Adventures in American Presidency

As the campaign of Barack Obama gained momentum, Kenyans - embroiled in campaigns of a more dangerous nature - noted with chagrin that the United States could have a Luo president before Kenya. This raises an interesting question: would Obama’s ethnic roots help or hurt him as president?

Obama, of course, does not identify himself as a Luo. He may sympathize with Raila Odinga - a Luo who believes he was elected president of Kenya on December 27 - but if so because of Odinga's similarities to Al Gore circa 2000, not Obama's similarities to Odinga. No matter: those who send their scions on to great success in America remain fiercely proud and possessive.

Hopefully, the Kenyan crisis will be resolved soon. But if it is inherited by the next president, it is difficult to imagine Kikuyu leaders accepting President Obama as a fair arbitrator. The politics of ethnicity and identity could be played out elsewhere: Indonesians think Obama is one of their own; black Sudanese will claim him as "their kind" in conflicts with white Sudanese; a few deluded Sunni Muslims might even assume that Obama pere's conversion to Sunni Islam gives them the Christian president's ear.

America has seen shadows of this before - Germany thought Theodore Roosevelt, fluent in German and a former exchange student there - would be particularly friendly. He was not; he carried an awfully big stick to chase the Kaiser's navy away from Venezuela (src). Obama, however, has already attracted more attention from the world than a whole stable of Anglo-European candidates. As president, he would garner still more attention: most of it good, and for good reason. The words "President Obama" would speak volumes about America's opportunity and openness, and his friendly (if not knowledgable) approach to the world would repair the damage from Bush's impatient "diplomacy".

Nonetheless, his perceived identity would crop up again and again, and the world would have to get an education in American politics: that our leaders do not merely govern for those who look like them or talk like them. Obama's Kenyan relatives would probably be sorely disappointed by an Obama presidency; likewise other groups that assume they can cash in on some tie they think they have. Managing those demands and disappointments would be an interesting and bemusing job for Foggy Bottom.

Needless to say, none of this ought to have any impact on voters' choices. Obama, in my opinion, would be an extremely liberal and ultimately deeply divisive president, some of whose proposals risk dragging the U.S. into recession and plunging countries who depend on commerce with us into depression. But so would Hillary Clinton - and she's apparently a Kikuyu. Posted by Chops at February 29, 2008 3:45 PM
Comment #246778

It must be be tough for you guys over here in the conservative blog. The only ammo you have against Obama is the color of his skin, middle name, Kenyan relatives, and lack of experience. It should be interesting to view just how many ways you folks can twist his heritage into something evil and un-American. Oh and I forgot to mention that he is a liberal with values. Now that just isn’t right. :)

Posted by: RickIL at February 29, 2008 4:40 PM
Comment #246781

I liked the tone of your article, you bring up some good points.

One of the things that puzzles me is how Indonesians would consider Obama “one of their own” when he lived there for a brief period during his early childhood.

As to Obama being “deeply divisive”. What exactly do you perceive in him that would lead you to say such a thing? Obama is about as far from, say, dubya, as is possible to get in terms of that.

I have been amazed at some of the Republicans I know who intend on voting for Obama, should he be the nominee. One of them posts on this very blog. I must be missing something about him that you are seeing to make you say he would be divisive.

Posted by: steve miller at February 29, 2008 4:59 PM
Comment #246789

Actually, we have quite a bit more on him.

In 2005, Obama joined Republicans in passing a law dubiously called the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) that would shut down state courts as a venue to hear many class action lawsuits. Long a desired objective of large corporations and President George Bush, Obama in effect voted to deny redress in many of the courts where these kinds of cases have the best chance of surviving corporate legal challenges. Instead, it forces them into the backlogged Republican-judge dominated federal courts.

By contrast, Senators Clinton, Edwards and Kerry joined 23 others to vote against CAFA, noting the “reform” was a thinly-veiled “special interest extravaganza” that favored banking, creditors and other corporate interests. David Sirota, the former spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, commented on CAFA in the June 26, 2006 issue of The Nation, “Opposed by most major civil rights and consumer watchdog groups, this Big Business-backed legislation was sold to the public as a way to stop “frivolous” lawsuits. But everyone in Washington knew the bill’s real objective was to protect corporate abusers.”

Nation contributor Dan Zegart noted further: “On its face, the class-action bill is mere procedural tinkering, transferring from state to federal court actions involving more than $5 million where any plaintiff is from a different state from the defendant company. But federal courts are much more hostile to class actions than their state counterparts; such cases tend to be rooted in the finer points of state law, in which federal judges are reluctant to dabble. And even if federal judges do take on these suits, with only 678 of them on the bench (compared with 9,200 state judges), already overburdened dockets will grow. Thus, the bill will make class actions ­ most of which involve discrimination, consumer fraud and wage-and-hour violations ­ all but impossible. One example: After forty lawsuits were filed against Wal-Mart for allegedly forcing employees to work “off the clock,” four state courts certified these suits as class actions. Not a single federal court did so, although the practice probably involves hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide.”

