Obama statesman not political animal


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Category: Profiles 16 Nov 08


“There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.

“And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years—block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”

President-elect Barack Obama.Now that a man with a Muslim name—Barack Obama—and Kenyan father, who was raised by a stepfather, a single white mother and grandmother from Kansas can become president of the most powerful country in the world, then we can achieve big dreams too.

Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, who have won elections by subtly appealing to tribal instincts and fears and attacking one another, must wonder how this man was elevated to the status of a messiah with such widespread support by a still mainly white population.

We ask now how he did it.


Firstly, education was his golden ticket to the top. Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law School, magna cum laude, and Columbia University—BA, political science.


Secondly, he is utterly devoted to his family and his wife of 16 years calling Michelle Obama in his acceptance speech “the love of his life” his “rock” and his “best friend.”

On the day he boarded his plane to jet to the White House as president-elect he dropped his girls to school. He stopped in the crucial final days of campaigning to rush to the side of his dying grandmother.

Communities and nations are built by men like this.


Thirdly, he is discipline and fit, a sportsman. A look at the Obama body will verify this. (Ahem, I don’t expect the male politicians to pay as much attention to his overall appealing package.)

After a long and hard campaign he played basketball and hit the gym. This showed he is a team player and recognises the need to have a clear head and energetic body to set an example to his increasingly obese nation.

If Obama runs the country the way he ran his campaign—disciplined, shrewd, attention to minute detail, visionary—he will succeed in making America great again.

I shudder for us when I see many of our flabby sluggish MPs nod off after heavy afternoon meals, their bodies reflecting their minds.

High road

Fourthly, he opted for the high road, preferring to be aloof to getting down and dirty with his opponents. Not for him nasty jibes, cheap points that riddle our parliamentary debates.

He maintained a dignified silence when his opponents implied that he was a Muslim terrorist, was inexperienced and that he had links to insurgent groups.

He didn’t play to the gallery. He did not barge into Fox news, and lean on them to suspend media workers or boycott the station as prime ministers have variously done in this state.

He kept himself and his supporters, and the undecided, focused on why he was there in the first place.

He cut through his opponents like butter by talking about jobs, health, college education, security, and the economy.

He surrounded himself by strong men with a sterling track record of public service and independent thinking. No “yes men” for him.

Large spirited

He is large spirited. In his acceptance speech he described John McCain as “extraordinarily gracious...We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.”

He is inclusive and doesn’t play partisan politics speaking to the “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled.”

He did not bribe the uneducated to vote for him, but appealed to the most educated with the values that made America great—hard work and sacrifice.

Two weeks back I did a vignette from New York, observing the American Dream dissolve in the aftermath of the crash on Wall Street.

Now we are impressed. We are blown away by the American people. The Barack Obama way worked. They rallied.

They pushed past racism, past the Bradley effect, which said that people would claim to want to vote for Mr Obama at the polls and that atavism would kick in the voting booth and they would vote race.

Mr Obama appealed to their better selves and they responded. This included the politicians. Graciousness became the “centrepiece” of American leadership.

Mr McCain said of Obama: “His success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. Inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans.” Mr Bush lauded Mr Obama's victory as a “triumph of the American story.”

Sara Palin was admiring: “There was nothing mean-spirited—there was no negative campaigning when I called Barack Obama out on his associations.”

The world is no longer guided by America’s wealth (there is too much debt, unemployment for that) but their leaders, their grace, their ability to respect democratic institutions, and their people who have overcome age-old prejudice, acknowledge one another’s humanity and in doing so, begin the healing “block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”

That’s the difference between a political animal and a statesman.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur