Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Bet is On

By Imran Ayata

There are some nights you don’t forget. It was on one of those nights that I saw Barack Obama for the first time – not in person, and not this year. I arrived home in the early hours of the morning, after an intoxicating party, still too hyperactive to sleep. I lay on the sofa in the living room and zapped my way through over 40 TV channels – which, by the way, can be fun when you’re alone and drunk. I zapped away big breasted women and telephone hotline adverts and landed at the coverage of the Democratic Convention. Why, I still don’t know to this day.

It was 2004 and the first Convention since 9/11. The Presidential Candidate
introduced himself to the public, ‘I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty.’ Still marked by the consequences of the fallout from September 11, he wallowed in the patriotism of the country and its people, letting everyone know that, as a Vietnam Veteran, ‘national security’ would be best in his hands. ‘You don’t even believe that yourself’, I said, as if he could hear me. I was almost ready to change channels again when, in a video-clip, a young Senator took to the speaker’s podium. Euphorically, he recalled the American Dream and in excellent rhetoric declared there was only one ‘united America’. The Convention erupted. I made a bet with myself that something would come of this charismatic guy. To be sure, Senator of Illinois was something already, but he was capable of more. That’s what the bet was about. The stupid thing is, I didn’t have a witness. Thus, I never really won the bet, despite the fact that four years on, this Barack Obama is getting ready to become the President of the United States.

Nevertheless, I still had the feeling I was being spoken to when, after the Democratic Primaries in Iowa at the beginning of this year,
he addressed his supporters with ‘They said this day would never come.’ This time, I was determined to win. I bet with friends that Obama would not only seize victory in the Primaries, but the contest against his Republican challengers. November 4 2008 could be good day form me. Even better, however, will be the moment in which, for the first time, Obama appears on the evening news as the President of the United States of America. This moment alone, in which millions will see a picture of Obama, with the subtitle ‘US President’, has excited me for months.

Perhaps the power of representational politics is so strong, in this instance, because it is infused with the hope that Obama is not only talking about ‘Change’, but that some things really will be different if he is elected. At the same time, it is clear that the invocation of this hope brings with it the likelihood of disappointment. I’d never bet, for instance, against Obama’s going to war, when it’s in the US’ interest. I’m sure he would. Barack Obama also won’t be able to prevent the continuation of existing injustices, or prevent the further widening of the gap between rich and poor.

To look at things cynically for a moment: He would never have had a chance of coming so far, if he’d only promised that which other established politicians, like Hilary Clinton or John McCain, promise. Obama’s only chance was and is to promise the impossible. One of racism’s traps is that in every context (whether everyday life or politics), one has to be able to do and promise more, in order to win the respect – and in Obama’s case, the votes – of the majority of society. Those who set themselves up to win an election have to concentrate, first and foremost, on mobilising votes. It has been a tremendous success of Obama’s campaign strategy to sell the impossible as possible. His speeches have been the clearest of political speeches in a long time. The recourse to a new political style has been fine-tuned by him and his campaign, down to the last detail. Moreover, however, it is the political instinct in which this new style of politics is opposed to the encrusted structures of Washington which has been able to present itself as a movement from below. Is it honest? Hardly. Nobody can seriously believe that Obama will be able to govern without the Washington establishment he denounces.

Nevertheless, millions want to be a part of this movement, even if this only expresses itself in the donation of 5 dollars to the Campaign. It might sound naive and simplistic, but Obama is a successful politician because he baldly reminds us that politics can be about hope and change. And it is on exactly this issue which McCain and the Republicans have been focussing during the final weeks of the election campaign. They are relying on racist impulses to imply that a possible-Muslim, possible-non-American, possible-elitist, etc... cannot stand for change. How could someone like Obama, of all people, stand for the hope for a society which doesn’t drift further apart, but unites itself? This tactic won’t surprise Barack Obama and his team. A Republican election campaign without racism is like an army without a uniform. Even though Obama has largely managed to keep the issue of racism out of the campaign, upon which his having any chance was conditional, the topic won’t go away. The history of racism and anti-racism cannot be hidden by a campaign through beautiful words and colourful pictures. Presumably, Barack Obama knows this better than anyone. He will also know that he is only where he is as a result of social struggles and achievements, but that this is something he will only be able to address once he has successfully become President.

Part of irony of the above mentioned night is that after the report about the Democratic Convention, a repeat of the series
Backstairs at the White House was broadcast on a German TV channel. The series is based on the autobiography of the coloured American Lillian Rogers Parks, who documented the experiences of her mother in the White House in Washington. If Obama wins, sometime a series will need to be written which dispenses with the ‘backstairs’.

Biog: Imran Ayata lives in Berlin. He is an author and a Managing Partner at A&B ONE public relations company. He studied politics in Frankfurt and was an editor of the journal Die Beute. He has published articles in numerous newspapers, journals and edited volumes in Germany and Turkey. In 2005 his first book, a collection of short stories, was published, entitled Hürriyet Love Express. A novel is scheduled for publication next year.

Translation from German: Ben Trott.

1 comment:

Bob Feldman 68 said...

Ironically, the Obama Campaign's National Finance Chair, Penny Pritzker, is a former member of the failed Superior Bank board of directors that helped create the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the 1990s that led to the current U.S. economic crisis. Another member of the Obama Campaign's finance committee, James Crown, is currently a member of the JP Morgan Chase board of directors, one of the U.S. banks that was recently given $25 billion in U.S. Treasury funds, as part of the Wall Street bail-out that U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Obama endorsed. Coincidentally,Obama Campaign finance committee member Crown is also a member of the board of directors of General Dynamics, a leading U.S. weapons manufacturer that has profited immensely from continued U.S. imperialist military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, in this "era of permanent war."