Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Obama-nia and Sego-mania.

Obamania! Here’s a new term for you. Maybe next year’s Word of the Year.

There have lots of speculation this week about Barack Obama’s rock-star popularity: he was after all the most requested speaker during the mid-term election campaign, and Time magazine had him on its over with the captionWhy Obama could be the next president”. The success of his appearance in New Hampshire last Sunday certainly adds more weight to his potential candidacy for the Democratic primaries.

This is not unlike Segomania, the phenomenon used in French to describe the hype about Segolene Royal, the socialist female candidate for next year’s presidential elections.

So what do Segomania and Obamania have in common? At first sight, it seems it has a lot to with good looks, and with the excitement over change and new faces. Segolène is the first female candidate for the highest office in France and Obama is the first mixed-race politician to seem to have a chance at this point. In a way, it is the rejection of the old guard that drives people to candidates with fresh new faces.

But it is also the call for a different approach of politics which breaks the classical ideological barriers. In fact, the following words could have been easily uttered by both Segolène and Obama just the same way:

"People are looking for something new, and I'm a stand-in for that desire on the part of voters. They want a common sense, nonideological, practical approach to the problems they face" (source here)

So what these two politicians give people is hope - the hope that there is a different kind of style of governance, that it does not have to be politics as usual. The downside is that they both come across as a bit vague in their political platform. Here’s what someone who had just heard Obama speak said:

"I came with questions and I left with questions," said Anne Stowe, a high-school mathematics teacher from Nashua. "I'm not certain that I know who he is and what he stands for."

That, plus a lack of foreign policy experience is what both politicians have been criticized for. So while Segolène royal has often been compared in France to Hillary Cliton, I think the comparison with Obama stands better. Yet, from what I have heard him say, I think Obama has a bit more substance than Segolène Royal and he is a better speaker in a round-table discussion anyway.

On the other hand, the French presidential candidate has already won the primaries, and Obama could face other serious challenges – being black certainly makes him different but it is far from certain that the country is ready for it (especially the South). Besides, he has already faced other stupid attacks such as having a middle-name that is definitely not politically correct (listen to this great video and how GOP op Ed Rogers vicuously emphasizes Obama's middle name!!)

The good thing is that he seems to have the stomach to humor it off:
Asked about his middle name "Hussein" at Sunday's press conference, Obama, provoking laughter from the reporters, flatly declared, "The American people are not concerned with middle names."

And Obama will certainly need a lot of humor if he decides to run for presidency.


NOTE: Here's a pretty fun of video of Obama's announcement that he's running.... :

"So tonight I'd like to put all the doubts to rest. And tonight, after a lot of thought and a good deal of soul-searching, I would like to announce to my hometown of Chicago and all of America that I'm ready…"

.... with the Chicago Bears of course!

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