[Please note that Richard has not approved this blog entry.]
I’ve decided to re-write an earlier post to make my views clearer. Raj
It is clear from many reports that Obama has a massive amount of appeal the world over. This is partly because of the annoyance with Bush and therefore Republicans and partly because of how Obama comes across – young, handsome and eloquent. His race, as much as he doesn’t want it to be an election issue, stands out and reflects well on him.
However, as much as I enjoy reading election commentary from around the world, a recent piece in the Guardian was a bit too much for me. In 2004 a columnist with the Guardian urged readers to write to Americans and suggest they vote for John Kerry – which probably on average harmed, rather than helped, his chances. Recently an opinion piece on why Obama should win was published on the website.
And, most depressing, many African-Americans will decide that if even Barack Obama – with all his conspicuous gifts – could not win, then no black man can ever be elected president.
Yes, that would be depressing – because it would show that America still hasn’t moved on in terms of race. If African-Americans (what about West Indian-Americans – are they backing McCain?) are voting for Obama purely on race then that’s not hugely better in my view than voters voting for McCain because of Obama’s skin colour. But I’m not sure that they would despair that much. Obama has many talents, but he is also inexperienced – and running against possibly the worst opponent for him that the Republicans could have fielded. Although the age difference had the potential to lose McCain the election, if he could get over that Obama was always going to have a real fight.
It is my hope that if Obama loses, black Americans who were backing him will look with hope to the future rather than assume that was going to be the only chance of seeing a black US president. Freedland should have remained as optimistic, rather than make rather patronising comments that mocked the ability of the black voters to weather an Obama defeat.
But what of the rest of the world? This is the reaction I fear most. For Obama has stirred an excitement around the globe unmatched by any American politician in living memory. Polling in Germany, France, Britain and Russia shows that Obama would win by whopping majorities, with the pattern repeated in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. If November 4 were a global ballot, Obama would win it handsomely. If the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama.
Thinking back to the last Democrat president, I seem to remember (perhaps wrongly) that during Clinton’s terms in office, the criticism of America was that it “didn’t do enough” – many countries seem to see-saw between wanting the US to make military interventions and not. Some are better than others, but I wonder whether this “pendulum” will continue to swing. In any case, as much as many people would like to see Obama US president, they have to respect the choice the American people make. As much as I wanted to see Gore and Kerry win in 2000 and 2004 respectively, when I heard that Bush had won I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for the best. It’s also fair to consider the situation reversed – I doubt Freedland would respond positively to calls from the foreign media for David Cameron to be the next British Prime Minister, though it’s probably inevitable.
But what does that say about today’s America, that the world’s esteem is now unwanted? If Americans reject Obama, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the rest of us – and, make no mistake, we shall hear it.
I don’t think at all that America would ignore the world to spite it. But just because the world backs someone doesn’t mean it is the best choice for America – that’s what US voters need to decide on. I remember some years ago that Chinese people desperately wanted to see the back of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi – despite the fact that he had pushed a reform agenda that Japan desperately needed. Did they care about whether his successors would continue that process or send the country backwards? No. They were focused on one issue – whether the Japanese Prime Minister visited the Yasukuni Shrine or not.
Similarly, even though the world as a whole doesn’t wish a US president who will cause harm to his country, the desires of non-Americans are mostly focused on the next president “not going to war”. If they thought a monkey in a suit would do that better, they’d be “backing Bubbles”. From my POV what people like Freedland see in Obama is a mere shadow of his true qualities, taking a selfish, snobbish, self-righteous view that doesn’t do the man a shred of justice.
I can’t say that I would vote for Obama if I was American, but if he wins, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for a good presidency – if he loses, I would like to see him stand again when the time is right. But for me, unlike people like Freedland, his race, youth and good features are irrelevant. It would be nice if the world could appreciate Obama for his policies rather than his image. Otherwise there will be an even greater disappointment if Obama wins and then does not turn out to be everything they thought he would be.