Why would a civil rights lawyer knowingly make it harder for working-class people ( Or the people of Hunter Point suing Lennar) to have their day in court, in effect shutting off avenues of redress?

Matt Gonzalez is a former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and is running on Nader’s ticket as a vice presidential candidate.

I’m not fond of Nader in particular, nor am I supporting McCain or Hitlary. Just giving information where information is due.

Posted by: dobropet at February 29, 2008 5:22 PM
Comment #246805

Dobrobet, you’re giving information where information is due, eh? Except for the first and last paragraph, all you did is steal somebody else’s words.

Next time you cut-and-paste and try to pass off somebody else’s words as your own, at least cut off the author bio at the end the passage. It’s like you failed Website Spamming 101. Sheesh.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at February 29, 2008 9:30 PM
Comment #246827

Mr. Miller -

Thanks for your comment. I think that you inadvertently answered your own question:

As to Obama being “deeply divisive”. What exactly do you perceive in him that would lead you to say such a thing? Obama is about as far from, say, dubya, as is possible to get in terms of that.

Technically, Kucinich may be further from Dubya, but your point stands: Obama is the polar opposite of Dubya. And Dubya had the support of 51% of the electorate in 2004. Therefore, Obama is the polar opposite of someone half the electorate voted for!

Remember, when GWB was elected in 2000, we believed he was “a uniter, not a divider”, because he’d effectively worked with a Democratic Lt. Gov. in Texas, was not given to invective, etc. His divisiveness doesn’t come from his personality: he’s jocular with everyone from Ted Kennedy to Vladimir Putin. Rather, it comes from his sharp views on national security.

Obama has views just as strong, and just as far from the center. He’ll smile as he dismantles trade agreements - just like Bush smiled as he dismantled the Kyoto Accord.

You can’t be a uniter by working for one party’s goals: that’s the definition of division. If unity is your priority as a voter this November, then John McCain - reviled equally by the far right and far left - is your clear choice. Whether unity is the most important issue is another question, but I don’t think we should be silly enough to think that the whole country will be thrilled with a very liberal president because he’s also very genial.

Posted by: Chops at March 1, 2008 7:49 AM
Comment #246850

Cute, but the context was divisiveness, not popularity. Bush had the benefit of the country “being at war” which he exploited shamelessly. I don’t think that’s going to work for you guys this time around. I never believed Bush was a “uniter”. That’s what he SAID. My opinion is that Obama has already shown ability to bring different factions together that Bush can only dream of. His divisiveness comes from the total inability to admit that there is any other way than his way. He has consistently promulgated policies opposed by a majority of this country. THAT’S divisive. I think my point stands that Obama is the lesser divisive of the two.
Seems to me that both parties share the goal of a smoother-running, less acrimonious country. I am genuinely baffled at the fear of obama shown by many of the conservative ideologues.

I have heard many times over the last six or seven years that stating dissatisfaction with ill-conceived military adventuring or the suffocation of civil rights meant that the person saying these things “hated America”. Seems crazy to denounce people who point out problems while lionizing those who brought them about.

No response to the indonesian “one of their own” statement? At the very least, an odd opinion.

Posted by: steve miller at March 1, 2008 1:14 PM
Comment #246852

oops, “his divisiveness” in the first paragraph refers to Bush, not Obama!

Posted by: steve miller at March 1, 2008 1:17 PM
Comment #246875

But unlike these trade agreements, the United States did not, has not—not under Bush and not under Clinton—ever ratified or entered into any binding agreements to the Kyoto Accords.

That is a MAJOR difference. Bush could not have “dismantled” what wasn’t there to begin with.

Bush has never submitted Kyoto Accords for ratification by the Senate. He says he doesn’t agree with them. Clinton, however, paid a certain lip-service to Kyoto… but also refused to sumbit it to the US Senate. Again, you can’t “dismantle” what isn’t there.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 1, 2008 4:28 PM
Comment #246885

First, I never said anything remotely as that entire informative passage being my own. I only responded by showing there is more information than what was being stated here. All of the information provided is from, hence the ending acknowledging Matt Gonzalez. And I have no intention of discrediting anyone here who may, or may not, have more available sources to material than I. In light of this development, Obama’s race should neither hurt or help his candidacy. Such an outcome would not be surprising in the least though, race has not always played a factor but can rear it’s ugly head the same as Britney Spears coverage is seldom used to generate publicity.

Posted by: dobropet at March 1, 2008 6:54 PM
Comment #246937

If Obama is such a uniter, why is it every time a compromise has been struck between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate since he’s been there, His Hopefulness has been in the left hand corner holding a pity party with those who didn’t get their way in expanding the power of the Federal Government. He hasn’t been a part of anything bipartisan. McCain on the other hand, has taken the bipartisan route whenever he could, even if it meant sticking it in the Right’s eye.

Posted by: Duane-o at March 3, 2008 3:13 AM
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