Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obama and Kenya

Time magazine's Joe Klein brought something up about Obama that I think provides a very telling and admirable aspect of Obama's character and fitness for the Presidency. I'm reposting what Klein had to say in full, because I believe it's worthy of repeating in its entirety:

One of the more extraordinary stories of the Obama campaign has been playing out behind the scenes over the past week as the candidate has been working on a daily basis to try to calm things down in his father's homeland and his grandmother's home, Kenya, where a contested election has led to riots.

On January 1, two days before the Iowa caucuses, Obama left a message for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to Robert Gibbs, Obama's Communications Director, Rice called back "as we were driving from Sioux City to Council Bluffs on January 1. They talked about the situation and Rice asked Obama to tape a Voice of America message calling for calm." Obama taped the message on January 2, after a rally in Davenport, Iowa. He said, in part:
"Despite irregularities in the vote tabulation, now is not the time to throw that strong democracy away. Now is a time for President Kibaki, opposition leader Odinga, and all of Kenya’s leaders to call for calm, to come together, and to start a political process to address peacefully the controversies that divide them. Now is the time for this terrible violence to end.

Kenya’s long democratic journey has at times been difficult. But at critical moments, Kenyans have chosen unity and progress over division and disaster. The way forward is not through violence – it is through democracy, and the rule of law. To all of Kenya’s people, I ask you to renew Kenya’s democratic tradition, and to seek your dreams in peace."
On January 3, the day of the caucuses, he had a conversation with Bishop Desmond Tutu, who had flown to Nairobi to see if he could begin negotiations with the factions. In the days since his Iowa victory, Obama has had near-daily conversations with the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya or with opposition leader Raila Odinga. As of late this afternoon, before his rally in Rochester, N.H., Obama was trying to reach Kenyan President Kibaki.

I haven't been able to talk to Obama directly about this--he is sort of busy right now--but it does seem noteworthy that, in the midst of the most amazing week of his life, Barack Obama has found the time to do a some diplomatic scut-work. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing if he wins the nomination and is elected President.
I was wondering about what Barack Obama must have been thinking about the recent events in the land of his father. On the one hand, I am pleasantly surprised to know that he has been so actively engaged with the issue at this time. On the other hand, I'm not surprised at all to discover that he's doing this, and doing it without fanfare or the expectation of recognition for his engagement. Let me make one final remark on Klein's closing comment. Klein ends his posting with this sentence:
I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing if he wins the nomination and is elected President.
Emphasis is mine. I take issue with Klein's statement on one particular. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing from Obama whether or not he wins the nomination and is elected President. That's the kind of person Barack Obama is.

You know, thinking on it a bit more, I'm doubly impressed with Obama because he could have thrashed Hillary at the New Hampshire debate on her criticism of him as someone who talks a big game about "change," but doesn't act on it. By pointing to his efforts to try to help Kenya through this difficult moment in this midst of his own all-consuming campaign, he could have exposed Hillary's claim for the lie that it is in one fell swoop and could have embarrassed Hillary in the process by asking what she had recently done outside of campaigning to work for positive change in the world. If that's not being an active agent of change, I don't know what is. If that's not "governing with prose," so to speak, I don't know what is.

Two final points: (1) The fact that Obama didn't bludgeon Hillary with this example at the NH debate speaks volumes as to Obama's classiness and superior character. (2) The fact that Obama is simply doing this at all, much less doing so under the radar and without fanfare and during the most critical part of the primary campaign season, is testament to his leadership ability worthy of a President.

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