(I had sent this article to the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times on 18th October, 2008, a few weeks before the November election. The New York Times had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democrat Party nomination. As an unaffiliated voter I had supported Senator Obama for that same nomination, but not in the General Election, and had let him know why by writing to his Senate email address. My reason was the economy: that his lack of an economic policy agenda and reliance on the Clinton economic team does not bode well for the country. So, I campaigned for and supported Senator McCain in the General Election. I wish the majority of the American electorate also had my prescience.)
Why do I feel a few days before this historic election that I do not yet really know Barack Obama?
He seems to be all promise and potential and little history.
Former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle cited this attribute of the candidate as a tactical advantage for the Democrats because there is little to throw at Obama from his past and he has the luxury to talk always about the future.
Obama happens to be the fresh face for the Democrats, a well pedigreed political liberal, at the right time to take back the White House. They were burned by Kerry’s loss and Gore’s before him. So, this time they did not want to take a chance on the past.
McCain is correct when he says that it may be too risky to get to know Obama as president. It may also turn out that it may not be and if elected he may propel himself into the pantheon of greatness, given the moment the country is in.
The only problem is that we will not know until we know.
Leaders like FDR and Reagan and all those before, between and after, from Rushmore to JFK, like to seek out opportunities to make the history books.
Reagan did not seem to bother but for the tasks at hand, Clinton was brazen about this burning desire of his, Bush understated it saying we’d all be dead by then, but Obama is quiet about this ambition.
He says it is about “you,” our place in history not his, even as he knows all too well that “Joe the Plumber” will not make the history books. This is his political skill, because the “Joe the Plumbers” of the world are going to exalt him there, not his Senate colleagues.
In comparison, McCain appears tacky while doing the same thing. He exudes a sense of angry, bitter entitlement in return for his lost, torturous years in Vietnam along with his genuine humility and courage.
McCain’s anger and bitterness as well as his humility seem to be about the unfairness in the world that gives a free pass to those who do not serve relative to those who sincerely do. It is an honest and righteous anger to have if you want to change the world.
Obama is smooth as silk and unruffled in executing his elitism as if he wants to be you, while asking you to be him. He touches the abiding sense of aspiration in every day lives. He is the approachable guy from the Ivy tower, who manages his mysticism as a tantalizing democratic possibility for all, which we all know is not, and so do the electorate. Yet, they love him because at least he is nice. To me this is deception.
JFK’s and Bush 43′s elitism is a latter generational elitism, Obama’s, like Clinton’s, is the first generational.
JFK began with the premise that the world is indeed unfair and went about changing it. Obama wants you all to go to Harvard (about which neither JFK nor Bush 43 cared much) to become him and this becoming is changing the society for Obama.
I think this is naivete. And perhaps a coup for the liberal elites of this country who are foisting an example of “success” to the underprivileged masses: “look this could be you” when in fact the issue at stake is the sense of privilege itself.
I can live with the relative coarseness of McCain because it is honest. I cannot live with Obama’s “honesty” that is skin deep and deception that is an abyss.
I sense from Obama a man who is screaming to the rest of the oppressed in his ilk of African-Americans, “look, learn from me. You have to play the white man’s game to win.”
There is a buried anger at social injustice that is channeled to make him the master of the game, much like Clinton’s working class southern roots. The desire to coopt the establishment to better them. Clinton was tacky at this until he managed to get away from Arkansas to New York with his yankee wife, but Obama is once again smooth.
This class warfare transcends race, which is why eager parents join the meat packing enterprise that is our education system to send their offspring to Harvard and not to their local college. So, when Obama talks about education reform, he loses credibility right off the bat.
I cannot get myself to vote for him when it is Harvard Yard that needs to change, not “Joe the Plumber’s” backyard.
Obama wants to save the status quo on Harvard Yard by making you aspire to it.
I have more respect for the founder of BET than I have for those who think “becoming the establishment” is the ticket to success in America, when what the country is really about is an establishment that is always in flux, not an ossified property of a few.
In fact, it is this kind of self-assurance, similar to the founder of Virgin group of companies in the U.K, now “Sir” Richard Branson, who took on British Airways, rather than falling into the establishmentarian trap of the “American Dream,” because it is a mechanism of political control of the society by an interest group with a sense of entitlement.
The reality is once you begin playing somebody else’s game, you have forfeited the ability to change the rules because to get to the top you have to first consent to the inviolability of those rules. If you do not, you will not be trusted.
Citing Bill Clinton, you are always playing by the rules, only not by yours but somebody else’s.
You win when you make the rules. This is the essence of geopolitics.
Pragmatism, like political correctness, is for the mediocre. It is a trait of those who specialize in operating within a paradigm. It cannot create or change paradigms, but altering paradigms is what the United States is all about.
Barack Obama is extraordinarily mediocre like Bill Clinton, because he could hack the establishment.
Greatness is not about hacking it, but about defining it. It is not about chasing history, but becoming it.
That Obama thinks playing somebody else’s game to ultimately be able to shape it in your favor is the strategic course to take worries me about his foreign policy, especially at a time when the country is vulnerable. Is he saying, “our rules are wrong. It is time to do somethings fundamentally differently, playing by others’ rules for sometime”?
To me life is like a game of golf. You against yourself and the terrain. Against nature. Knowing that you will always lose. Which is why the game never ends.
History neither had a beginning nor does it have an end. We are a blip in its inexorable, ever changing perpetuality. Winning is an illusion, making geopolitics itself an illusion. It is the cognitive dissonance of a commonsensical lifespan.
Wisdom and justice are well served only if you engage in geopolitics with the realization that it is an illusion. An illusion that matters for your survival in the context of the rest of the universe.
Competition does not matter. It is only competition if you think it is. You hack it against yourself. Ultimately it is all about resilience. How long can you last as in individual, as a tribe, as a country, as a world, as a planet?
My gut says Obama could be a formidable president to deal with for his colleagues given his extraordinary ability to make his case directly to the people much as FDR or JFK or Reagan could, as it was during the campaign, but my reason says, may be I should not take that chance at this 3 A.M moment in our history and let him age in the vat of politics for sometime until I get to know him better.
I will trust Barack Obama when he is not too cool to be genuine.