Onus on OBAMA for Oneness
S’s standing in the world that plummeted under George W Bush is expected to be sky-high when Barrack (In Swahili it means one who is blessed) Obama takes over as the 44th President in January, 2009. His worldwide appeal is sure to restore America’s clout.
No American President had ever revealed as much of himself prior to taking office as Obama. He has had the unique distinction of having authored two best-selling personal memoirs by his mid-forties.
His stellar image could really prove to be a crucial asset for America. This fact can be gauged from what Obama himself told the New York Times during his campaign: “If you can tell people, 'We have a president in the White House who still has a grandmother living in a hut on the shores of Lake Victoria and has a sister who's half-Indonesian, married to a Chinese-Canadian,' then they're going to think that he may have a better sense of what's going on in our lives and in our country."
How prophetic! It is not without reason, therefore, that the entire world, including even Chavez of Venezuela, called Obama’s election as “historic and momentous”, not only for the US but for the entire world.
Obama will surely bring a breath of fresh air in almost every part of the globe. The onus now is on Obama for bringing about oneness in the conflict-ridden world. There is little doubt that the nations of the world can only hope to benefit from a rejuvenated US leadership.
As President, Obama will certainly reinvent the US as a country that listens, that engages with others, and that has, in the famous words from the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, ‘‘a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.’’
Washington, in keeping with the Obama approach, should overtly and visibly demonstrate its openness to the needs and priorities of the rest of the world. The new administration must show that, despite its understandable internal preoccupations, America — still the world’s richest country by far — will never forget its responsibilities toward the wellbeing of the planet.
Foreign Policy Perspective
As far as his foreign policy goes, Obama may still be an unknown commodity. But one thing is sure that the President-elect does not belong to any of the existing foreign policy tribes-the “liberal internationalists” who are keen on multilateral action, the “realists” who seek a stable world order or the “neo-conservatives” who believe force is the only language enemies can understand.
Mr Obama’s foreign policy team includes a mix of Clinton-era "liberal internationalists" and realists. Though it cannot be clear at the outset as to what course Mr Obama may take, yet one can take comfort from his determination to consult America’s friends and his readiness to engage with its foes.
Obama correctly identified Pakistan-Afghanistan rather than Iraq as the epicenter of global terror. A sharper focus here could ensure that al-Qaeda and its allies are defeated, boosting fledgling democracies in Pakistan and Afghanistan and making possible trilateral cooperation between Pakistan, Afghanistan and India If that happens, South Asia will be transformed.
Besides, Obama’s interest in the region stems from a basic concern in curbing militancy and stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan, which ought to be music to Indian ears
Obama showed signs of his global perspective even when he was still a student, studying Law at Harvard. Recalling his association with Obama during those days, an Attorney in the Supreme Court of India, Dr. Surat Singh, says, Obama’s perspective was global, not just America-centric. He was able to look at issues as to how they would affect the rest of the world.
Dr. Singh quotes Obama as saying that “we are born in a certain race but that does not exhaust our identity.” He would also say that truth does not win itself; you have to build a working consensus around it to make it win. Another remarkable quality of Barrack, Dr. Singh says, was his dogged determination. Once he started a venture, he would finish it.
Higher Ideals in Politics
Obama's call for higher ideals in politics can't be seen in a vacuum. The shadow is real.
Sharing his thoughts on the subject in an interview with Parade Magazine, he said, “true genius of America lies in a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles. We can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. We can say and write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. We can have an idea and start our own businesses without paying a bribe. In America, anything is possible.”
Transition Team & the Economic Plan
Obama, who takes office on January 20, told a Chicago press conference, that rebuilding the world's largest economy , which faces a “crisis of historic proportions, was not going to be easy, and warned the road to recovery was going to be long. "We'll need to bring together the best minds in America to guide us and that is what I've sought to do in assembling my economic team," Obama said. "I've sought leaders who could offer both sound judgment and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold new ideas and most of all, who share my fundamental belief that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers; that in this country, we rise and fall as one nation, as one people."
US President-elect Barack Obama (C) presents his choices for his newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board during a news conference in Chicago November 26, 2008. Paul Volcker, 81, (L) will be the chair of the panel and Austan Goolsbee (R) will serve as its staff director.
|His economic team in place, Obama has asked his aides with assembling an ambitious measure to pump money swiftly into the battered economy, but also create 2.5 million new jobs, send a tax cut to the poor and middle class, and make massive government investments in energy-saving and other technologies designed to pay for themselves in the long run. |
Obama named New York Federal Reserve president Tim Geithner the next treasury secretary to oversee an ambitious plan to resuscitate the US economy. He also named Lawrence Summers as director of his National Economic Council. Summers was treasury secretary under former president Bill Clinton and is a former president of Harvard University. Obama also named Christina Romer, as director of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Melody Barnes, as director of the Domestic Policy Council. Romer was "best known for her work on America's recovery from the Great Depression and the robust economic expansion that followed," Obama said.
