Vantage point

Friday, January 19, 2007

More on Barack Obama

In this post I will talk about what I like about Obama, and what will work for him. Some things which will work for him are not necessarily things I personally like or support. I will also look at what could drag him down.

Here's what I like about him. He is not a knee-jerk reactionist when it comes to foreign policy. The most stupid thing that the Democrats did was to first blindly support Bush during the Iraq war, and then, as things went wrong, oppose him. Kerry's Iraq war flip flop is legendary, and played a big role in him losing the election. Obama however, right from 2002, has been opposing the Iraq war. However his opposition is not that wars are wrong, but that the Iraq war in particular was stupid and unnecessary. He was not in the Senate then, so unlike Kerry, he does not have a voting record on the issue, which will work in his favour.

Here are a few things I don't like about him, but are likely to work in his favour, given the current state of affairs in the US. He speaks about a "middle ground" between far right and far left. He proposes a "new bipartisan way" ahead. But all that is rhetoric. On most economic issues, he is very very left-liberal. He opposes privatisation of social security. He has, as if following a commandment, spoken against Walmart. He has supported import tariffs and protectionist moves. He has opposed Bush's tax cuts.

But here's something not many would know about him. On immigration, he has been quite conservative. He has even voted in support of constructing a fence on the Mexico border.

Readers of this blog know I am in favour of social security privatisation, and open borders with a more lax immigration policy. However all these stands have a lot of public support in the US right now. So he has calibrated at least his initial political views well.

Over the next few months we will learn more about his stand on various issues. Hillary Clintin has been in he public eye for years, so we all know in detail her view on literally everything. Obama's views will be interesting to know.

Here's what can drag him down. How many people, and by that I mean common Americans in the heartlands of the mid-west or south really know him? Heck, how many know him even on the streets of the bigger cities? CNN had a story where they went around asking people, "Is Barack Obama a threat to the security of the United States?" playing on the similarity of his name with Osama's. Several people said yes, actually thinking they were being asked about Osama. I don't know how many of the people surveyed responded this way. Maybe they were really ignorant.

But the fact remains that not many people will know him well. And for those average joes, it might be a tough ask to support a black guy whose name sounds like Osama and middle name is Hussein. The Republicans will play this up a lot. And the hype is not going to hold up for ever.

In the Democratic primaries, so far it's just him and Hillary who are in the running. Hillary Clinton is a strong forceful and even polarising personality. Even within the aprty, there are factions who hate her. So she is going to find it tough to win the nomination anyway. And once Obama is evaluated objectively, he is a high-risk bet. With Bush's two terms being so disastrous, Democrats have a great chance of winning the White House back. With everything else going for them, will they take their chances with such a risky bet, knowing fully well that if they lose now, it may well be 2016 before they have another shot?

Plus, these are early days. There have often been late surges in the primaries. I get the feeling there is a third guy who will become a serious contender. Someone who fits the formula... white... male... from the heartland. Maybe John Edwards? Cme Iowa and New Hampshire, we will know.