2586) The American Promise 'Obama'

It was set to be a historic speech long ago. The Democratic Party’s nomination acceptance speech was scheduled to be on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. .

When it became clear that Barack Obama would be chosen as the first black presidential nominee of a major party in American history, it was in the minds of many that Obama was King’s dream coming true. However, rather than associating himself closely with King and the black rights movements, Obama rightly chose to appeal to all Americans and picked the overarching theme of his speech as “the American promise.”

The four-day Democratic National Convention was organized as a festival, much like a concert, as well as a political event. Performances by famous singers, old and new, and speeches by established Democratic leaders, including Ted Kennedy, the Clintons, Al Gore and the Kings were accompanied by testimonies from people on the street. Each speaker made sure to emphasize Democratic unity, show strong support for and confidence in Obama and harshly attack the Bush administration and McCain. Obama took the stage on the last day as the last speaker, and his speech was as inspiring and as powerful as any other Obama speech. Despite the live coverage on 10 commercial networks reaching over 40 million viewers, almost 85,000 people gathered in Mile High Stadium (all these numbers setting records in US political history) as proof of their eagerness to support Obama, and many among them burst into tears of joy and excitement as they witnessed this momentous event. The enthusiasm of Democratic voters and their appeal to the larger public reached its peak.

The convention aimed to accomplish several goals. One of the primary goals was to unite the Democratic Party, which was torn apart during the long nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Obama. Just as the Clintons fought hard and long against Obama, now it was their duty to put the house in order. More influential than Hillary Clinton’s acclamation was Bill Clinton’s excellently laid out declaration that “Obama is ready to lead!” These speeches ended any remaining doubts about the Democratic Party’s unity behind Obama. The convention did end the clash between Obama and Clinton, not only officially, but in reality as well.

Attacking and discrediting McCain was another goal throughout the convention. The main and common point of criticism directed at McCain was that his presidency would be “more of the same.” He was equated with Bush in every way possible and his presidency with the third term of George W. Bush. Considering the low popularity of the Bush administration it was an effective approach in attacking McCain. The newly chosen vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden mentioned McCain’s wrong foreign policy choices, such as his support for the war in Iraq, and repeated relentlessly, “McCain was wrong, Obama was right.” Obama, giving in to the criticism that he was not harsh enough on his opponent and compromising his pledge not to lead a negative campaign, bashed McCain openly, clearly and severely. He sarcastically exposed McCain’s disconnectedness from the ordinary citizen, brought up the fact that McCain voted with Bush 90 percent of the time and successfully connected it to his motto of change: “I don’t know about you, but I am not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.”

Another major goal that dominated the convention program was the appeal to non-Democrats. In order to accomplish this goal the Democrats invited ordinary people to speak at the convention, who brought up the difficulties they faced in their daily lives and how they believed Obama to be their hope for change toward a better future. These real life stories touched on the shortcomings of the health insurance system, jobs moving overseas and increasing unemployment, difficulty in finding scholarships and loans for education and the lack of government support for the needy. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s daughter made a speech titled “Not as a Democrat or Republican, but as an Independent,” and stressed the unity of the American people, behind Obama, of course. More important than the others were several converts from the Republican line to the Democratic who made a strong case of why a Republican, too, can support Obama.

From the very beginning of the campaign Obama consistently endeavored to go beyond the party lines and reach out to the independents and Republicans that are neither pleased with the current administration nor hopeful of a McCain leadership. Obama rightly learned from historical experience where crossing party lines increased the chances of winning and brought long-lasting strength to the party and the president. “Reagan Democrats” and Clinton’s concept of “new Democrat” with a Republican flavor refer to the efforts by the former nominees to find and emphasize common ground between the two party policies and appeal to the followers of the rival party. Obama, modeling his speech on Reagan’s 1980 and especially Bill Clinton’s 1992 acceptance speeches, made sure to focus his criticism on McCain’s personal approach rather than despising long-time Republicans. This is one reason why, despite his several references to King’s speech, the central theme of Obama’s speech was not one on King’s dream coming true, but a phrase that emphasized Obama’s attempt to unite all Americans: the American promise.

Obama and Turkey
The US presidential race is reflected in the Turkish media almost solely on the basis of the candidates’ views on the Armenian allegations. Turkey’s perspective of the US and the presidential elections should not be hijacked by the Armenian issue. Regardless of whom the president of the US is or will be, the Armenian question and its influence on US-Turkey relations is an issue that Turkey has had to deal with over a long period of time and at various levels, including political, historical, social and cultural. Thus, independent of the presidential elections or the US government’s closeness to Turkey, Turkey has to develop a long-term strategy to first contain and then remove the effects of Armenian allegations involving Turkey in the international arena. Furthermore, US-Turkey relations are based on stronger pillars of mutual interest that from both Turkish and US perspectives should reduce the centrality of the Armenian issue in the perception and evaluation of each other. Therefore, when evaluating the US presidential elections, the Turkish perspective should be more concerned with the role of the US in international politics in an increasingly multi-polar world, the US involvement in the Middle East and the economic stability in the US rather than what each candidate says on the Armenian issue.

Republican campaigns to discredit Obama with false accusations have influenced the Turkish public as well. One question should be made clear: While Obama’s father is a Muslim from Kenya, Obama himself is not a Muslim. He was raised Christian and has expressed his faith quite explicitly on numerous occasions. However, there is no indication to support the speculation that he will discriminate against Muslims or foreigners living in the US. Quite the contrary, historically, the Republicans have been more hawkish in foreign policy, especially as a result of their intimate relations with the big arms and oil companies.

In 1961, at the end of his tenure as president, Eisenhower addressed the American nation and warned them of a possible future threat to the freedoms in the US: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Eisenhower’s historic Farewell Address points out the ever increasing influence of the military-industrial complex on the American policy-making processes.

The Republican idealism to “fight evil” and expand democracy, combined with support for big corporations including the arms industry have traditionally led to aggressive foreign policy moves. During the Cold War this worked better for Turkey, which gained higher strategic significance against the Soviet Union. However, as the perception of threat moved away from communism and focused more on the Middle East, an aggressive US foreign policy has proven to create serious complexities for Turkey.

The direct implication of Obama’s stance in foreign policy is what he defended from very early on: pull out of Iraq and refocus on Afghanistan. In an attempt to avoid criticisms that a quick withdrawal might cause the collapse of the Iraqi government and embarrass the US, he added the word “responsibly” and assured his audience that he would do whatever necessary for the security of the US. However the starting point and most significant aspect of his stance is still to put diplomacy first and not hesitate to talk with the enemy, something which the Bush administration has refused to do with Iran until very recently. In his acceptance speech, too, Obama made it clear that he will “renew tough and direct diplomacy with Iran and Russia” and “build new partnerships.” This perspective is certainly more in line with the recent Turkish foreign policy initiatives, which indicate an active diplomatic involvement in regional issues.

It is true that there is a chance Obama’s actions might not follow his words. But when his alternative, McCain, promises a continued and expanded war in the Middle East, why can’t we hope for the change Obama promises?

by Dr. Mustafa Gökçek, Assistant professor at Niagara University.

03 September 2008


Aquitaine said...

"Those who are bound by promises are only those who believe in it. "

Henri Queuille, French statesman of XXth century (1884-1970).

Several other US presidents promised the "recognition" to the ANCA, or to the AAA, and failed to do it. Turkey is stronger than ever. How Mr. Obama could break the ties with this kind of ally?

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