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**

Thursday, June 05, 2008

So, Obama won the nomination. Now what?

I wont pretend to not having a sense of pride that Barack Obama has won the nomination to the Democrats' next presidential candidate. He has stepped over a racial threshold that has been tantalyzingly hard to cross for many years. But in another sense he has moved closer to the ultimate political prize in US politics much faster than seems plausible: a first term Senator barely half way through that term (see official website).

A lot sits on his shoulders. He now has to try to sew back together the fabric of a party divided by a campaign that posed again each other the two elements of a possible "dream ticket": him, a young man of mixed black African and white American parentage--a true African American worthy of that title; opposed by her, a female Senator with a long political history who is the wife of a recent very popular president. Together, they could (and maybe still will) be a formidable electoral offering. But a lot of kissing and making up would have to be done between them and between their respective campaign staff to overcome some of the acrimony exchanged during the campaign. In truth, they were not that nasty to each other; a lot of unfortunate remarks were made, but on the political landscape they were really cute to each other. More problematic to me, as I have told anyone who wanted to listen, is the "elephant in the room" in the form of the "over attentive husband", aka Bill. I frankly cannot see how you have as a vice president someone who comes with a partner who is a very recent former president. Not just any former, either, but Bill, aka "America's first black president". This ex is a larger than life character, much more loved than his wife, with a bunch of policy ideas still in his head, and an apparent inability to stay in the background. Maybe it could work but not in my head. It could make for a terrific TV series, though. You can imagine the introductions: President Obama, Vice President Clinton, former President Clinton, my lords....

Now that Obama has the nomination, and now that Hillary has nearly (still not quite) acknowledged that he has the nomination--a process that has more like pulling teeth and filled with a certain denial that was incredible--comes for me the real test. America is about to show how much it has changed in terms of racial tolerance. It passed the first test of nominating a black man. Some sociologists will explore the way people chose between two historic choices--first black man or fist woman. To me the chose the more appealing candidate who was also more promising in terms of offering a different future. Sorry, Mrs. Clinton, analysts will show that you offered more same-old politics. Obama's "hope" message means something. Now America has to show if it has the stomach to be led by a black man. This is less of a challenge given that many pillars of American life already have at their head a black man. But it will still be a big ask. Obama's position on Iraq will be one of the key elements in his favour, I believe: it's hard for John McCain to shed the mantle of Dubya-bis.

If Obama becomes president he will be plunged into real politics and the needs of national and international balance. I'm sure there is wide suspicion that Obama as president would be tempted to favour blacks, but in American national politics this is less of a concern than at the local or regional level given the true minority status of blacks in the country. On the other hand, if blacks do not receive some notable favours they may quickly damn Obama as being "just like the rest". It will be interesting to see how he moves to these varous tunes.

The world has changed a lot in terms of gender roles. With the possibility of a Hillary nomination I suspect that there was a great hope that she could introduce female leadership into American national politics as a real force--no disrespect to Condaleeza Rice, but no one voted for her. Sometimes arguments that a woman's leadership has a different feel than its masculine counterpart make sense, but at other times it seems just talk. Having lived through the leadership of Margaret Thatcher in Britain I did not feel any special gentility from her style of leadership; if anything the country took on a hardness that was really hard to stomach. True, I lost a job because of her policies and I lived in parts of the country where the local economy was transformed radically by her policies promoting privatization and ending nationalisation.Telling people to "get on your bike" did not sound like the right motivation to people whose livelihood was being wrenched from underfoot; it's a long ride from a Welsh mining village to the London suburbs. But the different perspective that can be brought by a woman could argue that Obama has a duty to seek a female VP.

So, let's move on to the next phase, with the two presidential candidates duking it out through November. It has already been a fascinating set of contests so far, and I'm sure that we have a few more interesting episodes ahead.

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