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An historic journey

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“Tonight, we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another…” So said Barack Obama in a speech to a rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after reaching the magic number of delegates needed to secure the nomination as presidential candidate for the Democratic party in the 2008 presidential election. As the first black person to have achieved that feat, clearly one historic journey had ended.{{more}} About a year ago, those who thought that possible were few and far between. Hillary Clinton, with the powerful Clinton political machine, starred by her husband Bill, was considered a clear shoo-in. Beside Barack Obama was a black man, really a mulatto, the son of a Kenyan father and American mother from Kansas. We still do not know if America is ready for a black president, but Barack has started that journey and has already crossed one hurdle.

Last Tuesday night was supposed to have been his night, a night steeped in history. So we thought, except that Hillary Clinton, his rival for the position, was like a fly in his ointment, or was it more than that? The long drawn out Democratic primary, it was feared, was ripping the party apart as issues of race, gender and religion sometimes flew wildly and took up valuable media attention. The primary certainly had its bitter moments, with some strange characters surfacing at odd times, even stealing centre stage. But there were the positives, as unsurpassed numbers of Americans, young, old, black, hispanic, white women and working class people became energised. The party leadership was, however, concerned that the contest could rip the party apart if allowed to fester until the Convention in Denver. The word was, therefore, put out to the superdelegates to make their decisions before the end of week, the week in which the primaries officially ended. With the last two primaries ending on Tuesday evening, there was a rush of superdelegates to Obama whom the numbers had up to that time suggested had a virtually unbeatable lead.

He crossed the barrier on Tuesday evening and with his victory in the very last primary in Montana the way was cleared for the party to begin the healing process. But then there was Hillary who, rather than begin to cool tempers, to bring her followers on board and start the rebuilding process, still made extravagant claims. She was the strongest candidate and carried the popular votes. As far as she was concerned, South Dakota, which she won, had the last word in the primaries, although Montana, which went to Obama, was yet to declare its results. In parts, it sounded like a victory speech. She wanted to hear from her supporters how to move forward. Really, she needs to lead at this point and to bring her people on board in the interest of her party. What does she really want to hear from them? That she should fight all the way to the party convention!

Today is Friday, two days after, and perhaps a lot might have happened since then, but it is all in the hands of Hillary as to how she wants to exit the stage. Or does she really want to exit? Sounds coming from her camp on Tuesday and Wednesday were to the effect that she had an interest in the Vice Presidency. If this is so, it presents a dilemma to the party. Obama must not be seen to be coming under pressure to make her the Vice Presidential candidate. Let her meet with Obama and come out pledging her full support without any conditions. If he decides to include her on the ticket later it must not be because of any pressure. But Barack should be advised to thread carefully with this, for Hillary is not prepared to play second fiddle to anyone. She is still insisting that she is the better candidate and still feels somehow that she has been cheated out of the position. At least, that is what some of her supporters seem to be saying. How can she then be given that role? Would she not be trying to outdo her partner to show that she was indeed the better candidate? And what happens to Bill? Is he prepared to fade into the Sunset? How can Barack be comfortable, especially given Bill’s role during the campaign when he tried at times to eclipse, or at least succeeded in eclipsing the person for whom he was campaigning? The Clintons have lowered themselves in the eyes of many people the world over. Bill certainly has done some damage to his image and perhaps legacy.

Barack has captured the enthusiasm of many Americans, particularly the young, with his cries of change- ‘Yes, You can!’ His desire to ensure that it is no longer business as usual in Washington struck a strong chord with many. Could he continue this message with the Clintons on Board? It is felt that he needs someone to make up for areas in which he appears to be inexperienced, namely in military matters and foreign affairs. The truth, however, as Obama says, is that what is needed is really judgement. Any president is surrounded by experts in all of these areas but the final decision rests with the President and here is where judgement is important.

The other part of the journey has just begun, but the very fact that a black American has been selected or elected as the nominee of a major political party is in itself evidence of change. There is indeed a long road ahead. America is steeped in conservatism. Race is still an issue, even though millions of Americans have appeared to move beyond that. But we have to give credit to Obama for much of what has happened. He, more than anyone else, has energised the campaign. He has put together an organisation that has eclipsed the powerful Clinton machinery. He has outclassed them in generating funds for the campaign from small people rather than from the powerful corporations. He has used the technology effectively and is a man of today and tomorrow, rather than of yesterday. His message to the American people is powerful for he is focussing not on himself but on the people, on bringing them together and convincing them that they really can. Obama is not an ‘I’ man. Maybe his experience working in Chicago has paid off.

My expectations of an Obama presidency are limited because he is dealing with America, and with the control by Corporate America. There are severe limits on what he can do, but were he to achieve the presidency that in itself would help to transform American politics. The rest of the world is looking on for many of American allies would want to see that country regain a position of trust and respect. America had become one of the most hated countries around the world because of the lunacy of George Bush. Its image needs to be reshaped. Obama in my view can do that.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a historian and social commentator.

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