I'm emerging from a long break in blogging. So if any of you have still kept my blog in your feed reader... kudos to you for your patience and many thanks!
This is the first time around that I have followed the presidential nomination process in this country closely. Last time around, I paid attention only after the general election campaign had started. My political views are more on the liberal-Democratic side and even more so on the 'cynical of all politicians' side. Last time around the Democrats in this country picked John Kerry as their presidential nominee. Initially I felt that Kerry had a good chance to beat George W. Bush. But he fumbled a lot in the campaign. He failed to make a logical case about his opposition to the Iraq war after having voted for the resolution to authorize the use of force. The Republicans picked on this and portrayed him as a flip-flopper. Apparently, changing one's opinion in the face of new evidence is a character flaw in this country. Then he failed to respond aggressively to the swift-boat veterans for truth campaign. Compared to George W. Bush, Kerry's military record looked unbeatable. But Kerry failed to aggressively hit back at the swift-boat campaign 'shmear' and this, in my opinion, created enough doubts about his record in the minds of many independent voters. The rest is history. Bush/Cheney won by a 2.3% margin. The funniest thing I remember after that election was Jon Stewart's comments on The Daily Show about Bush's swearing in ceremony, which for your delight is embedded below:
(The punch-line, if you care, is around 2.00 min. into the clip. I am not ashamed to say that I was among the people who 'solemnly swore')
This time around, I have been following the Democratic and Republican nomination contests closely. The Republicans, because of the way they choose nominees (winner takes all delegates in most states), have ended up with a clear result very early. The competition for John McCain was not all that great. There were many candidates in the Republican race who were touted by the media as 'clear' front-runners but who were kicked out in the first few rounds, leaving Republicans to ultimately choose between war-hero and long serving US senator John McCain and the utterly ridiculous, Mr. 'I don't believe in evolution by natural selection', god-nutter, Mike Huckabee.
But this post is not about the Republican race. It's about the race for the Democratic party nomination. As I write this, the results of the last two Democratic primaries are coming in. Hillary Clinton finished her speech some time ago thanking all her supporters but saying that she will not be making any decisions about the future of her campaign tonight. As I am typing these words I am listening to Barack Obama's victory speech in which he claimed the democratic nomination. As I listen to the dizzy chants of "Yes we can!" I am filled with a feeling of both hope and fear.
Barack Obama has great oratorical talent and equally good speech writers. He has successfully inspired a lot young first time voters to root for him in the primaries and caucuses. His campaign carried out amazing grass-roots activism that finally resulted in his winning the democratic nomination. My cynicism of politicians forbids me from making any predictions about the kind of president Barack Obama would be if he indeed wins the general election, but I can safely say either of candidates this time around would be better than George W. Bush and 'Dick' Cheney combined. My hope is that Barack Obama goes on to win the general election in November.
My fear is that the Democratic party has committed 'hara-kiri' by democracy. Democratic party has this "everyone gets a trophy" type nomination process which proportionately allocates the delegates in each state to any candidate who wins more than 15% of the votes. This led to a lengthy and divisive nomination race. The nomination process chosen by the Democratic party is not like the general election, where the candidate who wins popular vote in a state carries the entire state in the electoral college. The Democratic party system is further complicated by an utterly undemocratic concoction called the 'super-delegates' who get to make up their mind irrespective of the popular opinion.
The candidates vying for the nomination in the democratic race were historical. Hillary Clinton if nominated would have been the first woman to lead the ticket. Barack Obama is the first man of color to be the presidential candidate of a major party in this country. The race between these two has left the democratic party deeply divided. Democrats further complicated things by first stripping the states of Michigan and Florida of all the delegates just because these states decided to have early primaries. Then, few days ago they divided the delegates among Clinton and Obama but gave each delegate from these states only 1/2 vote in the convention. The whole thing was ironic given that it was the "Democratic" party going though all this drama. Now that Obama has won the nomination, there is talk about unity in the party. I am afraid that it is a bit too late to achieve any unity after such a long and bitter infighting.
The thing I am even more fearful of is the fact that in the frenzy and enthusiasm created by Obama's charisma, people are not looking at the bigger picture. Sure he has run a great grass-roots campaign... sure has has been able to raise huge amounts of money from a record number of donors... but he has a long way to go to win the general election. Every time I hear talk about the enthusiasm and energy created by Obama's campaign, I remind myself that just four years ago 51% of the people who voted in this country thought George W. Bush is the right choice to run the country. This was in the light of a preemptive war that was turning out to be increasingly disastrous and dangerous for this country AND the world at large. It was also in the light of the amply evident incompetence, stupidity and arrogance of the Bush administration. I am not convinced that suddenly a majority of this country will wake up and vote for a black man with no military background, very little experience in the Senate and almost no experience in an executive position. Perhaps I am being too cynical. Perhaps, not unlike the swing of a pendulum, public opinion in this country too swings from the delusion of electing Bush/Cheney in 2004 to the giddiness of voting for 'hope and change' 2008.
I am afraid that this country is still not ready for a black man to become the President. I am afraid that racism will rear its ugly head in this campaign. In many places it will be utterly blatant. However I am afraid more of the subtle racism...that some people will cloak under the guise of "leadership experience", "military experience" or any other reason they can find to vote against Obama. I am not alleging that everyone who votes for McCain is a racist. Most of the people who voted for McCain (and will vote for him in the general election) in my opinion will truly believe him to be the right choice and for the right reasons. But I am afraid that there are just enough people in this country who won't vote for Obama simply because of his race...no matter what his stance is on the real issues such as the economy, health care and national security. They may be a minority... but remember... 2% of the voting population is enough to tilt the scales towards the McCain camp.
I think Barack Obama's association with Jeremiah Wright is also going to hurt him. It is one of the things that annoys me about Barack Obama. What was he thinking associating with such a lunatic pastor for 20 years? I am guessing there are going to be many people who will be thinking likewise. I am sure many people will conveniently ignore all the crazy things uttered by some lunatic evangelical Christian leaders in this country. I am sure many will also forget that John McCain, who once called these god-nutters 'agents of intolerance' is now wooing them to secure the religious right-wing vote.
For Barack Obama to win the general election, the Democratic party needs to stand united behind him. Barack Obama needs to successfully convince enough independents and "white working class" voters to vote for him to win crucial states in the general election. The sum of all my fears about this election is that the divisions in the democratic party will not be healed soon enough, and this combined with the subtle racism and other factors will result in Barack Obama losing the general election and John McCain becoming the next President.. and that will be a tragedy.