Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Surprises of Politics - Will the real Barack Obama please stand up!

April 2008 – in the midst of an exciting – and surprising – political campaign to determine who will be the Democratic party nominee for President of the U.S. Exciting because the race is between two hegemony-challengers – a woman and a black man. Whichever one wins, the white male’s claim on power in this country is well on its way to being unseated.

And surprising because I have always thought (naively, it may be) that the reason for unseating the white male hegemony was so that the reward would go to the most able instead of the most privileged. So now I am surprised when I see so little attention being paid to which candidate may actually have the ability to fulfill the Presidential role and so much attention being given to fancy (but shallow) rhetoric.

In other words, I look at Barack Obama’s experience of two years as U.S. Senator and am amazed that such short tenure would even be considered as sufficient experience to begin to qualify for the highest office in the land.

And I listen to his interviews, read (some of) his speeches, and catch excerpts from his books, and come to the conclusion that he has the gift of oratory – but really not much of either substance or originality. (For those have fallen under the sway of that gift, I suggest you visit this youtube site: It is a good example of Mr. Obama’s lack of originality in putting together the speeches that have won him so much popularity.)

Additionally, there is another aspect of Obama’s popularity that I find surprising – and, to be honest – more than a bit puzzling. And that is the widespread tendency to overlook/forgive/disregard the array of personae he has put forth about who he really is and about what he really believes in. I’m not even going to go into the historical anomaly of his ‘goat-herd’ Kenyan father ending up at U of Hawaii, as it smacks too much of Akeem’s (Eddie Murphy) same goat-herd ‘family business’ in the movie ‘Coming to America.’ (In the movie, Akeem is a prince of an African country, where his family does in fact own all the livestock in the land, so it’s just a 'slight' bit of reality-bending for Akeem to represent himself as a goat-herder. Right?)

I do, though, want to look at what the senator has been saying about himself in the past few weeks. Some weeks ago, when asked about his Muslim connections (father, step-father, school in Jakarta), Obama shielded himself from those questions by telling us that he was a committed church-going Christian, that his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was his mentor/close confidante/ advisor. Then, later, we find out that said Pastor Wright preached (or rather, thundered) what was basically a black separatist message, honored Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and actually used the phrase ‘God d--- America.’ No longer an effective ‘shield’ for Obama to hide behind at this stage. So Obama’s mentor/confidante/advisor was quickly downgraded to the status of an old-uncle whose mutterings were not taken seriously – but not before the senator had spent 20 years sitting under the preaching of that ‘old uncle’.

Now that’s a turn-around that makes me ask 'who is this man, really? what does he really believe?' Is he the committed Christian of one month ago, a Christian who values his mentor/advisor? Or is he the not-so-committed Christian of two weeks ago who doesn’t attend church often or pay much attention to his pastor-cum-mentor-cum-old-uncle’? Is he simply a man with political aspirations who knows that church membership can be a political plus? Or is he even a Muslim; it is certain that many Muslims will consider him, as the son of a Muslim man, to be one of theirs. And, importantly, would he be a leader towards the unity of diverse peoples living together in harmony, as he purports to be? or would be a leader towards division, following the teaching he has submitted himself to for over 20 years?

And here’s another question I'd like to pose. What if this turn-around were turned around in another way – that is, if the colors were reversed? Would people be ready to dismiss or forget a scenario in which either Hilary Clinton or John McCain were in similar (but reverse) situations to Obama’s. Just imagine if we learned that the faithful, long-standing, close associations that either of them had been touting were in fact preaching white separatism, were actually honoring the leader of the American Neo-Nazi movement, and could even be heard repeating pastor Wright’s thunderous damnation of this country. Imagine the fall-out.

I think I can quite guarantee that would cause a political storm that no amount of ‘silver tongue’ rhetoric would be able to settle, a storm that would probably sound the death-knoll on any political aspirations in this country.

So why is it not so when Obama’s close ties to racist teaching are revealed? What is it about the junior senator from Illinois that makes people so willing to overlook his lack of experience for the job? and what makes them even more willing – almost eager – to overlook his inability to define who he really is or what he really believes?

One thing is certain in this; Barack Obama has shown himself to be an apt student of Malcolm X, the one-time president of Nation of Islam. According to Obama in ‘Dreams of My Father,’ Malcolm X’s writings influenced him greatly. What impressed the young Obama the most? "His (Malcolm X’s) repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me." And as it turns out, repeated acts of self-creation seem to be just what Mr. Obama is good at. I think you might call that ‘prestidigitation’,; you might also call it ‘politics’; I just hope it never gets called ‘President.’