Fresh from a trip to the US – my mind is filled with glitzy images of the events surrounding the caucuses – which will decide the Democratic and Repulican candidates for next year’s elections leading to a much required change in the most powerful office on earth. The typical hype and frenzy that surrounds anything to do with the Oval office, was being unabashedly propogated through every media channel you can imagine…and dominated every conversation I overheard in the hotel lobby or at the airports.

One name eclipsed all the others, in conversations, on TV specials, during the early morning shows or the 9 PM news, in magazines and journals and even the New York Post… Barack Obama. Born Barack Hussein Obama Jr., to a Kenyan father and an American mother – he is the antithesis of the quintessential American presidential candidate that the world has come to expect, love and hate. Just imagine what mental images are conjured up when you think about “Black”, “Muslim” (even though he has chosen Christianity as his religion – he has muslim roots and spent formative years in the largest Islamic country in the world – Indonesia) and “US President” in the same context! Just not palpable.

This is what makes his phenomenal rise to fame so hard to understand and digest. No other African-American has ever managed to capture the imagination and adulation of hundreds of millions of Americans – black, brown or white – who does not go by the name of Martin Luther King or Oprah Winfrey. (Rev. Jesse James doesn’t count…;) ) Obama is an aberration – and very important one at that. He has something that no other candidate has – or can hope to have without an extended session in a tanning parlour and skeletal reconstruction.

His face.

Post the Iraq debacle – America is reeling under uncertainty, indecision and global derision. Never has been the perception of the country and that of its chief representative, been so uniformly horrible – if there was a perceptual nadir…the US is there now. There is widespread hate in the Islamic regions of the world and small boys are growing up, looking at George Bush’s insolent face, spewing unnecessary and (mostly) unwarranted arrogance squarely directed at what he is taught to believe. They are growing up, thinking “He is not on my side. I need to be wary of him and others like him.” Al-Qaeda and their brethren will not find it easier to recruit killers from this lot – and what the future will hold is anyone’s doomsday. Now imagine the same young malleable mind looking at the new face of America – a colored man with Islamic roots. A mature, responsible voice that is speaking about compromise, peace – about leaving Iraq to the Iraqis. Just the change in perception that this new face of American presidency will have on US perception globally – will tilt the balance towards a new era of understanding and peace. Don’t underestimate the power of the Oval office… this can actually happen.

What about the Americans themselves? Why are they so enamored by him? That one is tougher to grasp – I think this is because of a subconscious need for change that can be felt across the country. Americans today have to be tired of living under the ghost shadows of the twin towers and the global war that ensued. He and everything about him represents that change…a freshman senator, he is young, dynamic, educated, intelligent, sensible and in a sense “uncorrupted”. His multi-racial background, education and propogated values – far from making him threatening – render his persona warm and exciting. On the core issues of the economy, healthcare and Iraq – he has not been sounding necessarily revolutionary, with his inexperience showing in light of his veritable seasoned opponent, Hillary Clinton. But then, none of them really are. All of them are still treating Iraq as a autistic child which no one wants to give away, but no one wants to take ownership of. In this level playing field of vanilla flavored candidates – chocolate suddenly looks appealling.

So will America have an African-American president talking charge in 2009? Most probably not. One factor is – believe it or not – the Black vote. Though blacks around the country are proud that one of them has reached this position of influence – there is a very real perception that he is just “not black enough”. His camaraderie and acceptance with the Caucasian population, makes the black community treat him with certain wariness. During his campaign Obama himself has been careful not to appear racially inclined either way – and this makes him look white to the blacks. The other factor is that when push comes to shove and the Americans actually hit the voting booths – comfort will overtake change.
All said and done – America is just not ready for a Black president. A decade later – perhaps. But today, though revolution is what is really required, the path to revolution is something so difficult and “unnatural” – that most will never have the commitment to take it.
I personally wish that Obama wins – I have heard him speak (albeit on TV) and I find him approachable and his thoughts and idealogy necessary. But if wishes were horses, then the presidential race would be like the derby…where the black horse has an equal chance to win, as the white one… 🙂