Thursday, August 21, 2008

What next, Barack, Cablinasian?

I have mentioned before that I am guardedly favoring Obama in the upcoming election. This support does not come from hometown pride (Go, Illinois!), or the sense that he is truly transformative (it would be hard to emerge from the cesspool of Chicago and Illinois politics and not have a little stink on you), but simply a feeling that he was the best of the choices available to us. I won't rehash all that here, why I wasn't sold on Hillary, why I fear a McCain presidency - though, as Bush becomes ever so slightly more statesmanlike in the final days, he has made McCain look worse, not better.

No, I simply felt that Obama had beliefs which might lead to iterative change, not revolutionary, and that he was smart enough to confront some of the realities that face us over the next years. I haven't seen any real attempt to reconcile the philosophy of prevailing wisdom with growing reality, but no political candidate dares to do that. His policy proposals suffer from much of the same myopia that afflict all such proposals, and I've brought such things up when I've seen them (is New Energy really going to lead to a New Economy? How, Barack?).

But again, I had hopes that he would look at things from a slightly different perspective; while he might not clean up Washington, he might be able to utilize it differently, making our democracy more a tool of the people as it was intended to be.

However, since his nomination was assured, he's done some tacking back rightward, some Clinton-style triangulation. His attempts to woo the independents make me wonder if he isn't risking the support of the blend of left and moderate right who believe change is needed, and chose him as the instrument for that change.

His overseas trip didn't bother me. A presidential candidate going abroad and meeting with foreign leaders has always struck me as essentially odd, but there is a lot of fascination with him, and I can certainly see why the other leaders would want to take his measure in a way that wouldn't make sense if he was just another fact-finding senator.

And I didn't see the threat in Obama's talking about himself as a "citizen of the world." Some of the right see that as capitulation to foreign interests, some saw it as pandering. I see it as trying to draw a contrast between his view and the more antagonistic view of Bush/Cheney/McCain, indicating a retreat from the go-it-alone philosophy that is neither sensible nor possible in the world of today.

But, to me, his recent proclamation to Indians and Pakistanis that "I'm a desi" crosses a line. Sure, Barack referring to himself with a colloquial Indian term may just be light-hearted campaign rhetoric, akin to John F. Kennedy's reference to himself either as a native of Berlin or a jelly doughnut.

But Obama is forced, by the historic nature of his very self, to work the issue of race in a way no one else does. It may not be fair, but it is fact that he must acknowledge race while making an attempt to transcend it. He might well be one of the most multi-ethnic public figures we've ever had, with genetic roots in America and Africa, and cultural roots in Asia as well. And that is not something that is either particularly good or bad.

Terming himself a desi, however, runs the risk of trivializing the matter, of minimizing the great social change his election would represent. Just as Tiger Woods came off as callow when he referred to himself as "Cablinasian" (Caucasian-Black-Indian-Asian), so too does Obama. How about this, Senator, just focus on being the best American you can be, and leave the special interests, whether based on economics or politics or race, behind. Do what's right for this country, because the groups will drag you down and hurt your credibility.

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