If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one takes the cake. The picture in question is snapped by Reuters’ photographer Jason Reed. It shows a young Democratic Party supporter displaying the Boston Herald front page in New Hampshire with a picture of Hillary Clinton and a banner headline screaming: SHE’S SO YESTERDAY.
With a poster page and headline like that you don’t have to say anything else. Not even a news report needs to accompany such a headline that strikes you like a thunderbolt.
Hillary is indeed so yesterday. This view remains unchanged despite her performance in New Hampshire this week where she got 39 per cent of votes against Obama’s 37 per cent.
And when I say she is so yesterday, the allusion is not to her 60 years or those laugh lines and crowfeet fast advancing on her tired face. Trust me, I’ve never been biased against age. I know we all age and I am not getting any younger either. But if the former First Lady is increasingly seen as passé, credit goes to no one but herself. Her entire campaign has been handcuffed to the past from the word go. It has been stuck in the time warp of those eight years when Bill Clinton was the president.
She has been resolutely and shamelessly cashing in on the immense popularity of her hubby. Bill Clinton remains popular despite his adventures in Oval Office that hadn’t exactly been part of his presidential duties. Americans are forced to look beyond l’ affaire Lewinsky because the Clinton presidency was indeed one of the most successful ones. So you have Hillary talking all the time about what the Clinton presidency did for America, rather than what she would do, if elected president.
She has been too sure of her presidential candidature and making it to White House for her own good. And she has been constantly talking about her experience and qualifications for the top job.
But pray what experience are we talking about here? Does presiding over the White House kitchen and making occasional changes in the menu qualify her for the top job? Or is there really some truth in rumours that it was Hillary, not Bill, who actually ruled the country from White House between 1992-2000? Hillary belongs to the past because she is stuck in the past – forever looking backwards. And if Hillary Clinton is America’s past, Barack Obama is its future.
If Hillary’s campaign sounds like an old wives’ tale going on and on about what they had done for the country, Obama comes across as an Old Testament prophet charting out a path out of the wilderness for his people. If Hillary talks of the past, Obama speaks about America’s future. Ms Clinton is determined to destroy anyone who comes between her and White House. She has accused Obama of all sorts of things – from inexperience to dangerous political immaturity, dismissing him as a political upstart who doesn’t belong in White House.
In total contrast, Obama talks of hope, unity and progress for America of his dreams. His supporters have watched in dismay as he has repeatedly refused to join in the dirty games played by opposition. His response to this vitriolic campaign of character assassination and political one-upmanship has been almost Gandhian.
Even his debates with Ms Clinton have been so civil and restrained that he has ended up disappointing his supporters, who want him to hit back with the ferocity that has been the hallmark of the Clinton campaign and slay the giant.
But Obama clearly knows what he is doing. He is what you would call a marathon man, conditioning himself for the long haul and saving his energy for the final lap. If his stunning victory in Iowa is any pointer, this strategy seems to be working just fine.
On the other hand, the Hillary campaign appears to be suffering from what can be described as overexposure. Unfortunately for her, she has been on campaign trail for far too long. She unveiled her mission for White House way back in 2000, soon after her husband exited it. And all these years, she has revelled and basked in the glory of being described as America’s first female president.
But somewhere along the way, she got too smug and too sure of her White House prospects. And for their part, the Americans too seem to have grown tired of the Hillary Clinton presidency, even before it’s inaugurated. They are suffering from the Clinton fatigue. And if Hillary crashed down to third place in Iowa, she knows who is to blame.
Little wonder Obama has captured the imagination of the world’s most powerful democracy in such a remarkably short period. Remember, he is only 46. And he hasn’t been very long in politics either.
He is completely refreshing not only in his age and looks but also in everything he stands for and believes in. There is more to Obama than his rock star charisma. He is everything that Hillary Clinton is not. And I am not talking about the colour of his skin or his extraordinary background – a Kenyan Muslim father and white Christian, all-American mother.
The importance of being Barack Obama does not lie in the colour of his skin or in the fact that he grew up in a Third world, Muslim country most Americans can’t even pronounce or in the distinction that he is the youngest presidential candidate.
All these things matter of course. However, what really distinguishes Obama from all those too-good-to-be-true plastic dummies like Mitt Romney and Rudy Guiliani and holier-than-thou mannequins like Hillary Clinton is the earthy substance that this Illinois senator is made of. Whatever Obama is, he is original and a man of flesh and blood you can touch and relate to.
He offers a worldview that is based on the values that once inspired America’s founding fathers – values like democracy, justice, freedom, equality and the rule of law and the values that are universal in nature and are celebrated by all great civilizations.
While his rivals in the Democratic Party as well as the Republicans have bent left and right and somersaulted whenever it suited them trying to be all things to all people, Obama has stood up for his beliefs and fought for his convictions.
Even as Hillary has constantly changed her stance on critical issues such as Iraq, Iran and immigration and healthcare, Obama has consistently opposed the unjust war on Iraq and the one the neocons are itching to inflict on Iran. Obama has chosen to unite the Americans, rather than divide them along partisan lines, and without making any ideological compromises. While Democratic and Republican candidates have always looked at the Americans as Us and Them and as Red and Blue states, Obama says there are only United States.
Pardon me, my patient readers, if this sounds like a campaign speech for the man who could be America’s first black president with Hussein for a middle name.
But Obama’s origins and phenomenal evolution as the first presidential candidate whose appeal transcends narrow partisan, religious, racial and class affiliations never ceases to fascinate me. This guy is a true phenomenon, if there was ever one. With his blood ties to Kenya as well as white settlers in the US, Obama represents both sides of American slavery: the slave masters as well as the enslaved. Perhaps, even he doesn’t realise what he embodies and epitomises.
In a country that has a long history of inhuman exploitation of African Americans and where blacks had to literally fight for their rights, as basic as going to the same schools and sharing public transport with white Americans, Obama’s race for the White House is indeed path breaking. It’s not as if the African Americans haven’t had a go at White House in the past. They have. Only no one has come as close as Obama has. He has brought about a revolution whose impact will continue to be felt long after his departure.
We in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world have watched this elaborate electoral process in the US, whose outcome could influence us all, in fascination and total awe. However, it’s Candidate Obama who interests us more than the election itself. With his unique background, here’s someone who can bridge the divide between the white and black Americas as well as between the West and the Muslim world.
And if anyone can restore America’s relations with the rest of the world repairing its battered image across the globe, it is Barack Hussein Obama. It would be a historic tragedy if he loses this race to the White House. It will not be America’s loss. It would be a loss for all of us.
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org]