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Mainstream, VOL L No 47, November 10, 2012

‘Other’ America Reasserts


Wednesday 21 November 2012, by SC


In the midst of the unending reports of scams, affecting both the principal constituent of the ruling UPA and the main Opposition party at the Centre, the latest predicament of the BJP President facing corruption charges buttressed by irrefutable media evidence and the crisis brewing within the organisation, as also the unequivocal pronouncements from the CAG accusing the Union Government functionaries of ‘brazen’ behaviour, the outcome of the US presidential election has come as a whiff of fresh air in the otherwise stifling environment all-round.

Experts and pundits had forecast a nail-biting finish but what actually happened belied that anticipation—President Barack Hussein Obama won comfortably over his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, securing as many as 303 of the 538 electoral college votes (much more than the 270 needed to cross the hump) as against 206 garnered by Romney (with the final results from Florida yet to come). Of course in terms of popular votes the margin was narrow—50 per cent (60 million votes) for Obama to Romney’s 48 per cent (57 million); but then the pollsters had predicted a tie between the two and some even gave a slight edge to the Republican contestant.

Indeed it was a resounding and historic victory brought about by the rallying together of the ‘other’ America—the poor, the marginalised, the minorities, the women and the youth. The same group of people, constituting the majority of the electorate (thanks to the demographic change in the composition of the US populace over the years), had been at the root of Obama’s success four years ago, in November 2008. But this time it was more significant as the victory was achieved after a hard-fought battle in the wake of the massive economic downturn in the West in general and the US in particular. As Obama himself pointed out in his first message following his re-election, this was the clearest proof of how “ordinary Americans, despite heavy odds, could overcome powerful interests”.

In a way the American public were able to heave a sigh of relief that the Obama upsurge, especially in the last stage of the electoral campaign as well as on the polling day itself, could resist and frustrate the upper-crust Americans’ urge for “change” that Romney personified. Even if the euphoria witnessed at the time of the 2008 electoral verdict was missing this time—and for this Obama’s inability to materialise much of the optimism he generated four years ago must take a substantial share of the blame—this overwhelming sense of relief among the people at large was evident to any observer as the Russia Today TV news channel aptly pointed out. For Romney’s “change” would have shattered all the hopes raised since 2008 as it would have taken the country down to the dark days of the Bush era as many feared.

There were doubtless sparks of the 2008 victory speech in Obama’s acceptance speech this time though the extraordinary eloquence of the stirring “Yes-we-Can” address remains unsurpassed to this day. But notwithstanding all his failures and shortcomings, Obama was able to rekindle hopes for the future US citizens when he spoke of the prospects of fulfilling the dreams and ambitions of the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina. Yet he immediately grounded those on the prevailing state of affairs, conceding that “as it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.”

His success in having built a diverse coalition of the marginalised and disprivileged did not blur his realistic outlook. That’s why he laid stress on “building consensus” and “making difficult compromises”, while declaring to rousing applause: “Our economy is now recovering. A decade of war is ending.” That was vintage Obama. Never mind the rhetoric, the difference from George W. was unmistakable.

One was instantly reminded of what John Reed had written of the night of November 8, 1917 (after the Russian Revolution of November 7) at Leningrad’s Smolny Institute in his unforgettable Ten Days That Shook the World:

Suddenly, by common impulse, we found ourselves on our feet, mumbling together into the smooth lifting unison of the Internationale. A grizzled old soldier was sobbing like a child. Alexandra Kollontai rapidly winked the tears back. The immense sound rolled through the hall, burst windows and doors and soared into the quiet sky. ’The war is ended! The war is ended!’ said a young workman near me, his face shining.

Obama also spoke of the challenges “we can only solve together”—“reducing our deficit”, “reforming our tax code”, “fixing our immigration system”, “freeing ourselves from foreign oil”. But he also brought into focus the essence of politics—serving the people selflessly, adding: “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatenerd by the destructive power of a warming planet... We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.”

Forget for now Indo-US relations and issues like outsourcing our pundits never tire of parroting. What is important is to comprehend that we are once again witness to history unfolding before our eyes. And that history is being created not just by Obama but by the finest represen-tatives of the ‘other’ America—the generous, compassionate, tolerant America we have seldom known in recent years. It was that America whose aspirations found expression in the re-elected President’s words.

No doubt the million dollar question remains: will he succeed in translating those aspirations into reality? For the moment, however, the belief in success of that endeavour has been reignited. And its significance cannot be overemphasised.

November 8 S.C.

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