Barack Obama and Rajiv Gandhi

I have not been following the ups and downs of the American primaries very closely because there isn’t much profit to be had from it.  I am sure that the internal workings of the US presidential elections are as interesting as those of the Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser,  but the result will be the same.  So I am only dimly aware of the Barack Obama phenomenon (and before you ask, I was completely uninterested in the Ron Paul phenomenon.)  But from what I understand, he is like the Rajiv Gandhi of 1984.

There are many reasons why the dynastic system finds favour with people. A minor one among these is that every generation a new scion of the ruling family descends on the scene and makes a bid for a top post. Chances are, he will be a relatively young person among more senior contenders. Youth always attracts people – they associate it with freshness. They also instinctively associate it with a rapid rise, achievement and talent, even when they should know better.  Because this person is  from the ruling family, chances are that he has not had to fight his way to the top, has not had to make ugly compromises and does not have a history that gives some people a reason to hate him. His “clean past” is an empty vessel into which people can pour their hopes and aspirations, whatever they are, however unrealistic they are. So it was with the Rajiv Gandhi of 1984. With absolutely no basis in his track record, nay with no track record  people had decided that he was the one who would lead the country into the 21st century. The dream took around 2 years to end.

Barack Obama is like that, except of course, he is not from a royal family.  But you can see the same phenomenon at work. He is young, supposedly speaks well (haven’t heard him, because rarely watch TV) and has no track record of governance. So his campaign managers have decided that the best way to market him is as someone who brings freshness and “change”. Of course, no one anywhere in the world is completely happy with the current situation, whatever the situation is, so if someone credibly promises “change”, they will vote for him. They will assume that the change will happen in the direction they want, not in the direction their neighbour wants.

But the reason the current situation is current is not because most people are happy with the current situation, but because different people have different ideas for the direction in which things should change. The current situation is the equilibrium that has been achieved among the various pushes and pulls.  If you really want change without going through a violent revolution, you need an insider familiar with the workings of the system who will nudge it in the “right” direction (whatever the right direction is.) Likewise, I will respect someone’s reputation for cleanliness a lot more if they maintain a spot of cleanliness after having been in the gutter than someone whose Kurta is clean because they have never had to enter he gutter.

(Note: This is not to be taken as an endorsement for McCain, or Clinton for that matter. The Examined Life refuses to endorse any  candidate in any election.)

(Further note: Yes, this also applies to supporters of Ron Paul.  Incidentally, this also applies to our own communist parties. Their rhetoric makes it sound like they are just about to conduct a revolution, while in reality they just care about winning the next election.)

39 thoughts on “Barack Obama and Rajiv Gandhi

  1. Ravikiran Rao Post author

    No… But his power broker speech at the congress centenary convention enthused a lot of people – for its content, not for his oratory. From what I understand, Obama has more oratory than any genuinely new content, so Obamamania is all the more puzzling.

  2. swami

    Hmm…

    “If you really want change without going through a violent revolution, you need an insider familiar with the workings of the system who will nudge it in the “right” direction”

    In the case of the US election campaign, who would be one such?

  3. Gaurav

    OT, from your dear friend

    “I see that nobody on this list has expressed outrage at this violation of a blogger’s birthright of freedom of speech! I am not sure if I can argue free sppeech for someone who calls for “armed struggle” in the name of Chairman Mao, but hey, what happened to the supportes of absolute free speech on this list! Where did the comrades disappear!”

  4. Ravikiran Rao Post author

    Swami, you can’t expect me to solve the problems of the United States, can you 😉 I don’t think that the American system can be changed, because the system is close to what the Americans themselves want, at least if you consider weighted average of preferences.

    Gaurav, what are you talking of? Which list is that?

  5. Patrix

    If you think Obama is just rhetoric and great oratory, you should check out his latest race speech. And he wrote it himself. I don’t think anyone will claim that until they really have.

    But of course, no one is perfect and there is a bit of image-building of any candidate but I don’t think the Rajiv Gandhi comparison holds.

  6. HiAgain

    From what I know, Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘power brokers’ speech was honest. Then the power brokers let him know of reality. A lot of politicians go through that phase. Even Bill Clinton, with several terms of experience as a governor, realized it late.

    Obama is not the usual machine politician and that is a big change in the presidential campaign in a long time.

  7. HiAgain

    PS: The days of John Galt are over. Even Martin Wolf of Financial Times is talking about the “US Public Sector” rescuing all the rich people who are in danger of losing everything (some in Bear Stearns have lost their life-savings.) I wish the “public sector” was around to rescue other people in their bad times.

    So the US may be better off electing someone who wholeheartedly believes in a “US Public Sector.”

    http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2008/03/19/stories/2008031950080900.htm

    These are good times 🙂

  8. Gaurav Sabnis

    Ravi

    I think the obama-rajiv comparison is a bit flawed, but for other reasons. I dont think he is that “clean” in the first place. Surely, maybe comparitively clean, but there is enough in his past that the Republicans will rake up if he is the nominee. Not McCain himself, and maybe McCain would not want it, but other R’s.

