US election diary: Making history

How Obama’s candidacy will force many to reassess their views of the US.

Obama said his candidacy marked the beginning of a ‘historic journey’ [GALLO/GETTY]

Barack Obama walked onto a stage in Minnesota on Tuesday night and stepped into the pages of American history.

“Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another”, he said, “a journey that will bring a new and better day to America.

“Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.”

Now, put this moment into the context of the broad sweep of the American story, where race has always been one of the central factors.

Nearly 400 years ago, a human cargo of men and women from what is now the African nation of Angola were brought in chains from an English ship to the colony of Jamestown on the Virginia coast.

Previous entries

Part 1: Obama factor
Part 2: It’s personal
Part 3: Overload
Part 4: A nasty week
Part 5: A week of war
Part 6: War and lies
Part 7: On the right
Part 8: Race card
Part 9: Bear baiting?
Part 10: No end in sight?
Part 11: Forced to wait
Part 12: Under par
Part 13: Tough choices
Part 14: Cashing in

In the centuries that followed, the uncompensated labour of hundreds of thousands of slaves built up America’s wealth, as well as creating vast fortunes for English, French and Dutch slave traders.

The white stone US Capitol building, a national symbol, was built in part by slave labour.

Later, the US fought the most bitter, bloody and most destructive war in its history in order to preserve the Union and eradicate the evil of slavery.

But the decades that followed President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves were harsh and full of repression, racism and violence.

The civil rights movement that began in the 1950s wrote one of the greatest chapters in the American story.

And now this: A black man is the nominee of a major American party to lead its battle for the White House.

It will force a lot of people here and across the globe to reassess their idea of America.

The Clinton riddle

But back to the present day, and the odd behaviour of Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night, which has subsequently taken some of the limelight away from Obama’s achievement.

She gave a rousing campaign-style speech, telling her supporters she “wasn’t going to make any decisions” right away.

Clinton’s refusal to concede remains a
mystery [AFP]

Excuse me, Senator Clinton, but the decision has actually been made already – and not by you. It was made by the voters.


I do not mean to criticise Clinton too harshly. She has done a lot in this campaign to energise voters, has broadened the public debate about the issues and I am sure she will continue to work hard as a US senator.

But her inability to admit the campaign is over and to immediately endorse Obama is simply strange – a riddle, inside a mystery, wrapped in a pastel pantsuit.

Now, Clinton plans to hold a weekend “event” to thank supporters and “suspend” – not end – her campaign.

Apparently, she will not make the expected public appearance together with Obama to symbolise party unity.

Keith Richburg, a Washington Post reporter, opined on the cable news channel MSNBC that Clinton’s camp still has not come to terms with reality and is still hoping that video of “Obama and Louis Farrakhan smoking crack together” will turn up on YouTube.

A dream ticket?

Earlier, Clinton had reportedly said she was “open” to becoming Obama’s vice-presidential running mate.

That is something for Obama to consider but it appears unseemly, to me at least, for Clinton to be suggesting it.

It has the appearance of dictating to the nominee what he must do, in an important matter in which he needs to show independence and wise judgment.

In focus

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Jimmy Carter, the former US president who endorsed Obama on Tuesday afternoon, said for him to choose Clinton “would be the worst mistake that could be made”.

Carter told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that “if you take that 50 per cent who just don’t want to vote for Clinton and add it to whatever element there might be who don’t think Obama is white enough or old enough or experienced enough or because he’s got a middle name that sounds Arab, you could have the worst of both worlds”.

While many Democrats believe the so called Dream Ticket would be nearly unbeatable, I think Clinton is a long shot to be picked as vice-president.

The Obama campaign does not want all the drama she and Bill would bring along.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F Kennedy, the assassinated former president, is one of three people leading Obama’s vice presidential vetting team.

That is not good news for Clinton – relations between her and the Kennedy family have been strained of late.

Move to right

Obama’s first appearance after clinching the nomination disappointed some who had hoped he would bring a fresh set of ideas to the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking at the annual gathering of the influential pro-Israel American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), Obama moved sharply to the right.

McCain has challenged Obama to a series
of debates [AFP]

He spent much of the speech declaring his undying commitment to Israel’s security, promising $30 billion in military aid and saying he would respond with military force to any attack on the Jewish state.


He offered nothing to the Palestinians, other than a promise to become involved in peace negotiations early in his presidency instead of waiting till its waning months – a clear jab at George Bush, the US president.

He pre-judged the final status of Jerusalem, saying it must remain the Israeli capital and will not be divided.

He said he would do everything in his power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.

But he also clarified his much-criticised plan to negotiate directly with Iran, saying: “As president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing, if – and only if – it can advance the interests of the United States.”

True debate

John McCain, the Republican presumptive nominee, has proposed that he and Obama debate each other in a freewheeling town hall format as many as 10 times this summer, before the nominating conventions.

Such debates would not be encumbered by self-important pundits asking irrelevant questions.

Obama appears receptive to the plan. And I think that is a fine idea.

Let them debate one another and let the people participate. Maybe we will get beyond talking points and canned responses to something genuine.

This campaign season gets more interesting all the time. Isn’t it great to be witness to history?

Source: Al Jazeera

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