24 February 2008

Clinton vs. Obama

Is the race for the Democratic nomination for the White House really that important? Sure, the race will be one of firsts all round; the first African-American, the first Woman, and maybe even the first POW...an interesting race for sure but is it important?

From the perspective and the belief that the President of the United States of America occupies the seat of the most powerful person in the world, then it is a clear cut answer that the race for the White House is important. Nevertheless, the dynamics of world superpowerdom is changing and it might not be so far into the distant future that the US shares its superpower status with others again. Then the hot seat that is the Presidency of the US might not be the most powerful any longer.

Yet, the reality is that it is still a powerful post. So, with Obama in the ascendancy and the Clinton campaign in seeming free-fall, what are we likely to see when we look into that little crystal ball?

There are stark differences and equally stark similarities between the two Democrats. Both talk change and Obama at least in the sense of his rhetoric talks a better fight. But he is green in the sense of being new to national or federal politics as it is in the US and the real question voters must ask themselves is whether they believe he can now walk the talk! Clinton on the other hand is a polarizing figure at the best of times and it is this love hate relationship that is most likely to be her undoing (assuming she gets undone). She is a political insider and as such is likely to be able to effect more immediate and last change if she was committed to doing so. She knows the rules of the game and is the better day one player. Yet, having only been exposed to the Washington establishment for a short time as a Senator, then maybe not knowing these rules are to Obama's advantage.

Obama is being touted as the new Jack Kennedy which is an interesting comparison because Jack Kennedy's success depended not solely on his apparent charisma, charms, and relatively good looks compared to a somewhat dour opponent and obvious political insider. Yet, Kennedy's victory is testament as much to a savvy PR machine and considerable financial resources and some might argue special interests. Jack Kennedy was a realist he left much of the idealism to his brother, RFK. The question on this front is in his assassination shortened tenure as President of the US did he really make the changes that is inauguration speech is so often remembered for highlighting?

Being labeled as the next Jack Kennedy would seem to be a label and burden I would want to do without. Sort of takes away from you being your own man. Sort of like Megawati always failing to live up to the expectations of those who want her to be the political reincarnation of her father, the charismatic, charming, ladies-man that was Indonesia's first President, Soekarno! Now moving to the Indonesian connection.

The Indonesian connection. Obama's mother was married to an Indonesian and Obama spent some of his childhood in the Menteng area of Central Jakarta. But Indonesia should not expect any special favours from Obama if he manages to pull off his quest to become the first African-American President. Indonesia has not come up in any of his stump speeches and only has been referenced in passing in more wide-ranging foreign policy speeches. At best Indonesia should only expect to garner about as much attention as it does now. Sure, the candidates have set out some general foreign policies and what is striking is that even with Obama's obvious connections to Indonesia there does not seem to be any significant importance placed on Indonesia in comparison to what Clinton has said...

Obama might be hailed as an honorary Indonesian and given the keys to the country in honour of being the first African American Step-Son of an Indonesian to become President but this might not be enough to gain Indonesia any special access or favours.

A fascinating race to be sure...Those Indonesian's interested in the outcome I am sure will remain glued to their news sources and following the race closely and for the rest of us, whatever!


Ben said...

Nice blog.
About Obama's 'Indonesian connection' you mentioned, I personally don't think Indonesia would expect anything to gain out of it, let alone offering him a title of 'honorary Indonesian' or give keys to the country.
His Indonesian stint is in my opinion 'not significant'.

It probably more useful for Obama than it is for Indonesia. He could use it to his political advantage, just like he used his 'being born in Hawaii' to appeal to Hawaiian voters.

Sure, to some in Indonesia it could become a novelty (hey, look, that's the school obama went !).
But novelty fades and life goes on.

Here's what's interesting to us Indonesians though: the fact that america is still questioning itself whether it is ready or not for a black president or a woman president.
A democratic america is still not sure about having a woman president, while a majority muslim country such as Pakistan and Indonesia have had a woman prime minister / president years ago?

Isn't it -- if I may -- a bit ironic?

Ben of IA

Rob Baiton said...

Agreed on all fronts.

Perhaps I did not make my point clearly enough, but it really was that Obama's stint will prove to be nothing but a blip on the radar in terms of any special interest being shown to Indonesia.

The novelty value is limited as well. I was reading a piece written by a foreign resident of Indonesia who went in search of Obama's house. If I am not mistaken he found it but the whole affair was a little disappointing as no one really remembered who he was. In fact most had no recollection at all.

It is an interesting point that many countries where there are Muslim majorities have already had women Presidents / Prime Ministers where many of the countries who tout there democratic credentials still hesitate and debate whether women or minorities are ready for the big chair. This is not just America but Australia as well. Although, Australia now has a female Deputy Prime Minister who has already had the chance to be Acting Prime Minister -- a small step forward!

Ben, thanks for the comments I appreciate that you read my blog!