Sunday, August 31, 2008



August 30 2008
Saturday Nation

A similar advert with similar dated criticism of Obama with eventual vice-presidential nominee Joseph Biden was aired by the McCain campaign

When a TV campaign advert insinuating that Barack Obama has neglected his Kenyan half-brother who lives in Nairobi’s Huruma estate started being replayed repeatedly to coincide with the Democratic Party convention in Denver, it was the clearest signal that the period of campaign dirty tricks had begun in earnest.

Though the advert was quickly repudiated by the John McCain campaign, it turned out to be the work of a Texan Republican group of the sort that derailed Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid in the infamous “Swift Boat” affair.

It did not seem to matter that the half-brother, George Onyango Obama, had only supportive words to say about his famous relative when he was fished out by the Italian edition of an American magazine that first broke the story of his existence.

But the bigger import of the story, it seemed, was to stoke doubts that an African-American candidate with half-siblings spanning the slum-world of Nairobi to Indonesia and God-knows-where did not quite present the wholesome, “All-American” picture of somebody seeking the US presidency.

Negative advert

The McCain campaign was less reticent in putting out another negative advert depicting Senator Hillary Clinton criticising Obama as “inexperienced” at the height of the Democratic primary battle.

The intention was to juxtapose this criticism with Clinton’s endorsement of Obama as the party presidential nominee.

A similar advert with similar dated criticism of Obama, this time from eventual vice-presidential nominee Joseph Biden, was aired by the McCain campaign immediately the veteran senator was selected to become Obama’s running-mate.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that Obama’s chances of getting elected the first African-American President of the US hinges on Clinton and her supporters.

That is why Clinton’s endorsement of Obama was billed as the second most important event at the Democratic Party convention after the candidate’s acceptance speech itself.

Though as expected Clinton gave a fulsome endorsement, the biggest question mark in American politics right now – for both Democrats and Republicans – is if her core supporters, especially the crucial segment of older white women and low-income white men, will rally behind Obama.

The polls have not been altogether encouraging. A poll commissioned by CNN last week indicated a full quarter of Clinton’s supporters were not keen to vote for Obama.

The same poll showed the General Election race at a dead heat with Obama and McCain each at 47 per cent, and this despite the huge media enthusiasm evident around Obama. (The numbers were likely to improve after Obama’s speech).

In fact, the paradox goes deeper. Democratic candidates for Congressional and state offices are riding a crest of support being enjoyed by the Democratic Party in many states across the country.

In a situation such as this, pollsters would have expected the candidate of the Democratic Party to be enjoying a comfortable lead over the Republican Party’s McCain. More so as the Republican is closely tied to many of Bush’s failed policies like Iraq.

Will one of the most uplifting presidential campaigns in modern America be undone by something many people are too shy to talk about – race?

Retired US basketball star Charles Barkley, who once stated he was Republican but is now solidly for Obama, dismisses the persistent pro-Clinton tilt among a section of Democrats as an “excuse”.

McCain has been quick to exploit the displeasure many of Clinton’s supporters felt about the fact that she was passed over by Obama for the vice-presidential slot.