Obama and McCain: Barack the cosmopolitan and John the local

Many things oppose Obama and McCain. Of course, on the paper–on which their programme is printed that is–not much is separating them. On many issues they agree and especially in foreign policy one would be a fool to believe that Obama would be more multilateralist than McCain. The “America interest” will always prime. However, the devil is in the details of their style. I believe after all in this old French saying according to which “the form is the substance that goes back to the surface.” Their forms are very different.

John is 72, he made most of his career already in the second half of the twentieth century. I do not mean to diminish him, it is just a fact. As the coronation of a long life–and many lives–the job of supreme commander seems appropriate for a man with so many experiences. He surely knows what tough is. One thing he does not know, however, is what the future is and how to shape it. He only knows how to shape the present from past experiences.

Barack is young, way too young. I do not mean to diminish him, it is just a fact. He does not have any experience, even in politics. He does not know what tough is–certainly not the way John knows. One thing he does know however, is how to shape the future and precisely because of his lack of experiences that pushes him to be creative.

Because of this lack of experience, Barack felt he had to prove himself. He went abroad to make campaign–a unique event in the history of presidential campaigns. He gained a wide support and could come back home with the image of a national leader that the whole world regards as the next president because he showed he listened and understood the global responsability that the USA has to bear.

John made his campaign in America. Day after day he strode along the country, the countryside, from pancake houses to gas stations. He met this population of rural WASPs, his fellowmen, the white America. When Barack made his key speech in Berlin in front of a huge crowd, John chose derision: a little improvised dialogue with the few journalists gathered on the front porch of a German restaurant lost in the middle of nowhere USA.

Because John’s campaign is resolutely addressed to America, this America that thinks it is the only America. And when he chose Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, it was also to stick even more to this America of self-proclaimed “patriots”, of self-proclaimed “values”, “traditions”, which must still be defended against an frightful “outside” world, which is conveniently confused with “terrorism,” “winning the war in Iraq,” and “Bin Laden is still out there.”

Barack’s campaign is turned to a different America, a plural America which is a whole continent with immigrants from the so-called “minorities” who came to live a better life. An America, which is part of the world and sees issues but does not demonise or confuse its population between a war in Iraq started for the wrong reasons and the necessity to finish a poorly done job. An America that listens to the world in how to cope with “threats.” If his international credentials were not solid enough, he chose an older and experienced diplomatic figure in the person of Joe Biden.

Barack’s campaign is focusing on huge stadiums, crowds, the Internet. John’s is old fashioned with many local meetings, less stadiums, less big crowds, less journalist crews following him. His internet campaign site does not provide any tool for Internet campaigning. The old fashioned styled America is his focus group, which he reaches with his tour bus “Straight talk express.”

Photo by Howie Luvzus
Photo by Howie Luvzus

Of course John also has a campaign jet, but it is not the image he wants to give; whereas Barack does not hesitate to give pictures of him thoughtfully contemplating the sky from the window of his jet as if already flying Air Force One.

In the end, which America will massively go voting is the big question of this campaign. Is it this multiethnic America, or Joe the plumber? The suburban immigrants who identify with Obama, the son of a Kenyan farmer raised in Asia? Or the rural WASP who still thinks that America must finish the job in Iraq where Bin Laden is hidden because America does not loose any more war since Vietnam?

The issue of this campaign has a significant meaning for realist cosmopolitan politics. If Obama gets elected, it means that a cosmopolitan profile can gather sufficiently an electorate to elect such politicians. If McCain wins, it means on the contrary that there still is some work to be done for cosmopolitanism to get closer to this “local” so that there is not such a divide between this local cut from the rest of the world, so aloof that events and politics of this world do not concern them and tend to confuse them. In my sense it is the biggest challenge of any cosmopolitan politician to gather sufficiently a whole part of society stuck in the twentieth century and take it to the twenty-first without a clash–of generation that is.

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