OBAMA in the White House

January 6, 2009

In two weeks Barack Obama will be sworn in as President of the U.S.A. Well, Obama, a ‘half-black’ man will be in the ‘White’ House. He chose his fierce opponent, Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, and emulated Lincoln, who also chose some rivals to be in his cabinet. Such is electoral politics–fight and denigrate till the election, then perhaps become friends in mutual need.



March 6, 2008

Well, now that Hillary has stalled Obama’s momentum (with her wins in Ohio and Texas), the Democratic nomination is still up for grabs.

Talk has naturally turned to the Dream ticket. My own preference would be Obama-Clinton since Hillary is getting on, and may not have the energy to pursue her presidential ambitions next time around. Of course, as VP, she could become president if anything happens to Obama, though this is unlikely. As for Obama, he’s a young man and probably wouldn’t play second fiddle, should Hillary win the race — especially as he would still have the energy to pursue the presidency for the next few election cycles. Ascending to this office through the VP route is not his style. Being a VP would kill whatever stature he now has.

And of course we’re assuming that either would win in November — the G.O.P. is known to play dirty.

Hillary the Man?–Obama the Woman?

March 3, 2008

Now that Obama has become the clear front runner in the race to be the Democratic nominee in the Nov’08 U.S. elections, the tables have been turned on Hillary, who was supposed to be the shoo-in for the nomination. In a strange irony, Hillary played all her MALE cards, trying to appear like a male Commander-in-Chief, whereas Obama projects himself as a softer, conciliatory, consensual version of a typical male candidate, as though to emulate the FEMININE side of all males. That leaves Hillary high and dry — she simply missed the most obvious thing about herself: be comfortable in your own, natural, feminine skin to win over the electorate. Obama merely gave expression to his feminine side, but ended up occupying the space that could’ve been Hillary’s. What a shame — she fell into the Iron Lady trap, hardly realizing that that may be her downfall. Of course, other forces are also at work in this unprecedented campaign that has passed the baton to Obama — the seemingly favored and anointed son of a ‘new’ America.    

Well, the race is almost over, unless Hillary produces a miracle tomorrow. In hindsight, we’ll all be forced to say that it was just her bad luck to be running against a much younger, and inspiring black (or half-black?) male candidate whose time has come. You must be liked, you must connect, you must have charisma…it just isn’t her time. Swimming against the tide of the time is futile.

Hillary-Obama Combine

February 6, 2008

Now that the Democratic race for the nomination has shrunk to these two formidable and transformative contenders who’re in a dead heat, separated by a whisker, i’ll indulge in a few more thoughts.

Either will be a historic first, and each stands in the way of the other. To which Hillary has replied: “It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem.” So to prepare the ground–she seems to be saying–let’s retain the color and change the gender of the President first. Then, after the better half acquires a voice, we can change the color of the President so that men and women of all shades are justly represented and a new age ushered in. How’s that for a convenient compromise? A white female policy wonk hungry for change, followed four years later by a black male visionary with character who will supposedly transform a nation. Since America is a land of immigrants, the more recent ones no doubt want such a force to integrate meaningfully with the lands they left. Their fervent hope is to escape the insularity that infects so much of the land they chose to settle in.

But apart from these historic shifts in gender-color, one has to study the differences between the two. However attractive they are, however transformational they seem, whatever promise they hold out, they’re still mortals, subject to human vagaries and realpolitik like everyone else. The office of the presidency stands above any candidacy, as does the rough and tumble of campaign politics that tests a candidate’s engagement with the public. Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek, offers a valuable insight: the differences between Clinton and Obama in terms of beliefs are slight, but policy is another matter. While Clinton is wary of acting on her beliefs, Obama shows more promise and committment when it comes to action. eg. America’s Cuba policy, where Clinton defends the status quo, perhaps out of fear of jeopardizing the Florida Hispanic vote. Realpolitik tends to suppress actual belief. Obama advocates an active engagement with Cuba in order to weaken Castro’s regime, thus reversing the decades-old isolation and sanctions against Cuba and its people.

see Jan9 post: “Billary finally becomes Hillary?

Campaign artifice

January 17, 2008

Listening to all the American candidates on the trail for Decision 2008, one gets the uneasy feeling that their rhetoric is largely an artifice, a posture, and carries little to no substance. As with any and every campaign in history, I suppose. Each candidate is compelled to put a spin on all his pronouncements, so he/she and the electorate begin to believe that the spin is the substance. Personality becomes the relevant coin, not policy. The media builds them up, knocks them down on that basis, and then they react to the coverage — it’s a spiralling rhetoric that conveniently sweeps aside the underlying truth. What are we to believe? That the process is some kind of mandatory but expensive ritual? What a waste of precious resources. Some may argue that everyone sees through the bullshit rhetoric (even feigned oratory?), and eventually the truth emerges. We simply have to go along with the spectacle as show biz. (Most wink knowingly and agree that it can be entertaining). Market forces inexorably strip away the artifice and the candidate is laid bare to be examined for what he/she is — hopefully by election day.

Billary finally becomes Hillary?

