At an evening reception these days in Philadelphia I spoke to a business man about 60 years old. As in lots of other discussions the talk quickly triggered the U.S. elections. He told me he was about to change his registration as a Republican to be able to vote for Barack Obama at the upcoming primaries in Pennsylvania on 22nd of April.
A Republican making an effort to vote for a Democrat – interesting … There is some flexibility in these U.S. elections by means of people changing their registration for the primaries to vote for a specific candidate (which does not necessarily mean that they will change their political preferences in the long run). This specific candidate is Barack Obama. Why is that so? I think it’s for three reasons.
1. Barack Obama can make a difference nobody of the other two candidates can. In an interesting article for „The Atlantic“, the conservative writer Andrew Sullivan points out that Obama could be the president reconciling the Americans with themselves. Though nobody can tell right now if he will be able to bridge the gap between the Vietnam War stamped generation of the Baby Boomers and the ones to come. But he could be the representative of the modern USA by his naturally tense, contradictory but nevertheless resilient identity as a son of a black father and a white mother, upgrown in a nonreligious home and though having become a member of a Christian church, having attended a Muslim school in Indonesia and a Christian church in Chicago. Barack Obama represents the multi-facetted identity of a lot of people in the U.S. in all its complexity by sense and sensibility.
2. He is the candidate most promising to awake the political system characterized like in many other long established democracies by a major crisis of political representation. By taking alternative routes in argumentation and representation he might turn his campaign efforts into a win – something Hillary Clinton has up to now failed to achieve at least in part. She is stuck in her political experiences mainly coined by her husband. She had suffered from that and that is what people can still observe. Hillary has a straightforward political program and a much better track record, but she is not authentic. Barack Obama at least seems to be. That also makes a difference in times when the years of the Bush administration have paralyzed the country and the political representatives in many ways.
3. There are a couple of reasons why one could dislike the idea of Barack Obama to come into office. One major reason is that he is a rhetoric talent but had failed to prove that there is enough substance in his political program: gorgeous talk, abstract message. This observation had to be revised on the 18th of March when he gave his speech on race in Philadelphia. It might well be that he was forced to do so because there were more and more attacks against him because of his close attachment to his former pastor Reverend Wright and his comments on the racial issue. In his speech Obama rejected Wright’s “profoundly distorted view of this country”, he also challenged the auditory to break the “racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years”. That is not just an explicit message it also could have been a politically dangerous one. No presidential candidate had ever addressed the racial issue as clear as Obama did in Philadelphia. He could have put bigger parts of the white electorate off. But this apparently hasn’t happened.
It’s the audacity of speaking out in an election campaign that makes this candidate appealing in many different ways. And it’s this appeal that makes him a topic of conversation everywhere and everytime.
I went to a Radio Shack store to buy a microphone for my digital camera. There was a very nice guy helping me and giving it a try. The first time I tried to record a little interview to prove the mike asking him who he’s gonna vote for he answered that he hadn’t made up his mind yet. Unfortunately there was nothing recorded. We needed a second try (this time turning the mike on before starting). And that’s what he answered. Change happens quickly sometimes – even in politics.