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Obama surfing a political tsunami

By Raffique Shah
November 02, 2008

Two days from today, Americans will elect a new president in that country's most exciting presidential election for many years. Without doubt, the extra hype surrounding the race to the White House has come about because of Barack Obama's candidacy. While most polls put Obama way ahead of John McCain, many would recall how George W Bush stole the 2000 election from Al Gore. Until votes are counted and the results declared on Tuesday night, we cannot say for sure that Obama will win, as so many here in Trinidad and Tobago, in the USA, and indeed in the rest of the sane world, would hope happen.

If he pulls it off, there will surely be celebrations across the world. Many, especially non-Whites, would see it as a major breakthrough for Blacks in America after centuries of, first, slavery, and later racial discrimination of the worst kind. But if he does, Barack would not get to the White House because of the colour of his skin, or because America has come of age in fully accepting its own diversity.

It certainly would not be because he seems to have a sharp mind, an intellect that is superior to McCain's-or even that he espouses policies that are far better than his opponent's.

In order for him to win, he must have substantial support among White Americans, which he does. Indeed, for those who were immersed in the issues surrounding the long, sometimes bitter campaign, that element came as the "shocker". Looking at the kaleidoscope that made up the massive crowds that followed him from early in the campaign, one saw Martin Luther King's dream come alive.

At the same time, those of us who have lived through King's assassination, the brutal slaying of Malcolm X, the barbarism of the Ku Klux Klan, the merciless suppression and executions of Blacks in the 1960s and 1970s, always had at the back of our minds the physical dangers Obama faced-and still faces.

What we have witnessed over the past year is a political tsunami that needs to be put in perspective. Obama, besides standing on the shoulders of all the revolutionary Black leaders who went before him, has been riding a mass movement that was born out of the struggles of those who often made the supreme sacrifice. Americans are crying out for a change from tyranny disguised as democracy. They are dying to shake off the fear that previous presidents have used to keep them in mental chains.

They would like to live their lives at home secure in their well-being and safety. They do not want the phantom-like figure of Osama, one man living in a cave, holding the most powerful nation on earth to ransom. They have grown fed-up with the global image of the Ugly American. As my Jamaican friend, Syracuse professor Horace Campbell put it in a paper he wrote in February, 2008, "Thousands of new actors and actresses surge on to the stage of politics to identify with the break from the old politics of fear and so called War on Terror." The injection of this fear, from which we all suffer (think airports, think scanners from whorehouses to the White House, think "no liquids' on airlines), has boomed into a multi-billion-dollar, global industry.

Now, Americans want out of that crap. They want to live normal lives. Then there is the demolition of the once-powerful American economy by Bush and his associates. America is so steeped in debt, if it were a developing country it would be placed in the custody of the IMF and World Bank. Having to face a future as bleak as the Great Depression is not a pleasant prospect.

They have therefore decided to put their "audacity of hope" in young, dynamic, and yes, charismatic, Barack. The trillion-dollar question is, can he deliver on his campaign promises?

On the domestic front, the economy, the new president's task is akin to that of Heracles' in Greek mythology, having to clean the Augean stables-or better put, Bush's overflowing latrine. Barack alone cannot do it. He will need to inspire his people to change their locust-like lifestyles, a tall order for anyone in authority. He will have to dismantle the country's military-industrial complex, the real power behind the White House throne.

More important, if he hopes to change America's ugly face, he would have to make fundamental foreign policy changes. America must withdraw from Iraq, it must forget conquering Afghanistan (never been done-ever!), it must insist on treating with the Palestinians as people, not sub-humans. No peace in that conflict means no peace in the world. Most of all, America cannot preach democracy but refuse to accept the will of other people, be they Venezuelans, Iranians, Russians or Palestinians.


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