Can transformational Obama still be trumped by race?

October 26th, 2008 - 9:48 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaChicago, Oct 26 (IANS) Barely 11 days away, America’s presidential elections appear increasingly likely to anoint a transformational, post-racial and young leader in Senator Barack Obama as its 44th president.A decisive section of media pundits and many respected pollsters, both of whom have gone significantly wrong in the past, has more or less written off Obama’s elderly rival, Senator John McCain. Obama himself has taken the care not to project the air of a winner and remained content to be seen as an underdog. So has McCain who has argued that he performs best when his tail is on fire.

Beyond the political posturing by the two men, it is becoming likely that Obama could pull off a hugely history-making victory.

The 47-year-old Chicago politician’s rise to national prominence is as much a product of his self-belief as it is a consequence of the changing demographics.

The African American community that constitutes 12.8 percent of the total US population, the Hispanic or Latino community that constitutes 14.8 percent and Asian American, including Indian American, with 4.4 percent, together make up 32 percent of the 300 million plus Americans. While they are by no means a monolithic constituency, the eligible voters among them do have a tendency to vote for Obama’s Democratic Party. Notwithstanding the well-known antipathies between the African American and Hispanic/Latino communities, the latter may well choose Obama over McCain.

Ironically, while Obama has steadfastly eschewed projecting any race-specific attributes during his over 20-month-old campaign, it is the African American voters, galvanized by the prospects of one of their own (although he is half white) rising to the most powerful office in the world, who could vote as a single bloc. Obama has been subtle in forging his image both as a modern, transcendental candidate who also happens to be of mixed heritage.

What is baffling to an outsider is why the Obama-McCain race has remained close even though America has experienced perhaps the most mishap-laden and, in many ways, inept administration in modern times under a Republican president in George W. Bush.

By all political logic, this should have been a cakewalk of a victory for any Democratic candidate. The devastation of America’s financial system and its subsequent recessionary impact on the US and global economy in the past eight or so weeks should have absolutely guaranteed that any Republican hope was dashed. Far from it, McCain along with his widely derided running mate Sarah Palin have managed to not just stay on but made a race out of it.

In many ways this is not a race for McCain to win but Obama to lose. It would be foolish to underestimate the race factor’s power to trip Obama at the finishing line. Although there is now too short a time before the elections (in fact, early balloting has already begun) for the McCain campaign to come up with a strategy that can cause a sudden death of his rival’s campaign, there are skeptics who believe Obama could still be upstaged.

Whether or not he wins Obama has firmly established himself as a leader for the history books. His equanimous temperament and detached demeanor has contrasted sharply against McCain’s often teeth-grinding and eye-rolling style that seems to come from some deep-seated anger. Even some of the most conservative opinion-makers, who are traditionally Republicans, have bought into Obama’s imperturbable personality. The McCain campaign has thrown considerable amount of invectives, including that he is a Muslim socialist bent upon redistributing wealth even as he “palls” around with terrorists determined to sit down with global dictators without any pre-conditions. Obama has chosen to walk past the vituperation with characteristic disregard.

Obama’s emergence on the national platform has highlighted remarkable progress in America’s once deeply fractured race relations even as it has cast some lurid light on racial fissures that still exist. On balance, it has offered America a historic opportunity to adjust itself to a fast-changing political and social demography.

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