Discussion in 'Politics' started by ZZZzzzzzzz, Feb 7, 2008.
Obama's first coming
Washington correspondent Geoff Elliott | February 09, 2008
IT was early 1994 when Nelson Mandela gave a speech in a slum outside Cape Town and spoke in grand terms of a new beginning and how when he was elected president every household would have a washing machine.
People took him literally. A few months later he became South Africa's first black president. That's when clerks in department stores in Cape Town had to turn people away demanding their free washer and dryer.
Having spent some time as a reporter in South Africa watching the Mandela presidency I was reminded of that story this week when I travelled with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on the campaign trail.
How does a cult figure, in the eyes of some something akin to a messiah, make the transition to a political frontrunner - president even - where disappointment will soon crush what seemed to be a journey to a promised land?
Looking into the faces of a more than 16,000-strong crowd in a basketball stadium in Hartford, Connecticut this week, the Mandela magic I'd seen before was there too. Black and white, and the youth; they appeared in a state close to rapture watching Obama speak. Here and there one could see women crying and the some men wiping away tears too.
It was not the promise of a washing machine, of course. Mandela was heading a Rainbow Revolution - a new governing coalition. The sense of renewal in those heady days in South Africa in the mid-'90s was palpable. A political and cultural boil was being lanced. There was relief and joy. Cape Town in those days was humming.
In the US today there are echoes of that Rainbow Revolution. Through the media and on the streets people are getting a bit giddy over Obama. In this man they are projecting a new course - one that he says he will lead - where the US buries the culture wars, charts a new course in bipartisan politics and heralds a new dawn for America.
After more than seven years of the Bush administration and when 70 per cent of the populace think America is on the wrong course, there's little wonder that the hunger for something new is real and fertile ground to till for a politician.
But Obama is part politician, part cult. Supporters wearing T-shirts with an Andy Warhol like pop-art image of his face testify to that. But then they - him - were once easy to dismiss until people realised Obama's charisma was being matched by one of the most sophisticated ground operations ever seen. It is one that is outsmarting the Clinton machine. He's marrying inspiration and cult with old-fashioned political grunt.
One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Obama on the stump. It's not so much by what he says but it's the way the crowds respond to his words. When 16,000 people, without prompting, start shouting some of his keynote phrases as he delivers them, you know something special is going on.
The atmosphere at his events is such that one wonders if Obama is about to walk out with a basket with some loaves and fishes to feed the thousands.
And therein lays the danger for Obama. The Obama shuttle has made it into orbit but at some point he's going to have to land this thing back on Earth.
From unlikely presidential candidate to this week starting to edge out Hillary Clinton as frontrunner, Obama commands grass roots support that is enormous and still gaining strength. Across the US this week Obama laid to rest any lingering doubts about his appeal. He won states in the east, the south, the west and in the middle. All demographics from gender and race voted for him. He tied, if not came out ahead of, Clinton on Super Tuesday when 22 states voted.
He's easily outgunning Clinton on fund-raising with a sophisticated online network. Last month he raised a record busting $US32 million, $US27million of which came from online donations. In 48 hours after Super Tuesday he raised $US7 million, forcing Clinton to lend her campaign $US5 million.
The Clinton camp is now on the defensive and in an extraordinary turnaround started calling him the "establishment" candidate.
But the danger remains for Obama in managing the cult-like fervour. Obviously, he's no messiah and lofty expectations of his supporters is something that Obama is also acutely aware of. In stockmarket parlance, Obama's share price is soaring on expected future earnings. Clinton, 20 years in the public eye, is like the industrial conglomerate: steady share price and reliable dividends. Think of Obama as Google and Clinton as General Electric.
The problem for high-flying stocks is that any bad news can cause the share price to drop sharply. So far Obama has played the bad news extraordinarily well. What turned out to be a shock loss in New Hampshire to Clinton last month might have taken the wind out of his sails but in fact it only galvanised his supporters more: they bought more Obama "stock".
The campaign revealed this week that the biggest fund raising day in that whopping $US32 million month was the day after Obama lost New Hampshire. To be fair, the cult-like status of Obama is a function of a personality that simply resonates with anyone who meets him: buckets of charisma and charm. And aware of managing expectations, not only for his campaign but what might be beyond, he constantly refers to the challenges ahead.
"We can do this," he told ecstatic supporters on Tuesday night. "It will not be easy. It will require struggle and sacrifice. There will setbacks and we will make mistakes."