    About his kurta being clean because he never entered the gutter…. wrong on both counts. He came from the gutter… Chicago politics is as dirty as it gets… and he is not really clean. You may not know about the Tony Rezko connection. Rezko is a developer now under indictment. The media has talked about it but not gone into it in detail. And I think Hillary has largely laid off because she has worse skeletons in her cupboard.

    But one likely and almost certain stain. The house that Obama now lives in… its previous seller put it on the market along with an empty lot adjoining it. The seller was open to separate offers or combined. What ended up happening was Obama bought the house for $300K less than the market value, and Rezko bought the adjoining lot for $300K more than its market value.

    Unless Rezko and Obama were chaddi-buddies since childhood and could convince us “what’s 300K between friends?”, something stinks.

  9. Vivek

    Gaurav Sabnis,

    Since it is becoming more and more like rediff message boards, he might as well keep the bad formatting.

    Seriously, I am getting sick of going through the comment feed every day to read one decent comment out of a stack of tens of others on the north-south thread. Aargh..

    Some thoughts on this post.. I am not sure if a specific comparison with RG is notable. Every relatively inexperienced, young candidate in any election anywhere in the World promises change. BO promises more of it than anyone else, but promising change itself is nothing new. Not even in the American context.

    Ravi, you should listen to some of his speeches. No need of a TV.. just open YouTube.

  10. 7*6

    on the other hand, some would say insiders get so trapped in the spider web that they cannot swat away the cobwebs. Ergo, putting one’s faith on a “fresher” who stands for “change” and is competent or lucky enough to be a frontrunner, is quite rational. However, as you’d pointed out, the status quo is not due to some invidious conspiracy or oppression but due to the push and pulls within a given institutional setup.

    tsk, you’d say, the personalicious fresher should work on the institutions, not roll up his sleeves with gusto to tweak the push-pulls with a handspade. But the former is anyway a Sisyphean task because the institutions again owe their due not to inertia or conspiracy or oppression, but to the character and moral codes of the peoples. So ultimately the poor leader, if he wants change, should change the way the people think, what the people want, and what they aspire for.

    And what could be instrumental for this: oratory and charisma and speeches. I trust my flawless logic has made you an ardent Obama supporter.

  11. HiAgain

    Obama is best of the lot from the point of view of character and vision. But if he wins, he will get easily sidetracked. Hillary is the better option for implementation because she knows the game well.

    Most probably McCain will win. America is not ready for a black president or a female president.

  12. 7*6

    HiAgain, if we’d wanted your opinion, we’d have jumped off a cliff or stumbled in front of a train, cause we couldn’t have gone through life knowing that we’d wanted your opinion.

  13. HiAgain

    lol! Just like Americans “want” your opinion 🙂

    Try something other than personal insults. 😀

  14. 7*6

    HiAgain, I’m very anti-opinion. You are thinking hey Ravikiran or 7*6 is offering opinions, but no we are offering flawless logic [tm]

  15. HiAgain

    Why are you hiding behind Ravikiran?

    Is this like a “Me, Myself and Ravikiran” show? What a cop out! Stand up for yourself.

    So you offer flawless logic (divorced from reality). It’s exactly what some people in mental asylums think. They are so sure of their logic that they are crazy.

    Keep on truckin’ young man!

  16. 7*6

    HiAgain, throwing flawful opinion at flawless logic [tm] will only make Ravikiran not allow you to hide behind him.

  17. 7*6

    HiAgain, I accept your gratitude for my humiliating you into seeing how unacceptable flawful opinions [tm] are.

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  19. Sriram

    If Hillary possesses atleast half the “bad” qualities her detractors attribute to her, she would* make the best president ever.
    *Or is it will?

  20. Rohit

    The concept of only an insider being able to nudge the system progressively is a good one. I’m surprised that of all I’ve read on the Primaries, more hasn’t been written about it. Hillary is the ultimate Washington insider, and ironically, that’s exactly why Obama says people shouldn’t be voting for her. So, essentially, the theme of your post is in direct contrast to Obama’s message.

  21. 7*6

    The concept of only an insider being able to nudge the system progressively is a good one.

    I’m surprised that Indians think this.
    otoh I should not be surprised that Indians do not have a particularly good high level political view; and are feudal.

    I’m paradoxical like that.

  22. Gaurav

    Ravi,

    Something was troubling me about this post, now I know what is that The insider can “accomplish”, for “change” you have to have someone who is not too involved or invested in the system and hence can take in the bigger picture.
    Also I think that as far as US is concerned, its division of legislature and executive means that unless same arty occupies both places the call for change is “just words”.

    Anyhoo Obama threw his grandmother under the bus instead of his Pastor. He is a very likable fellow.

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