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06 November, 2008

How Barack Obama crafted his historic win


Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African American to be elected the President of the United States of America. Even two years ago many Americans did not know who Obama was. His rapid ascendancy to the top leadership of the Democratic Party will be a topic of discussion among historians and political pundits for years to come. His early call for change in Washington resonated with a large number of ordinary Americans who felt their voice is not being heard in Washington.

His compelling life story captivated the imagination of Americans. Born to a white Kansas woman and a father from Kenya, Obama had his early childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia. He was brought up by his maternal grand parents. They and his mother instilled in him strong family values which shaped his future. He excelled in education, obtaining a law degree from Harvard University. Though he joined a law firm, his interest quickly turned to community service. He met his future wife Michelle in Chicago. Obama’s rise in politics was meteoric. He served eight years as Illinois State senator. He was elected as a US Senator from Illinois in 2004.

Perhaps Obama’s biggest break came in the 2004 Presidential election, when Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry asked Obama to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention. Obama displayed his oratorical skills and breadth of knowledge during that memorable speech which in many ways brought him to where he is today.

Throughout the long drawn out Presidential election, circumstances turned in Obama’s favor time and again. He was one of the few politicians who called for the withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq. During his eight years in office, President George W Bush became unpopular for the misadventure in Iraq.

Obama’s organizational skills became clear when he emerged as the front runner in the Iowa Democratic primary. Though he came second in New Hampshire, his popularity continued to rise. By all accounts, his chief opponent for the ticket, Hillary Clinton, should have been the nominee of the Democratic Party. Hillary has extensive experience of the working of the government and enjoyed the enormous clout of President Bill Clinton. As more and more national democratic leaders started supporting Obama, Clinton’s strong hold on the party began to slip.

Even a month ago Obama and McCain were only three points apart on various polls. That meant that the election was close. Some voters had doubts about Obama’s ability to deal with national security and foreign policy issues. McCain held vast experience in both areas. But the rapid change in the outlook for the US economy thrust economy as the number one issue among Americans. As the financial meltdown in Wall Street spread to the main street the effects of the recession became apparent. Moreover McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as vice presidential candidate cost him dearly.

Political analysts were worried about the Bradley effect in this election. Tom Bradley was an African American Los Angeles mayor who ran as a Democratic candidate for Governor of California. Even though some voters told pollsters that they will be voting for Bradley, at the booth they ended up casting the votes for the white Republican candidate. While the Bradley effect might have taken place in a small way, vast majority of the white people (Democrats) voted for Obama. This is a sea change from the past voting pattern and that augurs well for American democracy.

The rapidly changing American demography also helped Obama. While 94% of the African Americans voted for Obama, Hispanic and Asian Americans also voted for Obama in large numbers. The Obama camp did an excellent job in registering more than a million new voters. Obama’s major support came from young people of all races.

More than a million people contributed 100 to 200 dollars or more to the Obama campaign. In many ways Obama’s campaign for change was a national movement. Most of the contributions were given through the Internet. In September alone Obama raised $150 million. The Obama campaign used the funds mainly for TV ads in battleground States like Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. The money advantage played an important role in spreading the Obama message across the country.

Republicans used many dirty tricks to discredit the Obama candidacy. Examples included trying to link Obama with a former terrorist, as a Muslim and with a PLO supporter. He was described as a socialist and an extreme liberal. Republicans alleged that Obama will raise taxes and increase spending. Perhaps the most egregious act was a question a TV journalist put to Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden: Is Obama a Marxist? It turned out the journalist was a registered Republican and her husband a Republican operative.

The new President will have a challenging task ahead. He will have to immediately address the vexing economic problems. To be sure, President Obama will resort to a multilateral approach to solving world problems. He will make sure all Americans are covered by health insurance. He will work to improve the public education in the country. He will ensure tax cuts for the majority of working Americans. He will bring the American troops from Iraq and will work to diminish terrorism in the Afghan region.

We wish the new President well.

Girish Bhaskar writes for Bhaskar News Service
Courtesy: Kaumudi Singapore

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