Has Barack Obama Been Sent By God? (Video)

November 4, 2008

barack-obama-36.jpgA couple of hours before Barack Obama was due to speak in the heart of the “historic quarter” of the town of Pueblo, Colorado, on Saturday, in the unseasonable warmth and sunshine, I took a walk down Main Street.

Service agents in dark suits and sinister sunglasses, heads cocked to the
electronic babble from their plastic earpieces, were sweeping the press and
VIP area, holding back the crowd of television crews and reporters behind
yellow tape. Looking across to where a stage had been set up at an
intersection, adjacent to an antiques store and an attorney’s office, one
could see the heavily armed special troopers on the roofs of the
neighbouring buildings, scanning the surrounding vista through high-powered

There were three more days to go before election day, and, here, in a key
electoral battleground, the wind of rising fervour – and the formidable
grassroots campaign machine – that had carried Obama to the doorstep of the
White House, had brought thousands of people on to the streets of downtown
Pueblo, brandishing posters, clad in Obama caps and T-shirts and festooned
with badges. Anticipation and excitement thrummed in the air. (A testament
to the efficiency of Obama’s organisation: that morning I had received an
email inviting me to contribute to his campaign and enter a draw to join him
in Chicago on election night, signed, with a degree of easy familiarity that
I had no idea we shared, “Barack”.)

At the end of the street, on the side of the handsome Mission-style Union
Depot building, hung a huge portrait of Obama, seemingly gazing over the
town to the blue haze of the Rocky Mountains far beyond, emblazoned with a
single word – Hope. Even by the habitually feverish standards of American
politics, there is something extraordinary and, to British sensibilities, a
little unsettling about the messianic fervour that has carried Barack Obama
to the brink of the presidency.

On the pavement a group of young people – college students, they said,
first-time voters, the kind of people that Obama has targeted – were
gathering, armed with flyers to hand to the crowd. What, I wondered, did
they see in Barack Obama? “He’s passionate. Inspiring. Liberating,”
one girl said, then paused. “I would take a bullet for him.”

And what if Obama were not elected?

”I’d leave the country,” another girl said. “We’re in a world of
s—,” a boy beside her added. “Actually, if
Obama gets in, we’ll still be in a world of s—, but at least
there’ll be a chance of getting out of it.”

I pushed my way towards the stage. Music had started, pumping up the
adrenaline in the crowd – Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, Hold On, I’m
and Obama’s anthem, Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

Nothing can match an American political rally in its razzmatazz, unabashed
patriotism, fulsome displays of faith. And now the time was nigh. A woman
mounted the stage to lead the congregation in prayers, beseeching God to “continue
to guard this man who has been a paragon of hope”, and to watch over “our
troops, our police, our firefighters and hard-working Americans”. A
veteran, bedecked in medals, recited the pledge of allegiance. A pretty girl
sang the Star-Spangled Banner. A shiver of excitement coursed through
the crowd. He had arrived. His wife Michelle came first. We were about to
meet the man, she said, who had unified a party and unified a nation, “and
done it with grace, poise, honour, dignity and respect – the next President
of the United States, my husband Barack Obama”.

The chant came up from the crowd, rising to a crescendo. ”O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma,

He came on to the stage as if he was walking into his own birthday party, a
dapper figure, who had shucked off his suit jacket and turned up the sleeves
of his shirt. He paused a moment, grinned, then gazed up towards the
cloudless sky.

”I like this weather,” he said.

To fully understand how remarkable Barack Obama’s journey to the White House
has been, one need only visit the small town of El Dorado, 30 miles from the
city of Wichita in Kansas. Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham,
grew up here, and his grandmother Madelyn was born in nearby Augusta. They
lived in El Dorado until 1955, when Obama’s mother Ann was 13, after which
the family moved first to Texas, then to Seattle, followed by Hawaii. It was
here, in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii, that Ann met
a Kenyan exchange student named Barack Hussein Obama. She married him in
1961, already expecting her first and only son.

When Barack Obama visited El Dorado for the first time this January, to speak
in a high school gymnasium, he made reference to the town as “part of
the story I’ve lived”, and his family’s story as “one that spans miles
and generations; races and realities”, and the need for America to
rediscover some of El Dorado’s “small-town virtues”. In his
autobiography Dreams From My Father, published in 1995, he wrote more
expansively of Kansas as “a place where decency and endurance and the
pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the
potential for unblinking cruelty”.