Lincoln’s & King’s Dream comes true
On 4 March 1865, Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural address declared for all time: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.. With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation"s wounds.-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations".
Almost a century later, in 1963, the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr, famously dreamt of the day when the ideal that all men are created equal would be realized.”
With Obamas election, America has come close to realizing the dreams of Lincoln and King. Immediately after his victory, Obama told the American people: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
In the late-1950s, America's most newly-minted state, Hawaii, became the meeting place for his African father, Barrack Hussein Obama Sr, and his American mother, Ann Dunham. A talented and exuberant economist who had won a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, Barrack Sr, known for his rich speaking voice, strong opinions and a magnetic personal charisma, had come from the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya while his mother, Ann, somewhat a “shy American girl” known for her quick wit, feisty intelligence and expansive vocabulary, hailed from Wichita, Kansas. Though Barrack Sr was five years her elder, they met in a Russian language class and quickly fell in love and married. Thus Obama was the product of what was then a rarity in post-war American society: a mixed-race marriage. As Barrack Obama himself wrote, his father was as "black as pitch", while his mother was as "white as milk".
When Obama was barely two years old, his parents got divorced. Obamas father and he had met only twice before the former died in a car accident in 1982..
The next episode
The next episode in Obama’s life began with the break-up of his parents' marriage. His mother remarried, this time to yet another foreign student, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian native. They lived as a family for 2 years in Hawaai before leaving for Jakarta in 1967 when Obama was just six.
Obama lived in Indonesia for 4 years, during which time he seemed to have been impressed by the broad experience and worldliness of his stepfather who inculcated in the young intelligent boy the capacity for emotional detachment and a steady temperament.
What is more, Indonesia also exposed Barrack Obama to the kind of Third World suffering that perhaps aroused his social conscience. In Dreams from My Father, he speaks of the sorrowful faces of drought-hit farmers, and of the beggar who came to his door with a gaping hole where his nose should have been. Years later he was to tell the media that his stay in Indonesia left a very strong mark on him because he got a real sense of just how poor, folks can get.
When he was just 10, his mother sent Barrack back to Hawaii to complete his education. Here, he was raised by his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn, his beloved Toot who died on the eve of his being elected as President.
After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Two years later, he transferred to Columbia University in New York. On graduation from Columbia in political science, he worked for a year in the corporate sector before joining a public interest group in New York, which campaigned for upgrades to the city's subway system. He quit the post to attend Harvard Law School in 1988
Barack Obama at Harvard Law School in 1988
Success at Harvard led to Barack Obama's first book deal, Dreams from My Father. It also brought lucrative offers to work at high-end corporate law firms. But Barack Obama decided to return to Chicago, to practice civil rights law and to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Sense of Political Mission
Chicago proved the making of him for it was here that he found his sense of political mission. He joined the faith-based community action group, the Developing Communities Project, where he first came to know the reality of life and the agendas driven by fear and small greeds.
He remained active in community affairs. In the city's demoralized South Side, he worked on job training programs and local housing projects. He helped Bill Clinton win the state vote in Illinois in the latters presidential campaign and got sucked up in state politics. This resulted in his running successfully for the State Senate in 1996.
In 2000, after just four years in the Illinois State Senate, he tried to win the Democratic primary in one of Chicago's US congressional seats. But he lost. Four years later, however, Barrack Obama won his party's nomination to fight for the US Senate, a campaign which brought him into contact with the then Senator John Kerry. So impressed was Kerry with the Chicago candidate that he invited him to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic Convention.
Obama spoke on Americas search for itself. His mesmerizing power of speech was immediately noticed. "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America," he proclaimed. "There is a United States of America. There is not a black and white America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states... but I've got news for them, too. We worship an 'awesome God' in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states."
He also spoke of how his white grandfather had served in George Patton's army and how his black grandfather cooked for his British colonial masters. His quixotic personal history became his message. "I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage," he said, "knowing that my story is part of the larger American story."
That memorable speech in 2004 launched him into the strange world of celebritydom, if one can use that term, and arguably provided the most important turning point of the 2008 campaign. And the rest is epoch-changing history. The Americans, young and old, high and low, white or non-whie were simply amazed at his intelligence, temperament and judgment to lead their nation to a better place in the world.
His Oratorical Skill
Obama's rhetorical skill, his ability to captivate and inspire audiences with his powerful speeches, has led many observers to say that he is the greatest orator of his generation. What makes them feel like that? Is it the words he utters or the way he delivers or the historic change that he represents?
When Barrack Obama was just 2, Martin Luther King had declared that “I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
Obama’s victory speech, delivered in Chicago 45 years later, echoed King’s dream when he said: “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.”
