Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Way They Were

As I followed the 2008 presidential election campaign in America, I realized that the campaigns are in-part also a big battle of egos. Each candidate not only believes that his/her position on the issues is the right choice, the right direction for the country; but also that they are the right person to lead the country in that direction. In one way this is a highly egotistical claim which each presidential candidate is trying to convince everyone else of. Almost two years of constant campaigning to this end must inevitably be a transforming experience, changing the person completely.

Now that the campaign is over, the candidates have to face the results. In the case of John McCain, he has to face his defeat in a bitterly fought contest and its effect on his party and his own political career. In the case of Barack Obama, he now has to face the immense responsibility of leading this country in times of immense difficulties both at home and abroad. John McCain and Barack Obama are in a way completely different people from what they were a couple of years ago. In the backdrop of these facts, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at these candidates as they were before they got wrapped up in their respective campaigns.

Starting with John McCain: I have said that I used to like John McCain. From what I recall, he really was kind of 'straight talking', right of the center guy who was not afraid to spar with people in his own party on important issues. Here are some clips of Jon Stewart interviewing John McCain. The first one is back in 2002 before the Iraq war started. The second one is just after the state of the union speech in January 2004. What I like about John McCain in these clips is his candidness. He speaks his mind and he doesn't try to spin much. This is the John McCain I would have liked to see more of on the campaign trail.

Like most other people, I had not heard much about Barack Obama until he gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. Back in August 2005, Barack Obama made an appearance as the guest who plays 'not my job' game on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, the NPR news quiz - one of my favorite radio shows. He talked about his views on important issues such as 8th grade graduation ceremonies. As I listened to the show again today, I couldn't help but think that this guy has a great sense of humor and is very witty. You can listen to the clip here.

This other clip is of Barack Obama on Monday night football back in 2006 where it seems like he is about to announce that he is running for president:

I guess we won't get to see this lighter, funnier side of Barack Obama more often now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Vignettes of Hope

America has voted. Barack Hussein Obama is the president elect of United States of America. I am happy that my cynicism about the American electorate, particularly in relation to the racial issue, has been defeated. I was following the results all night and here are some vignettes from a night full of hope.

Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic posted a note from one of the readers of his blog. I felt it is very beautiful. Here it is:
Nothing in my life has actually changed in the 30 minutes since it was announced Obama will be our next president. I have the same bills, the same amount of money in the bank, my dishwasher is still broken, and my 5 month old beagle won't stop peeing on my carpet. Everything in my life is exactly the same as it was 30 minutes ago; and yet I feel as though everything is different.

I feel so much hope. I feel so much pride. I feel like my one vote was a single drop of water in a great Tsunami of change. I feel like I was one of a million voices screaming in the night, " I love my country and I'm taking it back!" I'm so proud of the country that I love and have so much hope in my heart that we can together heal the wounds that have been such a source of pain and anger to us all.

I know Obama isn't going to fix the economy overnight, I know he won't be able to provide healthcare to all Americans by February '09. I know Obama isn't a Messiah who four years from now will have turned this country into a fabled utopia. But I also know Obama will make moral decisions. I know Obama will try to unite where others try to divide. I know Obama will help to make America the beacon of hope it once was to others. I know that at 27 years of age, I witnessed one of the most important and hopefully glorious chapters in American history.

I know hope.
The immense sense of soaring hope and the firm anchor in reality are both vividly evident in this person's comment. Thank you for voicing a shared feeling with such clarity.

In last few weeks, I was anxiously following the race in Pennsylvania and Ohio. This American Life covered the Obama and McCain campaigns in Pennsylvania in one of their episodes - Ground Game. For anyone interested in grass-roots political campaigns, this is a must listen. It featured the town of State College, PA (where I lived and studied for six years) and how the students campaigning for Obama are conducting huge voter registration drives. It featured a student volunteer named Kaycee (hope I am spelling the name correctly) who was the most active and most successful in getting students registered. It featured the union leaders in Pennsylvania who are persuading their fellow workers and union members to look beyond race, get past the animosity and vote for Obama based on the issues that they care about. I am listening to this episode again tonight. As the networks called Pennsylvania for Obama tonight, I can only imagine the joy these volunteers must have feel at the end of a successful campaign. Their HOPE was vindicated tonight. Oh! and Centre county went for Obama by 11% margin tonight! Go Nittany Lions!

When I was in India, the image of an "American" in my mind was always that of a 'white' man or women. This image was reaffirmed in so many subtle ways - through the movies, the images of American Presidents and other American leaders. After coming to this country I met and got acquainted with many Americans who didn't fit the stereotypical image and were still very much 'American'. What excites me about the Obama presidency is the fact that it will change this image of the typical 'American' for so many people including many Americans themselves. As the world sees a man of color as the president of America, going about the business of governing and decision making just like any of the previous presidents, somewhere in the subconscious the prejudices will start to melt. Barack Obama's face on national television will do more to remove lingering doubts (often based on unfounded fear) and deep-rooted hatred of people based on race and color of skin, than many other overt programs and campaigns to fight racism everywhere. That alone in my opinion will be a great achievement.

This is my hope today.