Ann Dunham’s first marriage ended after two years, and she married an
Indonesian, Lolo Soetoro, and moved with him and her son to Jakarta, where
Barack was educated first in a Roman Catholic and then a public school until
the age of 11, when his mother, wishing her son to receive an American
education, sent him back to Hawaii to live with her parents.

In 1972, when Obama, one of only two black pupils in his class, was in his
second year at the Punahou School in Honolulu, another school, West High, in
Wichita, Kansas – just 30 miles from where his family roots lay – exploded
into racial violence over the issue of school busing. “Wichita then was
very racially segregated,” Robert Beattie, an attorney and author who
was then a student at West High, told me. When rioting broke out in the
school, Beattie was stabbed in the back after wading in to rescue a woman
being attacked by four black men.

A few days later, Beattie remembers, there was a classroom meeting where a
black student asked a white woman teacher whether she would ever marry a
black man.

“The woman immediately answered: ‘No.’

“When asked ‘Why?’ she said, ‘Because of the children.’ And she didn’t need to
say any more, because everybody in that class understood exactly what she
meant. In 1972, in this part of the country, children of white women and
black men lived very hard lives because they were not accepted by most
people in either community.

“It’s amazing to me that having had that experience 36 years ago, I’m voting
for the child of a white woman from Kansas and a black man for president of
the United States,” Beattie said.

In recent years Kansas, the prairie state and the geographical heart of
America, has become a bellwether for the rise of evangelical conservatism
and the “culture wars” – over abortion, gay marriage, prayer in
schools, the “religious Right” versus the “secular Left”
– which have polarised American politics and society in bitter quarrels and
recrimination for the past 20 years. In 1991 Wichita was the scene of civil
disturbances when 30,000 anti-abortion protesters descended on the town in a
protest staged by a militant religious group, Operation Rescue. And the
state has been the site of battles over the teaching of evolution in schools.

Kansas has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon
Johnson in 1964. In the 2004 election George Bush beat John Kerry with a
whopping 62 per cent to 36.6 per cent. And nobody – least of all himself –
is expecting Obama to take Kansas.

In El Dorado, on the unkempt lawn in front of the modest two-bedroom wooden
house on West Olive Street where Stanley Dunham grew up, the current owner
had planted a sign supporting the Republicans.

Down the road, the Democratic Party had set up its headquarters in a building
that had once been a garage and most recently a thrift store, gone out of
business. “Take whatever you want,” said Glen Hobson, an elderly,
weather-beaten man in blue jeans and a workshirt who had spent a lifetime
working in the oilfields around town, gesturing towards the rails of
second-hand clothes and bric-a-brac. They had got the premises rent-free, he
said. Little of the $641 million that was said to be fuelling the Obama
campaign had trickled down here. But among this small, and hitherto
beleaguered, political minority there was a palpable sense that their time
had come. Obama had galvanised people, Hobson said. “I’ve been in
politics for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything close to the enthusiasm
that he’s generated; and it’s strictly for the man himself.

“When he came to El Dorado it was snowing a blizzard and there was a line
stretching for two or three blocks of people waiting to see him. Then we had
a caucus out here and we had 700 people show up. Four years ago, we had 50
people turn up all day long. He just creates that kind of enthusiasm. He
gives people hope, which is something people haven’t had in a while.”

As we talked, volunteers drifted into the office, pulling up chairs until
there were 20 of us sitting in a circle. A church secretary explained that
she had been a registered Republican voter all her life, but had decided to
vote for Obama, disillusioned by the way social issues had come to dominate
the Republican agenda. “Abortion, gay marriage, I don’t see they have
anything to do with politics” – and the way, she said, the rifts in
America had widened under George Bush.

From the very beginning, Obama has striven to craft a narrative of unity
rather than division, of all Americans finding common ground in the nation’s
problems and common cause in solving them, carefully tailoring his own story
as an exotic metaphor for the American myth of hope and opportunity, and of
the ascent from the most humble origins to the highest office in the land;
the son of a black man and a white woman, who has “relatives who look
like Bernie Mac, and relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher”; who has
gone to “some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the
world’s poorest nations”, married to a black American “who carries
within her the blood of slaves and slave owners – an inheritance we pass on
to our two precious daughters”, with “brothers, sisters, nieces,
nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across
three continents and, for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no
other country on earth is my story even possible.”

Again and again in his speeches he has used the same rhetorical flourishes. “There’s
not a liberal America and a conservative America… a black America and white
America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of
America.” The men and women “who serve in our battlefields”
may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, “but they have
fought together, and bled together, and some died together under the same
proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America; they have
served the United States of America”.

(It was perhaps ironic that the more inexorable Obama’s progress towards the
presidency has become, and the more fevered his rhetoric about an inclusive
America has grown, so has his capacity to arouse some deeper, atavistic fear
in the American psyche of “other”, seeing him branded by far-Right
bloggers and websites as a communist, “an Arab”, an “Islamic”
Manchurian candidate. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre, a
non-partisan research body, in September suggested that 13 per cent of
Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.)

Race, inevitably, has been a critical factor in this. There is the theory that
he has flourished not in spite of being black but because of it; that many
whites see in him confirmation that the most vivid ideals of American
opportunity and equality are more than theoretical.

Obama has presented a very different picture of the black politician in
America compared to a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton, dispensing with the
rhetoric of grievance, victimhood and inequality in favour of conciliation
and common purpose, applying lessons that he apparently learnt as a teenager.

In his autobiography, Obama describes an argument with his mother when she
feared he was drifting into bad company. “I had given her a reassuring
smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry. It was usually an
effective tactic, another of those tricks I had learnt. People were
satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves.
They were more than satisfied, they were relieved – such a pleasant surprise
to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”
It was a demeanour that in the time when he was fighting his way up in the
bare-fisted world of Chicago politics would lead to accusations that he was “not
black enough” to appeal to African-American voters.

But throughout his campaign there has coursed the unspoken suggestion that he
might still be too black to appeal to white ones.

Obama was obliged to grab the awkward thorn of race in March, when film
appeared on YouTube of the firebrand Chicago pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah
Wright – whose church Obama had attended for some 20 years, and who had
officiated at the wedding of Obama and Michelle – fulminating “God
damn America” and the “USKKK”.

In a landmark speech that acknowledged white fears as much as black
resentments, Obama spoke of “the complexities of race in this country
that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have
yet to perfect”. The fact that so many had been surprised to hear the
anger in Wright’s sermons, he went on, “simply reminds us of the old
truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday
morning”. But the “profound mistake” that Wright had made,
Obama said, was not to speak about racism in America. “It’s that he
spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if
this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own
members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of
white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old – is still
irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know – what we have seen –
is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation.”

When I mentioned to the group in El Dorado that this speech, and Obama’s
eloquence, his impassioned, preacher-like cadences and his ability to
conjure a visionary picture of equality and unity, put me in mind of Martin
Luther King, a black woman cut me short. “Right! And that’s the real
fear right there, because look what they did to Martin Luther King. There is
a deep vein of poison in this country, and until we expose that wound and
let it drain and heal we’re not going to get anywhere.”

There were murmurs of worried assent; that there were people in America who
would never tolerate a black man as president, and do everything in their
power to prevent it. There had been incidents in El Dorado, one man said,
where Obama signs had been torn and defaced. “I think that’s young
people hearing that message at home. But for the majority this isn’t a black
or white thing. Obama is a very special man. He’s transcended that. I think
he’s the only chance this country has of bringing us all back together.”

And, all agreed, of restoring what they keenly felt to be America’s diminished
standing in the world. One woman said she could remember the hysteria in El
Dorado the day after American troops went into Iraq, people driving their
pick-up trucks up and down the main street, honking horns and waving
American flags. “And I remember thinking then, we’re going into these
people’s country and I don’t think they’re going to come out happy.”

“We do these things supposedly in the name of good and the world is sick and
tired of it,” Randy, a Vietnam veteran, said. “It’s been said
before, but the morning after 9/11 the world loved America. Now they hate

The very fact of Obama being what he is – the colour of his skin, his
upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia, his African Muslim grandfather, the very
things that make many Americans so suspicious of him – this, Randy said, was
what made him the best advertisement to the world for America as the land of
equality, opportunity and freedom.