Virginia Sapiro, Professor of political science at Boston University, says, the way Mr Obama delivers his speeches is as important as his words. He looks at all times in possession of himself - he is very calm, with an inner peace in his delivery which, in a time of crisis, is very important."
Ms Ekaterina Haskins, Professor of rhetoric at the University of Iowa, agrees: "I've been going through Obamas speeches textually. The text alone cannot tell us why they are so powerful, it is about delivery." She points out, he adds weight and depth to the abstract with solid, specific concrete examples, thus avoiding the charge of pure rhetoric. The weakness of Obama's rhetoric so far is that it is so agreeable. There is almost nothing he says with which you can disagree. I believe Barack Obama embodies, more than any other politician, the ideals of American eloquence.
Philip Collins, a leader writer for the London Times and a speech-writer for former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, also agrees with Virginia Sapiro and says, Obama may have calmness, but the range of his delivery - the way he alters his pace, tone and rhythm - is closer to song. His style of delivery is basically churchy, it's religious: the way he slides down some words and hits others - the intonation, the emphasis, the pauses and the silences. He is close to singing, just as preaching is close to singing. All writing is a rhythm of kind and he brings it out, hits the tune. It's about the tune, not the lyrics, with Obama."
“Obama has shown the power of brilliant rhetorical force”, Mr. Collins points out. He adds, “rousing campaigning speeches, however perfectly pitched and presented, do not test the true mettle of a politician. What does is a speech that attempts to change the opinions of those who disagree with you.”
According to Mr. Collins,, Obama’s victory speech on November 4, 2008 “channeled broad ideas of the struggle of a generation. It was a speech that wrapped the experience of different races together, expressing understanding for the deep-seated, lingering resentments of each and presenting himself as the embodiment of unity. For Mr Collins, “it remains the only speech, so far, that will not fade.“
Ties with India
Early 2008, he wrote a piece for an Indian-American newspaper where he said, "The world's oldest democracy (US) and the world's largest democracy (India) are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values... And that is why I will move forward to build a close strategic partnership between the US and India when I am president of the United States."
In a letter to the Indian Prime Minister on September 23, he had spelt out “Before turning to matters of policy, please permit me to offer my condolences on the painful losses your citizens have suffered in the recent string of terrorist assaults. As I have said publicly, I deplore and condemn the vicious attacks perpetrated in New Delhi and on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. The death and destruction is reprehensible, and you and your nation have my deepest sympathy. These cowardly acts of mass murder are a stark reminder that India suffers from the scourge of terrorism on a scale few other nations can imagine. I will continue to urge all countries to cooperate with Indian authorities in tracking down the perpetrators of these atrocities. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
“Both countries have been victims of catastrophic terrorist attacks and we have a shared interest in succeeding in the fight against al-Qaeda and its operational and ideological affiliates.
“As a starting point, our common strategic interests call for redoubling US-Indian military, intelligence and law enforcement cooperation. The recent bombings remind us that we are both victims of terrorist attacks on our soil, and we share a common goal of defeating these forces of extremism. India and America should similarly work together to promote our democratic values and strengthen legal institutions in South Asia and beyond. We also should be working hand-in-hand to tap into the creativity and dynamism of our entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists to promote development of alternative sources of clean energy.”
Strongly condemning November 26 Mumbai attacks, he said his thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the people of India. These coordinated attacks on innocent civilians demonstrate the grave and urgent threat of terrorism. The United States must work to strengthen ties with India and other nations to "root out and destroy terrorist networks."
On Kashmir, Obama said, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants."
On Mahatma Gandhi, President-elect said, “In my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things. Gandhi's significance is universal. Countless people around the world have been touched by his spirit and example."
Obama and Hanuman
A recent photo posted on Time's White House Photo of the Day collection shows Barrack Obama carrying with him a bracelet belonging to an American soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler's lucky chit, a tiny Hanuman, one of most revered Hindu deity, and tiny Madonna and child. Obama spent initial days of his life in Indonesia where Hinduism is a popular religion.
|What Obama Believes |
The most detailed and fascinating statement of Barrack Obama's faith came in a 2004 interview he gave to Chicago Sun Times’ columnist, Cathleen Falsani, when he was running for U.S. Senate in Illinois. One of the most gifted interviewer on matters of Faith, Falsani. has recently published an outstanding memoir called Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.
To the very first question as to what did he believe, Obama was forthright in saying that he was a Christian and was a man of deep faith. He hastened to add that he was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences. He lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country between the ages of 6 and 10. His father was a Muslim from Kenya but he was most accurately labeled as an agnostic. His stepfather from Indonesia was not a practicing Muslim.
Obama made it plain that intellectually he had drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith, similar to Hindu approach. He said, though he was rooted in the Christian tradition, yet he believed (as do Hindus all over the world) that there are many paths to the same Place, that there is a higher power, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.
