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To the happy congregation in Barack Obama’s church of fervid believers, the presumptive Democratic nominee for US President is like none that has ever come before him. The soaring oratory, delivered at vast rallies that can seem unsettlingly fascistic at times, hails a new dawn in American politics.

“We are the change we have been waiting for!” he cries. To which the multitudes respond repeatedly with idolatrous passion, if not much of an ear for grammar: “Yes We Can!”

But for all the excitement generated by his undeniably impressive campaign, for all the novelty of his youth, his very recent emergence to national prominence and, of course, his ethnicity, the Obama phenomenon is just another manifestation of a well-mined tradition in American politics. A capacity for reinvention is central to the American spirit, in politics as in economics, and conjuring the aura of change to orchestrate an organic and peaceful overthrow of the existing order has long been essential to the nation’s success.

What really marks America out though, is that it is only in the United States that, every decade or so, a political leader emerges literally from obscurity to seize the national spotlight.

In parliamentary systems, politicians audition for long years on the national stage. Tony Blair and John Major were both considered quite fresh when they became Prime Minister, but they had been in parliament for 14 and 11 years respectively, and both had held prominent national political positions for years.

In America, by contrast, thanks to an oddly lopsided primary system that favours small, rural states over large urban ones and the virtues of personal contact over mass, televised communication, you can, given the talent and the right political circumstances, when the yearning for change is strong enough, bypass all the usual required routes and go straight to the top.

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Tony Papafilis
July 30th, 2008
8:07 AM
Obama is typical of the western world's new left - lots of carefully crafted double-speak rhetoric that carries reaffirming message for the left while delivering key re-assuring words to doubters. Obama is a racist who trades on his skin colour. Imagine the reaction to any white candidate talking about "his people"! Yet black Americans aren't even his people. His American status comes from his white American mother yet he refers to himself as a black American rather than an American with a black Kenyan father. Why does he include himself in the "black American" tribe when he does not belong in there other than playing on black racism. If his father was Chinese, would he speak of himself as an Asian or American? His speech rejecting his preacher's ugly sermons endorsed the racists idea that blacks are justified to be angry with whites. Why should anyone blessed to live in USA have a right to be angry at the USA? McCain is a better bet for a non-racist political era.

Stefan Fergus
July 24th, 2008
4:07 PM
Just a couple of pedantic points, to do with two slight factual inaccuracies: 1. "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only person to win 3 terms." - sort of correct, but he actually won 4 terms (dying during the first year of his 4th) 2. Your comment about the Republicans being the only party to win three consecutive terms in the past 70 years: rather selective factoid, as from 1938-1953, a Democrat was in the White House (FDR, then Truman). Sorry, I'm pedantic and wanted to mention these. Otherwise, I thought the article was excellent.

Joe Camel
July 14th, 2008
12:07 PM
“We are the change we have been waiting for,” you quote Obama as saying, when he clearly meant, “I am the change you have been waiting for.” This royal “we” is something Obama does all the time. Is it just him or is it American politicians in general? Here’s what he is reported as telling a CNN interviewer on Sunday, 13 July, going back on his support for Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Obama said: “You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. And we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given. The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ‘67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent.” Some of those plurals are obviously justified, that last one for example: “it is possible for us to create . . .” But “we” had some poor phrasing? You and who else, Barry?

scott a
July 3rd, 2008
1:07 PM
Since clinching the nomination McCain seems to have gone into the same mode that Bob Dole went into- a sort of hibernation where his personality and qualifications are stiffled by his advisors, turning him into a boring, grey man that will lose the election. Only after the election did the real Bob Dole emerge, appearing on TV shows as a funny, charming man largely missing until November. I hope McCain realises that he needs to run as himself, not as the "republican consensus candidate".

Kate
June 26th, 2008
5:06 PM
Racism is, indeed, a factor in this election: of blacks interviewed after they had voted in the primaries, 95% of them stated they voted for Obama because he was, they said (quite erroneously, as it happens)'black.' Back in February 2007, I had a look at the website of Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ which declared that: "The Vision Statement of Trinity United Church of Christ is based upon the systematized Liberation Theology that started in 1969 with the publication of Dr James H Cone's book, BLACK POWER AND BLACK THEOLOGY." In his book, Cone stated "What we need is the Divine Love as expressed in Black Power which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love...Black Theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy." This was the entity to which Obama belonged for 20 years, the place in which he claims he became a Christian, and the title of his book is taken from a sermon by the man whom he declared was his mentor, Reverend Wright, one of whose sermons, dealing with the sentiments expressed in Cone's book, is mentioned in Obama's book, although it seems to have missed the eagle eyes of the ever-vigilant, totally unbiased 'mainstream media.' Yes, this election has a definite stench of racism to it.

Alexandra Kahler
June 26th, 2008
5:06 AM
This is the best analysis of American past & current politics that I've read during our entire election season. The ability to read "foreign" perspectives on my own country, and to learn about the rest of the world through each country's own journalism, is one of the blessings of the internet that I cherish most.

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