By Dr. Joseph O. Okpaku, Sr.
Four years ago in 2008 the entire world was engrossed in, and enraptured by a global political phenomenon about to happen: The United States of America was about to elect a Black man as its President and Commander-in-Chief. It had been a long tough run-up to the elections. A young first time member of the U.S. Senate whose first introduction to the political world was when he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention in Boston at which Senator John Kerry was nominated to run for president against Republican candidate and incumbent President George W. Bush, had simply done what for most was only conceivable in a dream.
He would run for U.S. president not to prove a point, no matter how profound, polemical or populist, but to win, simply and seriously.
Easily recognisable as brilliant, intellectual, articulate and charismatic, Barack Obama had little money of the sort that makes presidential candidates credible. He also did not seem to have the organisation machine that would deliver support and the votes for reasons that might not have much to do with his ideas or vision for America but for the promise of the payback value of having made him president.
Nor did he, for that matter, have the political pedigree that would at least provide a starting point for a journey that would at best be daunting even for the wealthiest and most seasoned candidate. Whatever else he had or did not have, Barack Obama, the son of an equally brilliant and intellectual African father and a scholar of white American pedigree for a mother, had for his most potent resources, only an impossible dream, an American public that would be pushed to the limit to live up to its most fundamental creed and propaganda, and a Black American population that having had a whiff of what just could be possible against all odds, was ready to give all it had and even lots more to bring about a miracle. It was the circumstance of infinite hope and all-encompassing faith—two things Obama and all African Americans had a lot of, and thoroughly understood.
The Black American, having had as a people to rely for sheer survival on the hope of succor for the pain and humiliation of slavery and its aftermath, was no stranger to God and the promise of miracles. The Black church, the most enduring, most powerful and often grossly underestimated ultimate engine, arbiter and protector of Black life in America, would turn itself out to support the dream of its own child. Such incredibly formidable force.
There were other non-white minorities, especially those colloquially grouped together as “Hispanics”, immigrants of full or partial African descent from Spanish-speaking countries and societies in North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. There were also young people and women of all races who, in addition to overcoming class, gender or age discrimination, saw in Obama’s candidacy both a rare opportunity to change the nature and soul of America as well as simply be part of bringing about the accomplishment of the impossible, once again, the dream and promise of a miracle.
All of these groups, especially the liberal white female, also had one important even if unspoken passion namely to cut the white American male to size.
Barack Obama would face the most formidable opponent possible in then Senator Hilary Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries. Senator Clinton, in addition to being able to stand tall on her own track record, had the magic, political muscle and savvy, and the powerful appeal and charisma of her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, one of the most popular and astute American politicians of all times. To the maximum extend they both shared the same captive support audience, including Black Americans who often embraced the idea that Bill Clinton was deep down one of theirs—the true “first Black American President” as they often quibbed. In a way it was as if unable to entertain the possibility of a real African American ever becoming the president of the country, they felt that Bill Clinton, who also had a humble pedigree not dissimilar to that of most Black Americans, would do just fine.
The primary contest between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton will go down in history as a slugfest par excellence. Having underestimated Obama almost to the point of dismissing him as a serious opponent, it was as if in a way she was counting heavily on the hope that the American female voter, Black or white, would wholeheartedly and passionately support a female candidate, especially one with a more than credible possibility of winning the elections such as Hilary Clinton represented. Hillary Clinton also had the sympathy (more like empathy) of the American female from the fallout from her husband’s indiscrete affair with Monica Lewinski.
But following the results of the Iowa State primaries, the traditional trend setter for American primaries its small population (and, therefore, small electoral weight notwithstanding) in which Barack Obama beat Hilary Clinton to the shock of virtually everyone, the game changed. Americans began to see for the first time the incredible power and reach of the vast grassroots machine that the young Barack Obama had quietly put together, an army of foot soldiers that simply worked their heads and soles off, and their hearts too, criss-crossing the entire United States canvassing just about everyone they could reach.
Deploying the unique enabling facilitations of the Internet and its social network capacities, these young (and not quite so young) “Obama boys and girls” reached everywhere awakening the dream of eminent possibilities that had laid dormant in most Americans for the longest time. They would solicit for only just five dollar contributions to the campaign effort, but in so doing, would demonstrate a unique tenet of simple arithmetic, namely that you can match or supersede any large number if you had a large enough multiple of a small number. With millions giving freely of their modest five dollars, the Obama campaign would raise one of the largest war chests in the history of American presidential elections.
All of this would stun Hilary Clinton and ruffle the feathers of Bill Clinton so much that in his frustration he would utter something during the New Hampshire primaries, the next battleground of the primaries, that would offend most Black Americans, especially those of them who were struggling with how to choose between their two favourite candidates. In particular, it would offend the Black mother, the Black woman, that quintessential mother hen icon of maternal sacrifice in the protection of her child. The Black church would react quickly and decisively, and the Clintons would experience their verdict when the primaries moved on to the voters of North and South Carolina, Virginia and throughout the American South. This would virtually sign paid to Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential hopes.
Significant then as now, was Obama’s performance in the first Democratic Party primary debate against Hillary Clinton. Senator Clinton would come at him with little or no restraint and throw everything at him, including the kitchen sink. At some point in the campaign, she would even hold up a real boxing glove.
Dr. Joseph O. Okpaku, Sr., President and Publisher of Third Press Publishers and Chairman of Telecom Africa International Corporation, is a renowned scholar and expert of strategic development and global issues. He is regarded as a Renaissance man and a leading 21st Century philosopher.