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By Philippe Legrain 1 COMMENT

As a politics junkie, I find the US presidential race exciting – certainly better than
Gordon Brown’s ignominious coronation – but not particularly inspiring. I’m not wild about any of the candidates.

I find Hillary Clinton uninspiring: a robotic, machine candidate, with a nasty streak and an offputting sense of entitlement. That’s a pity. Her policies are a mixed bag; I preferred Bill’s.

I think Obama is a great speaker, but I’m not hugely enthusiastic about him either.

Being for "the future" "change" and "hope" is all very well, but
tell me which candidate is in favour of "the past" "more of the same"
and "despair".

There is something worryingly content-free about his message. Apart
from his symbolic opposition to the Iraq war (which is more a
consistency issue than a policy difference, since Clinton’s current
position on the war is not very different to his), there is not much to separate him from Hillary on policy. Instead, he is basically selling
himself as him: "Vote for me because I represent change, I represent unity", rather
than "Vote for me because this is how I want America to change, this is how I will
somehow unite a deeply polarised country."

"Yes, we can" is a great slogan, but how exactly does Obama plan to heal the deep divide over immigration, for instance?

Of course, having a non-white president whose father was a Kenyan immigrant would be hugely symbolic, a credit to American society, and a powerful example of the benefits of immigration. But the most powerful person on earth is more than a symbol – and I would like to have a better idea of Obama’s world view before he is granted such power. Symbolic figures are not necessarily good decision-makers.

I also find Obamamania disconcerting precisely because it
is a mania: half-way between a Britney Spears concert and the Nuremberg
rally. (In case anyone tries to draw silly conclusions, of course I am not comparing Obama to Hitler.)

On a separate point, the media cycle is becoming somewhat predictable: first Hillary is miles ahead, then Obama is catching up quickly, then Obama is going to beat Clinton convincingly. When the results come in, the reality that Obama’s score-draw is a huge achievement given Clinton’s entrenched advantages is reinterpreted as disappointment compared to the hype immediately before Super Tuesday itself.

If you discount the fact that expectations overshoot because of herd behaviour, Obama did remarkably well in neutralising what was designed to be Clinton’s sweeping victory.

Posted 07 Feb 2008 in Blog, Politics, United States, US elections
  1. Jo says:

    Have you seen Barack Obama Air Force 1?
    What fascinates me is who turns out for Obama. That is what politics is about as far as I can see – critical mass. It isn’t a contract. Indeed there is no way to enforce any promises. It is simply a matter of getting people out so that we can see who is willing to stand shoulder to shoulder, and around what issues.
    The issues, as far as I can detect them, are which generation will rule – though Obama is actually quite old at 46. Whether young people’s lives can put at risk (pardon my understatement) for the sake of big business. At what point the social safety net kicks in – at what point we say, NO that standard of living is TOO low in THIS country.
    I’ve started a thread on Linkedin to ask Obama-skeptics what they think they will lose if he is elected. I am not sure it is the done thing to ask that because I suspect in national elections the answer is less that you have anything to loose and more that you fear that people-like-me will not be in charge. But I am genuinely interested int the answers.
    Any one who has been near the US in the last two years or so knows how demoralised the place is. I think that is why Obama has caught on. The people are tired of being depressed. They want to pick up, get up and start living again. I have touted two more ‘big mac indices’ if Obama wins. Their soccer gets better and they eat less junk food!

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