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Bear the White House burden

india Updated: Nov 21, 2008 14:24 IST
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As auxiliary verb, one-third of Obama’s slogan, ‘Yes we can.’ Also, one-third of scary hacker slogan, ‘Because you can.’ As noun, one-third of doom-laden phrase, ‘Can of worms.’

I am so relieved that McCain and Palin have been left eating Barack Obama’s dust. A disconcerting pair — a moose-gutting Barbie mom and an all-American hero who looks disturbingly unfinished. For once, I’m glad that in today’s personality-based politics, appearances matter. We don’t even have to look at their real dysfunctions — McCain is clueless about the economy and Palin is less aware of the Bush Doctrine than Kalahari Bushmen.

However, unlike the thousands who wept over Obama’s victory speech on the Chicago lakeshore, I have mixed feelings. Not because I undervalue this historic event which has been in the making for more than two centuries, since the birth of US abolitionism. Nor because I doubt the good faith of Obama’s team, but because a white Obama would look a lot like Bill Clinton. Sixteen years ago this month, Clinton swept the polls to end a quarter-century of Republican dominance in the White House. He rode a wave of disenchantment with Bush Sr on foreign policy and economic issues, and like Obama benefited from the younger Bush’s mishandling of Wall Street and Iraq. Anti-communist Republicans seemed out of touch after the fall of the Soviet Union. Domestically, after a recession, Bush Sr. had reneged on his famous 1988 promise: “Read my lips — no new taxes.” Clinton’s strategist James Carvill countered with an equally famous slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Toni Morrison had called Clinton the “first black president” — he was born working class, played the sax and was demonised as a dick on wheels without reference to his accomplishments. His presidency foregrounded marginalised groups like Blacks and gays and brought an inclusive humanity to the White House. After his term, he set up in New York’s Harlem.

But this very administration opened the can of worms which has ruined the image of America. In his State of the Union Address, Clinton warned Congress of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions. In 1998, he instituted a policy of ‘regime change’ against Iraq and followed up with the first bombings, in Operation Desert Fox, starting a political process that would eventually pile up almost 100,000 civilian casualties in the Bush War.

Both Clinton and Obama came to power because people yearned for change, a primal urge that sometimes casts aside reason and humanity. It’s like the hacker who will do anything to change the world, “because you can”. I hope Obama is able to keep his head, and that we see some difference between a Democrat president who infamously did not inhale and one who has the candour to admit that he did.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine