Good piece of writing published in The Sunday Times today –
To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything – this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. Obama expresses such a conflicted but resilient identity before he even utters a word. And this complexity may increasingly be the main thing all Americans have in common.
None of this, of course, means that Obama will be the president some are dreaming of. His record in high office is sparse; his performances on the campaign trail have been patchy; his chief rival for the nomination, Senator Clinton, has bested him often. At times, she has even managed to appear more inherently likable than the skinny, crabby and sometimes morose newcomer from Chicago.
The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do.
But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution.
Close up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable. We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Barack Obama.