On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Yes, Obama can!



 BARACK Obama gets my pick for the United States’ presidential election – not that I can vote or that my views would make any difference to the neck-and-neck race.

But he has become an icon of hope. To people all over the world who are watching an American presidential campaign with such intensity for the first time, he represents hope, courage and change.

All over the world, people can relate to what is taking place in the US. They have had enough of more of the same from their own politicians who sell the same snake oil medicine by stoking racial fears and imagined foreign threats.

Those who watched the debates between John McCain and Obama on issues affecting the Americans must wonder why the same kind of intellectual discourse cannot take place on our side of the world, where some politicians seem to prefer to whip people’s emotions up with petty issues and remarks.

But more important, people are now saying we have come of age. In a globalised world where narrow nationalism is taking a back seat, race is fast becoming a secondary issue.

No doubt, race is still a factor in deciding the outcome of the US elections. The polls, favouring Obama at this stage, could be misleading because it has been said that many white respondents do not want to be regarded as racists and prefer to give politically correct answers.

Their votes, in short, could still go to McCain. After all, in the last two elections, the pollsters got it wrong.

But the fact that Obama has come so far is itself the biggest change that has already taken place. The impact on the psyche has been enormous, not just in the US but all over the world, especially in countries with a plural society.

Changed perception

African-Americans would no longer be seen as just foul-mouthed hip-hop singers, gangsters, boxers and athletes in the eyes of the world.

Obama, a political main player with a law degree from Harvard Law School, will change all that.

He is now on the threshold of making history. Nobody could imagine that a black man is now about to sit in the White House.

His critics are now saying he is not Ameri­can enough, a euphemism for he is not white, and that his name is foreign sounding.

On the contrary, his worldview, shaped by his upbringing in multi-ethnic Hawaii and his multi-racial family, would make him a better leader of today and an asset for the US.

He may lack the experience of war hero McCain but he would see the world differently. His is a world of Blackberry and the Internet while his opponent’s views are still very much affected by the history of the Cold War and the Vietnam War.

McCain, like many politicians of his age, has a point in saying we must learn from history. But we must never be bogged down by the baggage of history.

Even in Malaysia, politicians talk about history which the young can no longer relate to, or simply refuses to accept. Certainly, these history lessons won’t help these politicians get the votes. When they lose these votes, they sometimes wonder why.

In Obama’s book, Dreams of My Father, he wrote about how his mother made an impact on him with her working in distant villages in Asia and Africa for over 10 years.

He had a Kenyan father and an Indonesian stepfather. Today, Obama has a Chinese brother-in-law (a professor at the University of Hawaii) whose parents originated from Sabah.

In contrast, McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin just got her passport last month. Like many Americans, we can assume the world is the US and the US is the world for her.

But we must also be realistic as many of us cheer for Obama. If we are quick to condemn those who reject Obama because they are white, how many of us can honestly say that our preference for Obama is not prejudiced by the fact that we would like a non-white for a change?

Besides his youthful looks and eloquence, words like “hope and change” are merely campaign slogans and the fact is that his resume is thin.

He has been a lawyer, a law professor and a community activist but he has no economics background, which is essential for any political leader these days as financial management becomes more complicated.

No free lunch

As my colleague Karim Raslan has pointed out, Obama’s constituency is the US, not Asia or Africa. So, let’s not be naive in thinking that he would deal with us differently.

More seriously, the Democrats have a history of interfering in other countries’ political affairs in comparison to the Republicans who put business as their priority.

Remember former vice-president Al Gore’s remarks during the reformasi movement when he visited Kuala Lumpur? The Holly­wood Democrats were also busy bashing China ahead of the Beijing Olympics for Tibet. Yes, it’s the same Obama crowd.

There is also the close tie between Demo­crats and the powerful trade unions, which have pumped US$200mil into Obama’s coffers. There’s no such thing as a free lunch and we can expect the unions to make their demands.

We will hear more of “sweat shops” and “child labour” accusations in the American media, nearer to Christmas, and probably louder now as many Americans lose their jobs with the country already in a recession.

Asian factory workers do not realise how much the American elections have an impact on their jobs.

But we are privileged to be around to watch one of history’s most important events unfold itself next week. Whether it is a black president or the oldest president or the first woman vice-president, it is history in the making.