United States President-elect Barack Obama is to be officially inaugurated as US President on January 20th. As the dust settles following this historic election, and as we recover from the “Obamania” that had gripped lots of people across the world; many marvel at what exactly thrust Barack Obama from near anonymity to the most powerful office in the world in a space of just about four years.
I am an ardent admirer of the American President-elect and this article brings into view an inter-play of factors that propelled Obama to defy history and become the first elected African-American President of the United States.
Obama came to national prominence during the 2004 Democratic National convention as a keynote speaker. In his speech, he provided the American public with the first glimpse of his rhetoric flair. Obama articulately told his inspirational and moving story as a child of a black man and white woman and the limitless opportunities that America had offered him.
At the end of this speech, as Obama belted out: “There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.” Many in the audience were in tears and America was impressed with the articulate young and aspiring Senator.
The Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election but the Democratic convention was a double score for Barack obama, he had successfully captured national attention; in addition to enhancing his bid to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Obama’s rise to the pinnacle of US politics was almost meteoric from that point on.
On declaring his intention to run for the US presidency, at a time when no one counted him in against the more famed Hillary Clinton, Obama and his Chicago campaign team went on to build the most meticulously organized and effective campaign machinery in modern history; enlisting an army of grassroots supporters and volunteers, thus turning the campaign into a national movement for change in America.
The Obama campaign revolutionalised the use of the internet as a key campaign tool. The power of the internet allowed the Obama campaign to raise millions of dollars in donations that fuelled the campaign. This financial muscle proved decisive in the final rounds of the campaign as he overwhelmingly outspent his Republican rival John McCain.
The internet also offered a good platform for the campaign to recruit and constantly keep in touch with supporters; updating them on latest developments and in a way making them own the campaign.
The Obama campaign slogan of change resonated with many Americans who were frustrated with Washington politics. Obama inspired particularly young voters who came out to vote in record numbers.
The unpopularity of the Bush administration and wide dissatisfaction over Iraq easily played into the change slogan as Obama took every opportunity to link John McCain to what critics termed as the failed policies of President Bush.
McCain’s frantic efforts to take over the change chorus by taking on an inexperienced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate only proved futile as polls consistently showed that she hurt the campaign more than she helped despite her initial success in raising enthusiasm among sections of Republican supporters.
As a result of the Palin choice, the Republicans lost their argument that Obama was a risky and untested candidate for Commander-in Chief of the United States.
But perhaps what really cemented the Obama victory was the financial crisis that engulfed the US economy in the final months of the campaign.
Suffice to note that prior to the economic downturn, opinion polls showed both candidates almost even some giving either candidate a slight edge over the other.
As attention shifted from McCain’s turf of foreign policy and as Americans got more anxious about the economy and their savings, support for McCain quickly shrunk as Obama’s grew even in typically ‘Red’ States which are traditional Republican bases of support.
Polls showed that obama was more trusted by Americans to manage the economy which was now the most important issue on the minds of American voters.
McCain’s immediate reaction to the financial crisis did not help; he was labeled erratic when he announced he would be “suspending” his campaign to attend to the economy; but then continued to campaign despite the announcement.
Obama on the other hand displayed composure,
calmness and consistency that you would want to see in a President during a crisis.
In his victory address to supporters in Chicago, Obama said: “On this day, at this hour, change has come to America.”
This speech will be remembered generations to come; but whether his momentous election tran
slates into a new bridge for racial dynamics is yet to be seen. Certainly Obama has made history as the first black President of the US; to some though, success as a leader will be judged by how effective he will be in managing the big issues: the faltering economy, the ferocious Israel-Palestine conflict, Afghanistan, Iraq as well as the looming burden of expectation.
My firm bet is “YES WE CAN!”
The writer is interested in public and foreign policy.