November 05, 2008|
From a small-time community worker to the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential polls marks a huge political transformation in a country with a racist past that will have a black occupy the top post for the first time.
A votary of strong ties with India, the 47-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer and a Democrat reached the White House exactly 45 years after the black civil rights leader Martin Luther King challenged Americans to embrace his "dream" of equality.
Barack Hussein Obama, whose father was a Kenyan and mother a white American, himself has had no misgivings on the herculean task he faced in getting elected as President because of his race and name. This was reflected by his recent comment that getting elected to the White House would be a "leap".
Undertaking his campaign with a catchy slogan--'The Change We Need'--Obama presented himself to America as a fresh face with the knowledge and mettle needed for the White House. He emerged victorious after a gruelling and bitter 21-month-long campaign in which he overcame the challenge from high-profile fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton and Vietnam War veteran Republican nominee John McCain.
Born on August 4, 1961, in Hawaii, Obama will be the first black President, a development that demonstrates a major change in America, which has witnessed bitter racism for centuries before the social evil was abolished about 200 years ago.
Obama's first tryst with power came in 1996 when the low-paid community organiser on Chicago's south side was elected to the state Senate of Illinois. He made it to the federal Senate in 2004 after a landslide electoral victory.
While many have scoffed at Obama's experience as a community organiser saying community work experience does not count in the making of a US President, analysts feel that it has helped the black American leader to reach out to individual voters during his campaign. Obama became a media darling and one of the most visible figures in Washington, with two best-selling books to his name - The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father.
For the Democrats, who were out to wrest the Presidency from the Republicans after eight years, Obama's nomination was a gamble. But Obama defeated Arizona Senator McCain handsomely in the election which was dominated by frequent controversies, mostly related to his race and religion.
Obama, whose first name Barack in Arabic means 'the blessed', was hard pressed to fend off rumours that he is a Muslim and said he is a practising Christian. During the campaign, the advocate of strong partnership with India has made a number of comments and gestures, including lending support to the civil nuclear deal though he initially had reservations on it. He has also made it clear that India posed no threat to Pakistan and that the latter rather faced the danger from militants within. At the same time, he also talked about discouraging outsourcing, a move, if implemented, could have an adverse impact on India. "....Unlike John McCain [Images], I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America," he said during campaigning.
Obama, who broke all records for fund-raising, had said that his victory would be a "defining moment" for the nation which abolished slavery 200 years ago but was still battling the scourge of racial discrimination.
An early critic of the Iraq war, the Democrat, who spoke out against the prospect of an invasion several months before the March 2003 move by the Bush administration, expressed willingness to talk to Iranian leaders without preconditions, a desire criticised as reckless by his Republican rival McCain.
Obama rallied huge crowds with inspiring words and vowed to bring change to the calcified ways of Washington, even as critics tried to cast him as a celebrity whose oratorical sizzle concealed a thin resume.
In a series of debates--including three with McCain--Obama proved adept and skilled at answering questions and offering proposals about health care, the financial bailout and Iraq, among other issues. On countering the threat of terrorism, Obama said he will do this by building new partnerships and would send troops into war zone only with a clear mission. "As commander-in-chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission," he had said.
"I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation, poverty and genocide, climate change and disease," he had promised. His approach to dealing with the Wall Street meltdown earned endorsement from the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell, who praised Obama's "steadiness ... (and) depth of knowledge."
Obama is married to lawyer Michelle and the couple have two daughters, 10-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sasha.
Image: President-elect Barack Obama [Images] acknowledges the crowd following his victory speech at his election party in Chicago on November 4, 2008.
Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images