The Chinese in their wisdom, just like the Judeo-Christian scriptures, make much of the importance of small beginnings in acts of enterprise. In a popular and often quoted Chinese wise saying, we are told that a ‘journey of a thousand miles always begins with a footstep’. It stands to reason, therefore, that any journey which begins with a footstep, must also, of necessity, end with a footstep.
Twenty-one months ago, Barack Obama began his own ‘thousand’ mile historic journey towards the White House and a place in the history books. His journey began with a footstep marking a declaration of interest in the American presidency. Since that initial footstep, he has, in a crisscross, across America taken several more footsteps and notched up sufficient air-miles to fund a return journey to space and back. Over this period he has spread his message of change and hope to his fellow Americans and to those beyond his nation. And in a very short time from now he will take his final footstep and bring his historic campaign to a close.
As with every journey, along the way, there have been different places to see, people to meet, and signposts to read. There have been moments of brilliance; moments of pure inspiration; moments of soaring oratory, and moments of infectious hope; there have also been moments of despair surrounding reports of planned assassination attempts on his life. But through all of these different moments and stages, Barack Obama, still remains standing and poised to take his final footstep on this, his historic ‘thousand mile’ journey. And with good fortune, he may yet be about, to take another first footstep on the path of another incredible journey.
Much of what he represents and the very idea of his candidacy has achieved enormous resonance with different people around the world. And they, much like many Americas, hope and are hopeful, that this year a ‘change is gonna come’ to America. His historic campaign is perhaps one of the most exhilarating that we have seen in a generation. By his run for office, he has not only renewed interest in the American political process and he has also galvanised great numbers of young people to participate in the electoral process.
But while his campaign has been one of the most uplifting and unifying in recent American political history; he is still regarded with suspicion by some in his nation. For these people, the fear of the ‘unknown’ and a hatred of his ‘blackness’ is real and appears to be the prime motivator behind their actions. It is curious, that it has never occurred to these people that his ‘Americaness’ is derived from his white American mother; and that in reality he has much more in common with them, than they realise. But then, matters pertaining to skin pigmentation have hardly ever been dealt with rationally in America.
It is perhaps people in this category who have been behind the scurrilous and desperate rumours concocted and disseminated in public spaces about Barack Obama. These unfounded rumours were clearly designed to hurt, harm or even halt his quest. He has variously been described as the Antichrist; a Communist; a Socialist; a Moslem; and not even an American. Other rumours do not bear repeating or reproduction. And on top of this, has been the disturbing issue of a number of foiled assassination attempts against his life. These people are no doubt terrified to their bones of the prospect of change.
As the die is about to be cast, and as Americans stand at the bar of history, and in the privacy of their polling booths, much of the rest of the world sits – waiting and watching – with bated breath. One way or another, Americans are poised to make history. In their acceptance or repudiation, of one, or the others, quest for office, they will either, elect their first ever black president, (or more accurately, their first bi-racial president) or their oldest president ever and their first woman vice-president.
Going into the final stretch of this historic campaign, the opinion polls, if any credence can be attached to them, are looking good for Barack Obama. But we all know about the so-called ‘Bradley Effect’ and its possible ramifications. And to compound this, there is the added dimension and sad fact that, at this late stage in the process, there remain a number of democrats, beholden to Hillary Clinton, who are refusing to switch their allegiance to Barack Obama. They plan to vote or have, indeed, already voted, as they claim, in favour of John McCain. It is a sad development and indictment of their disloyalty to their political party. Much better it would have been for them to have stayed at home and not voted at all, rather than cut their noses, in order to spite their faces. But such is the depth of bad feeling in these people.
But notwithstanding these people, there is a real feeling of change blowing through America. There is a strong sense of a shifting in the political tectonic plates of that nation. And it is Barack Obama’s privilege to personify this ground breaking movement, of and for, change. And in so doing he stands on the shoulders of giants. It will take the goodwill of great numbers of Americans of goodwill to effect change at the top of their political pyramid. But hopefully these numerous and progressive Americans, who are gifted with robust sight and vision, strong enough to see right through and beyond the narrow prism of skin pigmentation, will be in view and on hand, when and where it matters, to birth change on Tuesday.
As I near the conclusion of this piece, I recount an anecdotal story, from over a century ago; one which relates to a political candidate who had to deal with issues of prejudice, albeit, of a religious nature, in his quest for office.
The notable writer and poet, Hilaire Belloc, a hundred years ago, sought election into the British House of Commons. He was an unusual candidate in the sense that he was born French, and became British by naturalisation. He was also a devout Roman Catholic, in Protestant Britain. And because of his faith he was viewed upon with suspicion by the electorate. And unsurprisingly, the issue of his religious faith dominated and threatened to scupper his candidacy. So he chose to confront the issue head on, by addressing his detractors in the following terms:
“I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and pray with these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative!”
I hope and remain hopeful that the American people will transcend themselves and endorse Barack Obama’s historic candidacy for president on Tuesday. But in the event, of his being rejected on the basis of his colour; then I adjure him, to go down on his knees and thank God for sparing him the indignity of being their president.