But then Obama, in the next sentence, in attempt to appeal to more voters out there, didn't even mention the Democratic Party but instead his "movement" saying: "I want to speak directly to all those Americans who have yet to join this movement but still hunger for change: we need you. We need you to stand with us, and work with us, and help us prove that together, ordinary people can still do extraordinary things".
Well known political journalist Joe Klein of Time magazine, who was travelling on the campaign plane this week with Obama, too, wrote of a nagging concern about this kind of rhetoric of inspiration over substance, noting "there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messiahnism".
In his Super Tuesday speech Obama said "we are the ones we've been waiting for", attempting to make the case the time was now to get some "change" in Washington: a post-partisan world where politicians reach across the aisle for the common good. "This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different," he said. "It's different not because of me. It's different because of you."
As Klein notes, this is "not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: the campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire.
"Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause - other than an amorphous desire for change - the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is."
I hear that too in the voices of Obama's staff constantly, themselves referring to this "cult of Obama".
"Even if he doesn't go all the way, and I'm not being defeatist, I'm so thrilled to be a part of this and see the size of the crowds turning out," one staffer tells me.
Some of the craving Obama has inspired is because of a level of authenticity. Where once Bill Clinton said he smoked dope but didn't inhale, Obama admitted in his first book Dreams From My Father that in his younger days he did drugs. Once this was the kind of admission meaning political death in US but not anymore, it seems.
"Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man ... I got high (to) push questions of who I was out of my mind," Obama writes.
In the book, Obama acknowledges that he also used cocaine as a high school student but rejected heroin. "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though," he writes. Even with these admissions, perhaps because of them, the Senator has become something of a Teflon-coated performer in the media: it has infuriated the Clintons. Bill Clinton has tried to peg him back with some attacks, but to no avail. They complain, with some justification, that Obama is getting easier treatment in the press than Hillary Clinton.
But that's the nature of the insurgent candidate and a somewhat vested interest in seeing a contest where the frontrunner is under siege.
Now Obama is not an insurgent. I'd venture to call him a favourite in this race now. The next nine statewide contests through February are, given the demographics, likely to go Obama's way. He may well build an unstoppable momentum. And then the giddiness might evaporate and be replaced with something else. In marketing they call it post-purchase disappointment. If he gets the Democratic Party's nomination another test begins anew: how to turn the narrative which is all about striving for what is possible, to one where people are suddenly asking how are you actually going to do it?
I give the guy credit. He has dazzled a lot of political neophytes.
I have a couple of questions. What exactly has he ever accomplished? And how exactly is he going to get republicans to work with him when his political philosophy and voting record are straight out of the liberal playbook? Does he think that they will just swoon for him? He has the single most liberal voting record in the Senate. Hardly promising for someone who is going to transcend partisanship.
Bottom line, if this guy is white, he is John Edwards. A slick lawyer who got elected to the Senate and immediately started running for president with no visible qualifications.
he was ushered into the senate in 2004 after a CFR agent illegally released ryan's sealed documents.
he is the anti-war candidate that wants to invade pakistan and votes to continue funding the illegal iraq war.
his handlers are CFR globalists that work behind the scenes to destroy this country's sovereignty.
other than that i see no problems. [/sarcasm]
We are in a political environment where the emotional dominates the rational.
After nearly 8 years of Bush, people just want a change, something different.
It is not rational, but reactionary.
If people were to forced to read the text of Obama and Hillary, they wouldn't find much difference in substance at all.
Obama is employing techniques that work at the moment. Obama has studied Dr. King's speeches from the 60's, and has gotten the rap down almost exactly. Watch MLK's speeches, then listen to Obama.
People are buying into it because of their sense of emotional desperation. Obama's hope appeal works with the hopeless. The hopeless don't care about the details, they just want to believe things will be different.
I see Obama as a black Jimmy Carter right now...
this post needs a warning. i almost had a heart attack from shock... zzzz got it right.
these idiots are being nancy pelosi'ed again but they are too stupid to realize it.
Obama is Chauncey Gardiner reborn.
More like a black Ronnie Regan.
If you'll remember, back then, the nation was full of shame over the hostage fiasco. Ronnie shows up and promises to regain national respect.----> landslide
What's interesting that in past general elections that pitted the Republican against a far left Democrat (Nixon vs McGovern, Reagan vs. Mondale), the result was an electoral landslide. Now, it looks as though the most liberal member of the senate can easily beat any Republican opponent.
There's no question that Obama gives rousing speeches, but I agree, there's very little substance in them, and I'm petrified by some of the things he's proposing.
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