Obama the defender: the idol comes down to earth

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington: Catapulted to the world’s most powerful office on the slogan of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ just four years ago, America’s first African-American President Barack Hussein Obama is today engaged in a tough race to regain the White House.

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Scoring a landslide victory over Vietnam War veteran Republican John McCain in the 2008 election, the son of a Kenyan father and a White American mother from Kansas caught the imagination of the world as he overcame challenges about his place of birth, his religion and his race.

Just nine months into his presidency, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” to a mixture of praise and criticism from world leaders and media figures.

Four years later, the aura of the man with a “funny name” as Obama himself once put it as he seeks re-election on the slogan of “Forward” with a no mean record – end of Iraq war, death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden to a signature healthcare law and bringing the US out of the throes of a recession.

Yet it’s the still slowly recovering economy that is impeding the return of Obama, whose story in the words of the White House “is the American story – values from the heartland, a middle-class upbringing in a strong family, hard work and education as the means of getting ahead”.

Born in Hawaii Aug 4, 1961, Obama was raised with help from his grandfather, who served in Patton’s army, and his grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management at a bank. He lived in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971 with his mother and her second husband.

After working his way through school with the help of scholarship money and student loans, Obama moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer before going on to Harvard Law School, where he was elected as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004, served three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, running unsuccessfully for the US House of Representatives in 2000.

Coming into limelight with a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004, he won the Senate election in November 2004 before throwing his hat into the ring for the presidential race in February 2007 where after a bitter fight with former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won his party’s nomination. The rest is history.

Initially opposed to the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal as a senator, Obama after election quickly warmed up to India and called the US-India relationship as one of the “defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century”, which has become a catch phrase of his administration

If Obama wins a second term in the White House, his Democratic party has vowed to “continue to invest in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region”.

The only beef that India has with Obama is his occasional rant against outsourcing – but beneath the rhetoric that raises its head every election cycle – the business between the two countries is booming with the two-way trade set to cross $100 billion this year.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])