Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The United States' Resilience to Overturn the "Existing Order"
WATANABE Yasushi / Professor, Keio University

July 18, 2008
The race for the nomination of the Democratic candidate for the US presidential election ended with Barack Obama's victory. From the initial battle in Iowa to the closing games of South Dakota and Montana, as the result of each primary came out, I took out the map to check the voting behaviors of the various communities that I had known through my field studies.

Upon close, precinct-by-precinct examination, it turns out that Obama showed overwhelming strength in the areas where many African-Americans live, but in the adjacent areas mainly populated by white blue-color workers and Hispanic immigrants, he uniformly had a hard fight. Quite a few inhabitants of these areas are in competition with African-Americans in the labor market, and tensions arise as these groups fight for space to live in. With all his eloquent appeals for "hope" and "change", it is no easy task for Obama to dispel the wariness on the part of these people.

Such wariness was compounded by the anti-white invectives of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the African-American pastor whom Obama had regarded as his mentor. In his efforts to be accepted, despite his Hawaiian upbringing and elite education, in Chicago's poverty-stricken area that was to be the center of his political activities, Obama might have had little choice other than to associate himself with the locally influential African-American church led by this pastor. Perversely, Obama's relationship with the pastor hurt his image and continued to cast a dark shadow over his campaign.

Obama's victory in the primaries seems to signify the surmounting of the "wall of race" in American society. However, there remain layers of psychological dividing lines regarding "race". Obama's election strategy has been to refrain from parading his African-American identity up front. That in itself is a sign of just how delicate the issue of "race" is. About a hundred years ago, the legendary African-American leader W. E. B. Du Bois had already warned that "integration" with whites based on such a passive stance would only mean defeatist "appeasement" for blacks.

It is unlikely that McCain's Republican camp would blatantly use the "race" card in the presidential election. It would be too risky politically, and would not seem to be in keeping with his principle. However, there is ample possibility that, irrespective of the position of the McCain camp, the "independent" groups would shrewdly manipulate and stir up the wariness on the part of the voters. In the 2004 presidential election, a group called the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" staged a smear campaign on the war record of John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, and played a big part in bringing about the Republican victory.

At the same time, it is not just the shadows of American society that have been brought into relief by this year's primaries.

It is nothing short of a wonder that, without relying on donations from political action committees (PACs) or lobbyist groups, Obama managed to raise 90% of his campaign funds through personal contributions in increments as small as $5. In recent years, campaign operations have become, if anything, larger and larger. Hillary Clinton had had an overwhelming lead over Barack Obama on every count --- funds, organization and name recognition. Obama's victory against all these odds has shattered the accepted wisdom in politics. It demonstrated the dynamism of American society which enlivened a counter-discourse to the existing order. Herein lies the essence of "Obamania".

Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century French thinker, noted that an important characteristic of the Americans is not that they are culturally more enlightened than others, but that they have the capacity to correct their own failings. We should not overlook the resilience of American democracy that has pushed Obama, coming from a family with a Kenyan father and not well-off, upward to where he is now, just a step away from the pinnacle of power, the White House.

When the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee met to rule on the seating at the Convention of the delegates from Florida and Michigan, its deliberation and voting were broadcast live by CNN and other American channels. As I watched the series of intense and heated debates, I felt that I was seeing democracy in triumph instead of backroom politics. I am sure that I was not the only one who felt this.

Obama has tremendous support among the young. A record number of youths felt stirred by Obama and went to the polling booths to cast their first votes. As had been the case with John F. Kennedy decades ago, some among them no doubt felt so inspired by Obama that they may well be contemplating a political career some day in the future.

I feel envious of the United States for embracing such political leaders.

The writer is professor at Keio University. This article first appeared in the June 13, 2008 edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渡辺 靖 / 慶応大学教授

2008年 7月 18日











(筆者は慶應義塾大学 教授。本稿は2008年6月13日付読売新聞に掲載された。)
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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The United States' Resilience to Overturn the "Existing Order"