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Saturday, February 10, 2007

On race, politics and the cult of personality

Yesterday, Senator Barack Obama officially announced that he will be running in the 2008 presidential race, finally ending media speculations. Amidst the flurry of enthusiasm at the possibility of a first black president (and for that matter, the first woman president should Hilary Clinton prevail), many of the enthused should step back, shake the confetti out of their eyes and really take a look at the situation.

We are in deep shit politically, economically, militarily, globally, environmentally and this American quagmire will not be remedied with one or even two presidential terms. The clean-up will be an onerous, almost Herculean, chore that will require an extraordinary statesmanship as well as an equally incredible acuity for strategizing an economic recovery, a military withdrawal, a global appeasement and an environmental solution. In other words, I wouldn't wish the next presidency on my worst enemy because it will almost be sure to be rife with insurmountable failures no matter who has the reins. So the question is, does Obama have what it takes to pull America out of this mess?

Pessimism aside, the answer for many is that we don't know yet. Still a novice senator, Obama hasn't had time to establish a concrete voting record on issues that we can measure him. Not that I wouldn't be for him, I'm just reserving my enthusiasm right now. A few years ago, before the senatorial race where he claimed victory, Obama lost his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives. At the time, I was in his district, and despite my usual political ennui, I sat up and took notice of - and yes, I'm going to say it - an articulate, well put-together, Ivy-League young brother. In defense of sounding like Biden (whose faux pas wasn't so much racial as it was patronizing), Obama's assets stood out in comparison to the incumbent Bobby Rush, who on his best day can barely articulate a full sentence (but then again, neither can Chicago mayor, Daley). Ironically, as much racial solidarity that seems to be behind Obama, there was much divisiveness in the black community during that House run due to the same attributes that Obama is lauded for now - being articulate ("sounding white"), attractive (one black man was quoted in a Chicago paper that Obama was "too light" for his taste; he didn't trust light-skinned folk), well-educated ("too uppity"). Rush won by playing the urban race card against his lighter-skinned brother. (And yes, I did vote for Obama and was bitterly disappointed that he lost.)

Which takes us to the cult of personality being built around the man-who-would-be-your-president. Obama is well-packaged, a public relations dream. So far, no skeletons falling out of the closet, a beautiful wife and kids, a man from two cultures whose feet are firmly planted in both, a success "bootstraps" figure. Biden can be forgiven for his misstatement because he was verbalizing what many are enraptured by. To those of us for whom the political rostrum has been peopled by the trite and tried, Obama is that proverbial breath of fresh air. The cult surrounding him is almost akin to the idolization of another president over forty years prior - JFK. Already the media is referring to him as a "rock star candidate" and Obama is himself referencing JFK.

I fear that Obama may fall prey to his own idolatry and feel too optimistically that he has the shoulders to heft this burden. Right now, he seems fully focused on setting on his journey to the White House, but hopefully not at the sacrifice of his present duties as senator. I would have preferred that he gather and gain force and voice in Washington for a few terms before setting his sight on the "prize" of the presidency. Give others the thankless task of securing some normalcy and undoing the damage perpetrated by the present administration.

So, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope that the best candidate will be running in 2008. Whether this candidate is Obama remains to be seen. If he wins, for his sake, I hope so.


Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/10/2007 07:29:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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