Obama’s Speech: And We Thought Politics is Not Personal?

Posted on May 4, 2012 in GlobeScope

By Tarun Cherukuri:

“Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective” said Max Weber in his seminal essay ‘Politics as a vocation’. The run-up to the US Presidential elections 2012 has, by most stretches of imagination, pushed the frontiers of civility in politics.

I was relieved at the end of what were by most observations fairly caustic Republican primaries, though some rue, that the entertainment has come to an end! Just when everyone was hoping for a civil debate between Barack Obama and almost certain Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the US President’s White House correspondent’s dinner speech has sparked off a new debate.

While many US commentators have played down the speech as a classic of the genre for an occasion keeping up with the tradition over the last few decades, there were moments in the speech which raised not only my eyebrows but even the First Lady’s!

Consider this – “What’s the difference between a hockey mom (earlier reference made to Sarah Palin) and a pit bull?” “A pit bull is delicious”. Many more jokes followed on Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and others.

Democrats, I would believe, certainly thought President Obama’s speech was just the right mix of self-deprecating humor and shots directed at Republicans. Republicans almost certainly thought the speech was too arrogant, illuminating what they believe to be their judgment of the President.

It might well be the American normative brand of sarcastic and self-deprecating humor but for a neutral observer like me, engaging in personal garbs has, I believe, diverted the attention from the core issues of the US. For young children growing up in the US who still believe in public service as the highest calling, such uncivil engagement might make them more averse to the profession and their notions of it being a noble endeavor for advancing human development.

While sensitive issues like health care, education loans, social security, energy security, foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran are going to be hotly debated over the next five months before the November election, economy and income inequality is the issue which will almost surely be determining the next US President. The quicker the debates reorient themselves away from the personal to the professional, the better it is surely for everyone.

Finally to quote Max Weber once again “Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics”

It would be interesting to see if the US President can repeat history by running an inspired campaign. Everyone surely needs a message of hope and optimism rather than a debasing one from both the contenders for the world’s most powerful position. I wish that both of them rise to the occasion and the US citizens exercise the wisdom for the better one. The world awaits.

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