He said his mother was a deeply spiritual person, and would spend lot of time talking about values and give him books about the world's religions, and talk to me about them. Her view always was that underlying these religions lay a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people and how you aspire to act, not just for yourself but also for the greater good.
So, he went on to say that his mother, who he thought had as much influence on his values as anybody, was not someone who wore her religion on her sleeve. We'd go to church for Easter. She, however, wasn't a church lady.
Obama claimed that he was a big believer in tolerance. He believed in listening to Inner Voice like Gandhi.
Religion does more harm than good
Obama told the interviewer that religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. There's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty. Religion seemed to do more harm than good, for it worked both ways-bring people together and also drove them apart. He said that he was suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because people are limited in their understanding.
Whether he prayed, Obama’s answer was in the affirmative. But it was not formal; he was having an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day, constantly asking hinself questions about what he was doing, why was he doing it. He said, “one of the interesting things about being in public life is there are constantly these pressures being placed on you from different sides. To be effective, you have to be able to listen to a variety of points of view, synthesize viewpoints. You also have to know when to be just a strong advocate, and push back against certain people or views that you think aren't right.”
“And so, the biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass. Those are the conversations I'm having internally. I'm measuring my actions against that inner voice that for me at least is audible, is active, it tells me where I think I'm on track and where I think I'm off track.
Asked about Jesus, Obama told the interviewer that Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith. He is also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.
Opposed to Prosylitization
Barrack Obama is opposed to prosylitization and does not believe in Exclusivity of Christianity. He told his interviewer that this was something he would have serious debates with his fellow Christians. “I think”, he said that “the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is the call to evangelize and proselytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people who do not embrace Jesus Christ as their personal savior are going to hell. I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup.”
He, however, evaded question on reincarnation. Whether he believed in heaven, he said:
What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven."
Obama described Sin as being out of alignment with ones values. What happened if he sinned in his life, Obama said, if I'm true to myself and my faith that is its own reward; when I'm not true to it, it's its own punishment.
Asked where did he find spiritual inspiration and whether there was something he turned to as a touchstone, a book, a particular piece of music, he said, “in my own sort of mental library, the Civil Rights movement has a powerful hold on me. It's a point in time where I think heaven and earth meet because it's a moment in which a collective faith transforms everything. So when I read Gandhi or King or certain passages of Abraham Lincoln, I feel inspired.”
As to when he felt the most centered, the most aligned spiritually, he said, “it's when I'm being true to myself. And that can happen in me making a speech or it can happen in me playing with my kids, or it can happen in a small interaction with a security guard in a building when I'm recognizing them and exchanging a good word.”
Religion & Politics
Obama is a big believer in the separation of church and state. He is a great admirer of US founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root in this country. He, however, believes that values have to inform our public policy. I think it's perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics.
His Role Models
As to his role model who combined everything he wanted to do in his life, he said, “I think Gandhi, Dr. King and Lincoln are good examples for me of people who applied their faith to a larger canvas without allowing that faith to metastasize into something that are hurtful. Gandhi is a great example of a profoundly spiritual man who acted and risked everything on behalf of those values but never slipped into intolerance or dogma.”
He won a Grammy in 2006 for the audio version of his memoir, Dreams From My Father. He is left-handed the sixth post-war president to be left-handed. His favorite films are Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
He carries a tiny Madonna and child statue and a bracelet belonging to a soldier in Iraq for good luck. He doesn't drink coffee and rarely drinks alcohol.
He would have liked to have been an architect if he were not a politician. As a teenager he took drugs including marijuana and cocaine. He repaid his student loan only four years ago after signing his book deal.
Being an avid sports lover, particularly Basketball, He plans to install a basketball court in the White House grounds. He keeps on his desk a carving of a wooden hand holding an egg, a Kenyan symbol of the fragility of life.
A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina was inclined to the study of religion from his very young age. It was Swami Vivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired his imagination while he was still at school, and by the time he entered college, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo, Narayana Guru, Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russel.
After retiring from Indian Information Service (I.I.S.) in 1983 where he distinguished himself as an editor, correspondent, commentator and administrator in All India Radio, he edited, AICC Journal, Varnika, (Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March'91-Oct '95, Sanatana Sandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004),
He has been writing profusely on various aspects of Hindu thought. He enjoys writing, particularly on saints and sages, not only of Kashmir, but of the other parts of India as well. Presently he lives in Miami, and spends his time writing personal memoirs.
Other Articles from Shri Gopinath Raina in Shehjar
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I have read many article on Obama, but this one is perhaps the best written and well researched biography on him. The Indian and Hindu perspective is very interesting. I have heard about Lord Hanuman locket and it was nice to see a picture of this locket.
Added By Anil Kachroo
Thanks for presenting everything on Obama in a simple way.
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This is really wonderful information about the man of the decade. What all can be achieved by one man in one lifetime!
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