Before driving out to El Dorado I had joined members of the Wichita Retired
Police Officers Association at one of their regular breakfast get-togethers
– a bunch of good old boys who had seen and heard everything twice, and not
believed it the first time. When I mentioned Obama’s rhetoric about “not
blue states or red states but the United States”, one man put his fingers in
his mouth in a theatrical gesture of throwing up. The notion of “healing
divisions” carried less weight here than the spectre being drip-fed by
Fox News and conservative radio pundits of a “socialistic”
redistribution of wealth. “There are people in this country whose job
is welfare and Obama wants to give them a raise,” one man said.

Here, among most of those gathered around the table, the prospect of an Obama
presidency evoked – to reverse one of his favourite oratorial tropes – not
hope, but fear. “He scares the hell out of me,” another man said, “because
you just don’t know what he’s going to do. What experience does he have?

The economy, foreign policy – just about everything – would go to hell if
Obama was elected. At the other end of the table, a man named Charlie
laughed. This was Kansas Republicanism, he said, “it’s brain chemistry;
they’re just wired that way.” Not that you’re cynical or anything, I
joked. “Not here.” Charlie gave a good-natured laugh. “We
just recognise bull—- when we see it.”

In El Dorado at the Democratic headquarters, I sensed a fervour more befitting
a saviour than a politician. Were they worried, I wondered, that
expectations for Obama were too high, and would inevitably result in
disappointment? That all of this – the hope, the promises of change – wasn’t
simply too good to be true?

“We’re not going to wake up on the day after the election and have Cadillacs
in the drive,” Randy said. “It took George Bush eight years to
mess it up, and it’s going to take time to repair it. There’s the war, the
economy, all our problems at home.” He paused. “It’ll be better
after a couple of days when we get done celebrating.”

From the stage in Pueblo, Obama looked down over the crowd stretching as far
as the eye could see. He talked of the failed policies of George Bush (“You
don’t have to boo – just vote”) and how he would fix them. He talked of “the
greed and irresponsibility” of Wall Street and how in his world
everyone would have a chance to succeed, “from the CEO to the
secretary”. Nothing, he said, can beat the people when they come together. “Yes,
we can,” he said, setting up a chant in the crowd. And then,
acknowledging that he was in Pueblo, a town where 50 per cent of the
population is Hispanic, he said it again in Spanish. John McCain, he said,
had tried to make this “a big election about small things”. Obama
talked about tax breaks, and building roads and bridges, and the need to
reject fear and division for unity of purpose. “What the naysayers
don’t understand is that this election has never been about me; it’s about
you. It’s about you.”

Everything he said he had said a thousand times before, but he made it sound
as if he was saying it for the first time. He was, in a word, electrifying,
and to hear him and see him was to begin to understand how Barack Obama had
persuaded so many Americans to trust him – a man who had come from nowhere –
with their future.

When he was done he plunged into the crowd, to be swallowed in their embrace.
And then he was gone. I wandered back down the emptying streets. On the
margins, at a row of stalls, people were hawking the last of their stock of
Obama shirts, badges, wrist-watches and posters. “Ten bucks,” the
man shouted. “You have it framed, it’ll be worth a lot more next week.”

Two figures held up signs saying “Abortion kills children”, while a black
man brandishing an Obama placard marched back and forth in a state of
feverish excitement, shouting: “He’s been sent by God. I’m not saying
he’s Jesus, but he could fill Moses’ shoes.”

A man standing beside me shook his head in disbelief. He had already voted, he
said – for John McCain. Did I know, he asked, that Obama had actually been
born in Mombasa, Kenya, that actually he was not entitled to be running for
president at all? “I’m worried,” he said, “that we may be
witnessing the greatest fraud perpetrated in American history.”

I thought back to the thrift-store in El Dorado, and the group of hopeful
Democrats gathered there. It had struck me, I said, in talking with them
that this was an election that in some strange way went beyond politics to
being a battle for the very heart and soul of America.

“You’re right”, Randy, the Vietnam vet, said. “And we’re taking
it back.”

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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