Sunday, August 31, 2008



Sunday Standard
August 31, 2008

By John Mwazemba

Having presided over a disastrous war in Iraq and an economy on the rocks, President George W Bush has seen his popularity ratings hit all-time lows. He is one of the most unpopular presidents in recent American history.

Thanks to the Republican president, this year’s presidential election was supposed to be a Democratic walk-over. The Democratic nominee, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, was supposed to be cruising easily to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. After all, he has a crack political operation that dazed the Clinton war machine. There is only one problem: He is black.

The son of a black man from Kenya and a white mother, Obama finds himself the subject of an old battle — between white and black.

I will not be as pessimistic as Times of London columnist Gerard Baker who wrote: "There’s trouble in paradise. Cancel the coronation. Send back the commemorative medals. Put those ‘Yes We Can’ T-shirts up on eBay. Keep the Change. Barack Obama’s historic procession to the US presidency has been rudely interrupted... If you’re prone to emotional breakdown, you might want to take a seat before I say this: He might not win".

Baker is wrong. Almost everything points to a probable Obama win. Underestimate the Chicago politician at your own risk: Hillary Clinton did and got a serious walloping.

However, if he loses it will be because he is black. Race is the main issue that can be Obama’s undoing. It is unfortunate that we are still facing this after all the talk about equality.

With the prevailing political climate decidedly against Republicans, Obama should be many points ahead of John McCain. In fact, the Democratic party leads the Republican party in generic polls with a significant 10 points. But polls between the two presidential candidates of the same parties are a different story.

Polls show that the race between Obama and McCain is a nail-biter, too close to call — with some polls showing recently that McCain is surging ahead. The polls cast some light to Obama’s expected problems at the ballot — older white voters. These voters, a crucial voting block that always votes, are breaking for McCain by surprising margins. Younger white voters, like those attending college, back Barack Obama.

There could be many reasons why older white voters are for McCain, but one that is rarely picked by the media is that these white people are just not comfortable voting for a black man.

Giving the devil his due, America has taken many great strides in reducing racism since the days of Martin Luther King Jr, the unappeasable warrior of justice who once famously said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Original sin

Nevertheless, racism still remains America’s original sin. It is what a critic described as "a sin that festers and divides still." Obama knows this and has already warned that Republicans will try to use race to stoke fears.

"They are going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?"

American politics can be as petty as zeroing in on a funny-sounding name. Of all the 42 men who have been presidents from Washington to Bush, "the names ring with echoes of Northern Europe, of Scotch-Irish or Dutch or German ancestry. Only one bore a name that could fairly be called unusual: Eisenhower. About that exception, two points: Everybody called him ‘Ike’. When you win a world war, you can have any damn name you want," writes Jeff Greenfield.

To make it worse, Obama’s name is unfortunately very close to Osama bin Laden, America’s hate figure. When Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate, Republicans were spotted with newly-minted signs reading ‘Obama bin Biden’.

I digress. The point is, if Republicans can make the campaign an issue of race and come out unscathed, Obama’s prospects could dwindle. The trick is to make people believe Obama is not one of them because he doesn’t look like them.

As Obama officially becomes the presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention, I wish him well, knowing he is a beacon of hope for all minorities not only in America but around the world.