Around the time he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, wowing the crowd with his famous “the audacity of hope” speech, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama began his steady rise in popularity. Americans seem to have a love affair with the senator from Illinois.
His speech was well delivered, uniting and gave those watching a glimpse of something the race between John Kerry and George W. Bush could not offer, a new and inviting flavor of politics.
With his sober outlook on the issues of Iraq, healthcare and many others, Obama seems to be the missing figurehead of a Democratic charge that could spell the end of Republican fantasy politics.
Hope is a term used by American presidents and pundits alike to describe policies and military undertakings that usually lead to predicaments that are anything but hopeful, i.e., Iraq and the state of the union. Because of this Orwellian switch between the antonym of a word such as hope and its definition, the national level of trust in the words of politicians has been watered down by repeated optimistic promises of victory in juxtaposition to visions of disparity on the news daily.
However, Americans are not fooled by such rhetoric. As Bush’s declining approval rating sinks to yet a new low, 28 percent according to a recent CBS News poll, and support for the war in Iraq continues to follow suit, politicians are awakening to the fact that Americans neither want nor need their news deluded.
Such a social and political climate is an inviting offer for presidential candidates with realism and feasibility on the agenda.
Enter Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois.
From his outspoken willingness to toggle with both sides of an issue, be it a liberal or conservative one, and everything in between, to his reluctance to offend for the sake of controversy, Obama has managed to capture the fancy of Americans touting his trademark levelheaded approach, charismatic swagger and relatable image.
Born in Hawaii to a mother who hails from Kansas and a father from Kenya, Obama is no stranger to conflicting interests. At the age of 4, he moved with his mother to Indonesia where he attended a Catholic school, before returning to Hawaii six years later to pursue better educational opportunities.
It was then, Obama says, that he was introduced to the racial divide in American culture between people of different ethnicities, namely the never-ending black/white equality struggle.
In his first book, “Dreams of My Father,” published before he became a senator, Obama tells of an adolescence plagued with racial prejudices and identity crisis, which he claims has made him more adept at considering both sides of an argument before making a decision and prepared him to confront perplexing questions that have stumped the current administration thus far.
It is this talk of collaborative qualities that has drawn so many to him as of late. Obama, unlike many other candidates in the 2008 election, both official and unofficial, is enticing to voters because of his ability to transcend cultural and ethnic boundaries with ease. The combination of his outspoken faith, the implications of his position and notable blackfeatures make him a relatable and, to many, an inspiring figure in politics.
Just as Americans embraced former President Bill Clinton for his humble beginnings and empathetic persona, so too does Obama exude a “fighting for the poor man” quality that only boosts his appeal.
But why the hysteria over this man? An integral part of Obama’s rise to fame came from a cast of support from Hollywood. Oprah has been an outspoken supporter of Obama, promoting him on her talk show. Media attention placed him high on the list of hopefuls even before he formally announced his bid for the presidency Feb. 10.
But those who are concerned with Obama’s agenda are wondering what separates him from the rest of the Democratic hopefuls. The answer, according to some, is compromise and candor. As the 2006 elections have shown, the majority of Americans yearn for moderate politics rather than the far right or left.
Since the unrelenting hangover of the Iraq war set in, just after Bush declared major military operations finished on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the public has since been searching for a candidate who will neither deny the realities of a situation, nor delay a policy shift if need be, while continuously referring back to the center to craft legislation.
Though he has been criticized for a lack of leadership “strength” for his “on-the-other-hand/consider another point of view” approach, Obama has demonstrated his ability to build bipartisan support for legislation surrounding critical wedge issues in the Senate.
Issues such as a universal healthcare plan, legislation cosponsored by Obama on numerous occasions, take tactful persuasion and collaboration to get senators from both sides of the spectrum to agree. Contrasted with Bush’s failure to assemble a lasting coalition in Iraq, Obama’s “compromise first, war last” ideology has been viewed as downright different, a new approach to new problems.
Can Obama extend his skills of compromise not only across party lines but from nation to nation as well? That remains to be seen. Already, slander campaigns on the web have specifically targeted Obama’s lack of experience as a senator – having been in office little more than a year – a political maneuver that cost him a seat in the House in 2000.
As far as the presidency is concerned, Americans tend to vote for candidates with pristine resumes, emphasizing experience in office, and in many cases veteran status. Though Obama has attained degrees from both Columbia and Harvard universities, he is not a veteran like Sen. John McCain, nor a former New York mayor like Rudolph Giuliani, and is definitely not the spouse of a former president like Sen. Hillary Clinton, who are all vying for the hot seat.
But as he established during the keynote address, Obama is not just willing but determined to bridge the gap between the Democrats and Republicans, wealthy and poor, and whites and blacks, along with many other wedge issues and political cleavages that divide the nation.
“This country is ready for a transformative politics of the sort that John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt represented,” Obama told Time magazine.
Will promises be enough to win the presidency? Public appeal couldn’t hurt.