January 9, 2008

the morning after

Hillary won N.H. and symbolically bounced back from Barack’s blow in Iowa. Let’s see what she’s made of now. But let’s consider the two burning questions on the minds of many the world over: is America ready for a ‘white’ woman or a ‘black’ man* (that too with an African name) as President, and in what order? A resounding yes to the first question. Putting a woman in the WH would not only be historic, but transformative (women tend to govern people better due to their stronger interpersonal skills; of course she could end up becoming an Iron Lady, in the Indira Gandhi-Margaret Thatcher mould); putting a ‘black’ (Obama is half white) man in the WH would still retain the gender of all American presidents to date. To me a gender change is arguably more significant than a color change!–at least as a start. As for the second question, let me speculate: Hillary in 2008 and Obama in 2012 — that would work like a balm, wouldn’t it? Fewer shocks and plenty of time to adjust to the new reality: a radical change in the consciousness of a superpower with military bases around the world, but which is now under siege from hostile quarters, praying for salvation.

see Dec19 post: “Charismatic Clinton”

Benazir Bhutto — martyr* and metaphor

December 28, 2007

Millions of words will pour out to honor or vilify this woman of our times. Here are my thoughts on this tragic occasion.

Murder most foul? Without a doubt. But in terms of motive, hardly mysterious — her assasins are all around, lurking in those crowds and seething masses that swarm in the public spaces of urban Pakistan. Whether the security apparatus did its job, or whether Benazir herself could’ve prevented her death (by not exposing herself so wantonly), the fact remains that she was moving about in hostile territory wherever she went. Benazir, a Muslim woman and a mother of three young children, knowingly, and willingly, walked into a cauldron of jihadi terrorism. Her courage is to her credit; how else does one confront the sickness of unthinking, unfeeling terrorists who’re out to kill you? Why did she take such a risk when she could’ve led a cushy life as a happy mother and commentator-in-exile? One wonders: did she consciously and deliberately risk her life to become a martyr to the burning cause of democracy? A martyrdom that would slowly bring about the dramatic change she wanted in the coming months? If that really happens, her death won’t be in vain. After all the analysis and commentary have saturated the airwaves and print media, the real human stories in this tragedy will emerge to move and touch us all. For if we feel nothing, if we don’t have moments of self-doubt and introspection, then all the media buzz will have been just hot air. What we’re witnessing is a martyrdom, of a woman, a mother and a Muslim, that has suddenly become a painful metaphor for a disturbed world. A martyrdom that we hope lives on as an indestructible idea — one that will continue to challenge our best instincts.

a few days later: 

We naturally mourn the loss of a human life through violence, but given Pakistan’s background and the current volatile situation, there were perhaps few grounds for optimism even if Benazir had been elected as PM once again. For a persuasive assessment of the history of politics in this region, I refer readers to the best article I’ve read on Benazir: The prodigal daughter” by Vir Sanghvi (Hindustan Times, Dec 30, 2007). He puts things in real perspective.

Here’s a trenchant view by William Dalrymple, writing in the New York Times (Jan 4, 2008):

“Benazir Bhutto was certainly a brave and secular-minded woman. But the obituaries painting her as dying to save democracy distort history. Instead, she was a natural autocrat who did little for human rights, a calculating politician who was complicit in Pakistan’s becoming the region’s principal jihadi paymaster while she also ramped up an insurgency in Kashmir that has brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war.”

*It is the cause and not the death that makes the martyr.

–Napoleon Bonaparte

Carbon footprints in the air

December 20, 2007

The Bali conference on Carbon/GHG/GW/CC (insistent acronyms of our infant century) has just ended. George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, has a devastatingly simple — and obvious? — solution to ending carbon emissions: leave those fossil fuels in the ground and learn to do without some of the things we’ve become addictively accustomed to. Changing our lifestyle and worldview — and shifting our focus — is a sacrifice most of us are unwilling to make. The industrial revolution was itself based on greed and making money by polluting the Earth. Tragically. So we have great financial hubs like London, New York or Tokyo that feed on and sustain this pollution by making more and more goods and finding markets to sell them — but without transforming the way we source and use energy. The virus of consumption has infected most of humanity, and few are willing to let go. Simple acts have become the most difficult. Who wants to give up old-style comfort and convenience? (The irony is that this comfort is not going to last long). This consumption is born of angst and frustration, which in turn are born of affluence and past privation. Our inertia in giving it up will eventually claim us all.  Alas, consumption and, paradoxically, ‘cultural evolution’, may well succeed in bringing about our extinction. Can we embrace Monbiot and his ilk? Will we usher in a post-industrial society? Or more to the point: a post-(merely) survivable society?

Gandhi, Gujarat and Beyond

December 20, 2007

Tridip Suhrud (whose words I quoted recently in New Quest*), writing in the Indian Express under The burden that is Gandhi, opens our eyes to the ideals that Gandhi espoused and the contradicting Gujarati soul as he sees it today. A truly worthwhile view if you wish to feel and understand his pain in these exasperating MODI-fied times. Realpolitik is less important to me than the way common people express themselves to feel alive and human, even when they’re gripped by futility and feel hopeless. Suhrud speaks to me about Gujarat in a way that is unique and personal.

I’ll quote from this insightful piece and offer a comment or two as soon as I can.

*a Mumbai-based journal of ideas, literature & comment that I help edit

Charismatic Clinton

December 19, 2007

I’ve been keenly following America 2008, the U.S. presidential campaign. Bill Clinton strides like a colossus across the American political landscape — a legacy of charisma and populism Hillary must now live up to; and of shame she must live down. Win or lose, she will forever be in his shadow. And what a shadow to live in. Will she choose him as her running mate since she hasn’t had much luck with him as a bedmate? As veep, Bill would covet a role as the shadow President, and as President, Hillary would certainly get his attention — yes, even in bed. Or will that end up being an executive order?

jan 05-’08: after losing Iowa Hillary has to worry more about Barack than Bill. The veep thing can wait too.