Obama Article – 2

November 7, 2008 at 3:10 am / by

This is the second article I wrote for my local newspaper – the Ham&High.

I’ll scan the article in when I’m back in London next week but here’s the written text for now –

While waiting for my cab outside Favela Chic in Old Street last night, I eavesdropped on some students discussing the American elections. The group seemed to be evenly split between Obama and McCain until a particularly drunk looking fellow roared ‘But Barack’s favourite TV show is The Wire!’ And silence descended upon the crowd whilst the others digested this vital piece of information.

Again I came back to whether it is policy or personality that has dominated this presidential election. Will our American cousins choose their leader by whether he cuts taxes or on who they can have a beer with?

McCain is a Vietnam war veteran; he has a proven record of political experience and did I mention he’s white? Obama is a junior Senator, the first African-American presidential nominee, who emails and texts (unlike McCain). He’s promised his daughters a dog for putting up with Daddy’s endless campaigning and he has, I’m told, a mean left-handed double pump shot on the basketball court.

But there’s more to Obama than street cred. He has already made a deep impression on the American consciousness. There are sites dedicated to Obama that describe him in religious terms, as a messiah. One zealous blogger states “Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. . . . He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh . . . Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves.”

You can almost visualise a halo and who can blame the public when faced with powerful Obama-rhetoric, including: “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Yet Obama’s detractors are every bit as fanatical as his euphoric followers. Pro-Obama websites and facebook groups are seemingly matched in number and passion to their ‘Nobama’ counterparts. And, their dislike for the democratic candidate seems to be stronger than any enthusiasm they can muster for McCain. There are Americans who believe Barack won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. There are even voters who fervently believe that “Obama is the anti-Christ.” Do you think I’m exaggerating? Watch this youtube video and it’s not even one of the worst ones.

The recent implosion of Wall Street provides a case in point of policy versus personality. As the crisis has unravelled, the polls suggest that Obama has come out on top. But is this because voters believe that his proposed response and economic policy are superior to McCain’s, or is it fair to say that most don’t really see the distinctions? As I see it, they are siding with Obama because he embodies change and hope whilst his opponent represents the Washington establishment, prioritising the interests of big business, the super-rich and the free market capitalism that has been so discredited in recent weeks.

Perhaps Obama’s economic policy is intrinsically linked to his revolutionary attitude. America has realised she needs someone different who is prepared to use the state to intervene and help ordinary Americans. It is possibly Obama’s vision of a new America which inspires voters to believe that when it comes to the crunch, he is the right man with the right personality to rectify this desperate economic mess.

McCain is unfortunate in that voters associate him with one of the least popular presidents in modern times and many Americans believe that it is the last few years of the Bush administration that brought about all the house repossessions and, ultimately, the credit crunch. But he really didn’t help himself by famously declaring on the campaign trail in Florida that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong”. This was not an astute observation at a time when unemployment is at its highest rate in five years, and the American economy has lost 605,000 jobs this year alone.

Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me so I struck up conversation with the students. It was all going well until one guy asked how old I was. I asked him to guess. The charmer replied, “I’d say over 30 but definitely under 35”. Hmm… a Sarah Palinesque $150,000 makeover is desperately needed for this 26-year-old!