Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Barack Obama is the real thing

No doubt about it. Barack Obama (and I will refer to him as "Obama" or "Barack" because it sounds good and is not meant as disrespect) is a real presidential contender. That much is clear from the performance he has put up so far in the Democratic Primaries and Caucuses. He continues to win against Hillary Rodham Clinton and by sizeable margins. His message of "change" seems to be listened to intently. He has just won his 10th consecutive statewide competition, fittingly with the victory in his home state of Hawaii; he also won Wisconsin, by 58 percent to 41 percent. However, there are bureaucratic hurdles that need to be overcome in the form of the complicated formula the Democrats have of pledged delegates (those assigned as a results of votes in the primaries and caucuses) and "super delegates" (who represent party good and great and are not obligated to support any particular candidate). One hopes that the Democrats will not trip themselves up with this attempt to be democratic.

We knew that Obama became a serious contender when he started to win the state contests, but had to take him seriously when opponents started to try to find negatives to pin on him; but that's part of politics and it will affect every real contender. His ability to make rousing speeches is now being put as all he has--words and no solutions--by both those opposing him as a Democrat and his Republican opponents. But give me a politician whose words have passion and whose delivery can match that. Actions will take more than words and it will require good advisors and help to make tough decisions. But a president should be made in office not before.

For Americans, Obama is defying many stereotypes that people would like to pin on him, including racial ones, but I am not going down any of the racial roads now. (Sir Ronald Saunders made some interesting points in part one of a column in last week's Barbados Advocate, with which I agree in part.) I refuse to refer to Obama as "African American", except as an accuarate reflection of his mixed parentage (Kenyan father and American mother). I will say, however, that I believe that Obama's mixed racial heritage is a factor in his acceptability to a significant strand of white voters. Although in the eyes and minds of most people and in America in particular he is "black", and nothing will make him "white" in American eyes, he is not so black as to pose a threat for many. This is a part of the cultural and social racial antagonism in the USA. If he were in the Caribbean there would be some debate about what is his color, but this racial aspect would not be much of an issue for us in current times.

For him to win the nomination he needs to do what he has been able to do more recently: gain the votes of white women, working class voters, older voters, and Hispanics. Increasingly, it seems that Democrat supporters see Obama as more likely to beat the probable Republican contender, John McCain. That can give tremendous momentum. Obama is not unstoppable but he is running ahead fast. His momentum may be what takes him to victories in the upcoming big and important states of Ohio and Texas.

A few things could derail Obama's train. There are some not well hidden skeletons in the closet concerning his associates in Chicago, namely Antoin "Tony" Rezko, billed as a "shady Chicago property developer". Questionable associates also linger in the Clinton closets though, many related to the possible "first man" and former president known affectionately as "Bill". But some of the things in the closet fit Mrs. Clinton or the couple (including association with the same Mr. Rezko in the 1990s). Obama may have to weather that possibly withering criticism of American politicians as being "left wing" or even "socialist", including his relationship with William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois and former member of the "Weather Underground", a leftwing terrorist group that planted bombs in the Capitol and the Pentagon in the 1970s.Will Obama be a "tax and spend" liberal? It's hard to say. He has the endorsement of some free market-leaning heavyweights around him, such as former US Federal Reserve President, Paul Volcker, and his chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee (see picture) is a Univeristy of Chicago professor, a free marketeer.

Michelle Obama has added the occasional banana skin for her husband to slip on, most recently with her remarks about "feeling [really] proud of...my country". But she is trying to do a good support job and will have to think a little faster on her feet. I like the look of the potential first family, though.

I am not amazed by what Obama is achieving. America has draped itself in a flag of racial intolerance for so long that it is hard to spring from that and see that it is not the issue. Sure, it's a very new phase for Americans to deal with, but not so new when one considers that black politicians have risen toward the top of elective politics in recent decades, as senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, and not just where the majority population is black; they have also gained high office through their abilities (as is the case with Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice as Secretaries of State). I am glad that in some senses Americans now have a good chance to grab this nettle at the highest level. My personal feeling is that Colin Powell (who has Jamaican roots) would have had a similarly good run as a potential presidential candidate had he chosen to run, so I think Americans have been ready for this possibility for a while.

And if Obama wins, what then? I have heard a lot of black people express the fear that he will be assassinated. My take on that has been to say that if this were to happen it would not be a surprise. The USA has a long history of assassinating or trying to assassinate its presidents (see website), and mostly since 1900; I believe it leads the world in this uneviable statistic (even if we include other heads of state such as monarchs and prime ministers). Four US Presidents have been assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. Attempts have been made on six others: Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ford, and Reagan. All were white males, so somewhat facetiously we should not be surprised if at the very least someone will want to take the record for killing the first black president. But we cannot get into the minds of mad people. There is the fascinating sidenote to presidential assassinations (and deaths in office) of Tecumseh's Curse, whereby presidents starting with William Henry Harrison who were elected in a year ending with a zero were assassinated or died while in office. The curse ended with Ronald Reagan, but it could be in Obama's favor. So I am not focusing on this threat.

Unless the Caribbean freezes I cannot see the possible "dream team" of an Obama-Clinton pairing being put in front of the electorate. But I do hope that the Democrats do not resort to beating each other up and take their eye off the real political opponents in the Republican party. The contest is exciting and I look forward to a few more months of hope and speculation.

1 comment:

Jdid said...

there wont be an obama clinton pairing. actually will be interesting to see how Hillary takes it if she loses

regarding the comment about him being more acceptable to whites cause of his heritage, i dont think it has so much to do the perception of his mixed heritage as to his demeanor.

he's come across as a man who wants to represent all people and doesnt have that overwhelming black agenda that say a jesse or Al had.

I think maybe it has to do rather with his mindset. He didnt come up in the civil rights movement and his background is actual african and white so he's not really rising from the "my ancestors were slaves in the south and i walked with king "group so he has a totally different outlook.

actually in a sense I think early on those attributes alienated him a bit from some blacks in the US because they wanted a strong "i will improve the lot of the black man" rhetoric. he got attacked over his stance on the Jena Six because of that.

Its just now because he actually is a viable candidate and Clinton has managed to put her foot in her mouth with Bill's help that the black masses seem to be really uniting to his cause. he always had alot of them but lately he's gotten more.