Obama for President

There is something magical and transcendental in this moment about Sen. Barack Obama both for the country and the Indian American community.

Little India has decided to break from its tradition of staying out of the primary selections by endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic Party nomination for president. We take this unusual step as we have come to share his inspiring message and his call for the “fierce urgency of now.”

We value the Clintons’ long association with the Indian American community and with India, so the decision to endorse her opponent has not been easy. But there is something magical and transcendental in this moment about Sen. Obama both for the country and the Indian American community.


His life story is in so many ways ours. In his political pursuits, he has defied both traditional paths pursued by minority politicians: identity politics built on narrow affiliations, typical of most ethnic leaders, as well as that of right wing politicians (like our own Bobby Jindal in Louisiana) who run from their history and identity. Obama, by contrast, has transcended boundaries. The Obama phenomenon, even if it does not get him the ultimate prize, offers something unique and it is important that we embrace this moment, for, as the Nobel Prize writer Toni Morrison wrote in her endorsement of Obama, “this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril.”

We reject the proposition that Sen. Hillary Clinton’s experience trumps the promise that Obama has to offer. As Sen. Obama has retorted: “One of my opponents says a vote for me would be a gamble. But the real gamble would be to do the same old things with the same old people over and over again and hope that the next time the results will somehow be different.”

In the wake of the disastrous Bush presidency, Democrats are wistful about the Clinton era. In actual fact, the Clinton presidency was a period of political gridlock and public venom. Besides, Sen. Clinton already had an opportunity to shape public policy during Pres. Bill Clinton’s term. We are likely to see a return of the stalemate and the tiresome and virulent conflicts of the 1990s if Clinton were the Democratic nominee. Indeed, the Clintons’ subtle race-baiting tactics during the South Carolina primaries offer a preview of their divisive and ultimately futile scorched earth politics. Their reprehensible, win-at-all-costs, racially-laced attacks against Sen. Obama, even at the price of undermining their personal and historic commitments to racial justice, proved a tipping point for us, as they did for many other progressives in this country.

A Clinton supporter, Gloria Steinem, dubiously asserted that the gender barrier in politics is higher than the racial one, wondering: “Why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?”

But Sen. Clinton fails even by that measure, because her candidacy only underscores the painful stereotype that women’s advancement begins at the altar. As Kerry Howley has tellingly pointed out, the first three women to serve in the Senate succeeded their husbands; six of the first 14 women elected to Congress were widows of incumbents and three others were daughters. Even Steinem would acknowledge that the gender barrier is better broken by a woman who wasn’t riding her husband’s coattails.

Sen. Obama, the son of an immigrant, offers an exciting opportunity to take Americans, men and women, of all races and affiliations, to an exciting new place and time. As Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., so eloquently said in his endorsement: “In Barack Obama, I see not just the audacity, but the possibility of hope for the America that is yet to be.”

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