq (from insisting to stay in Iraq for the next one hundred years to a promise to bring home American troops by 2013) it suggests how much Obama has been able to shape the debate for the fall elections.

The promise of hope and prosperity will lead Obama home to victory in November.

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