By Aseem Chhabra
New York: I am glad the Obamas won Indian hearts. The Obamass charm is one of their biggest assets. They need as much goodwill on their travels abroad since all is not well back home.
Michelle Obama danced to Rang De Basanti with economically deprived children in Mumbai and danced to a Koli tune at a local school the next morning.
While she was dancing with a group of school children, Barack Obama stepped in and showed some of his moves. Later at an open forum at St Xavier’s College, the US President shook hands with many college students.
I know that many in India closely followed Obama’s big win in the November 2008 election. I am glad the Obamas won the hearts of Mumbaikars, at least those who came in contact with them.
I have never met Obama and his wife, but I can quite easily imagine getting drawn into their aura because of their youthful looks, smiles, intellect and good intentioned talk. I remember my love affair with Obama. It started a few years ago, but peaked in 2007 and 2008 during his presidential bid.
I contributed online to his campaign, becoming part of the large community that helped build his base, sometimes giving as little as $25. I helped organize a fundraiser for Obama in New York City with six leading South Asian authors. And I spoke and wrote about why he was the best candidate among the Democrats and way more qualified than his Republican opponent in the election.
Charm and smiles alone cannot go too far. But I was drawn to Obama as a campaigner, and a passionate speaker, who spoke from his heart, made a strong case for change, and made us believe in the word “hope.”
For the first time in the nearly three decades that I have lived in the US, there appeared a man whose intellect, coupled with an Ivy League education, and the gift to emotionally connect with each of his supporters, made me feel secure about America’s future, even though the country was slipping into an economic decline.
I am not embarrassed to acknowledge that his forceful voice, measured words along with substantial promises and the mantra “Yes, We Can” brought tears to my eyes — many times!
There were tears of joy that I remember shedding standing in Times Square on the night of November 4, 2008 and sharing that moment with thousands of other New Yorkers — all races and economic classes. I keep on my desk a button I bought outside Harlem’s Apollo Theater on January 20, 2009 — the day of Obama’s inauguration. It has Obama’s image designed by Shepard Fairey with the word “President” written in all caps.
That perhaps was the last day of hope. There is a lot of good about Obama, the President, has done for the US — from getting healthcare legislation albeit a fractured one, approved by Congress; to taking action to withdraw active duty troops from Iraq and extending the funding of healthcare benefits for unemployed workers.
His policies clearly put a lid on a large-scale recession exploding in every corner of the country.
But many commentators have observed that Obama, the president and administrator, was lesser effective than that Obama, the campaigner. There are two interpretations for last week’s disastrous election results for Democrats, where the Republicans picked up 60 seats in the House of Representatives — the biggest gain for party since 1948.
On November 7 evening Obama told CBS News 60 Minutes anchor Steve Kroft that his administration had failed to effectively communicate with the voters — and this is coming from the great communicator of the 2008 presidential race.
The Republicans think differently. To them the election results were a clear signal of the rejection of Obama’s policies.
The truth may lie somewhere in the middle, but this much is clear — Obama, the president, has lost his sheen. I see dust gathering on my Shepard Fairey button!
In the days leading to last week’s election, Obama looked tired, his voice sounding hoarse, as he campaigned for the Democratic Party candidates. At the press conference the day after the elections he looked reflective, but broken.
The next two years are not going to be a joy in Washington, DC. Obama will have to work much more closely with the Republicans. There will be a lot more compromises and sometimes it will appear that not much is being done. All of Obama’s charm, intellect and oratorical skills will have to be put aside as a new reality sets in.
So it is wonderful to see the Obamas having a good time in India. They seem like a genuinely nice couple. They deserve a break and India is a perfect place for them to be spending the post-mid-term election week. The visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar was killed for reasons that seemed wrong, but at least the Obamas got a taste of Indian history as they walked around Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi.
The Indian media tends to overplay visits by foreign dignitaries, to a far greater extent than its counterpart in the US. Living in New York one hardly has a sense of foreign leaders visiting the US, unless they come to the United Nations, which then completely messes up the city’s traffic system.
I have no idea of how Mumbaikars coped with the entire south part of the city shut down and that too on the Diwali weekend. But in the pictures and news reaching here people in Mumbai and also in Delhi seem happy. And the Obamas definitely look happy.