YouTube video

With the democratic nomination under his belt, Senator Obama is riding high on invigorated public
support. The task of effectively distinguishing himself from Senator McCain now lies ahead of him.
Senior News Analyst Aijaz Ahmad explained to the Real News Network’s Senior Editor Paul Jay that while
Obama’s candidacy itself is historic, Obama will still have to show the US public whether he will
concentrate on bolstering the economy, or will, like McCain, prioritize oil/ military spending.

Story Transcript


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): Tehran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons poses an unacceptable risk, a danger we cannot allow.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): There’s no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and stability of the region than Iran.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: In the last week, we’ve been discussing the similarities between Obama and McCain when it came to US foreign policy. Today, we’re going to ask: what are the differences? And joining me is our senior news analyst, Aijaz Ahmad. Aijaz, so what are the big differences, if any, between Obama and McCain?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Well, Paul, I have to say that there used to be a considerable difference between the two of them, even on foreign policy. It is only as the campaign progressed that the distance between the two of them became so small that now it is not meaningful.

JAY: And this is particularly on the issue of Iran.

AHMAD: This is on the issue of Iran, this is on the issue of Syria, even on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and so on. So now there is no really meaningful difference. Whether he’ll go back on it, we don’t know. But the real difference between McCain and Obama, I think, are two areas. One is what I would call a historical and social difference. You know. And that comes to the backgrounds of the two people.

JAY: So this is the fact that it’s an African-American that might be president.

AHMAD: That is right. That is right. And, you see, if Hillary Clinton had become president in the United States, it would be a big thing for the US, but nothing new in the world. Sri Lanka, all the countries of South Asia, Israel, Britain, Germany, Argentina, Chile, name them all, any number of women have been heads of states. But for an African-American to become the president of the leading imperialist power after 200 years of colonization which was deeply connected with white racist supremacy would be an enormous thing. And yet it’s something that we have to see what that would mean.

JAY: And is it as enormous when you’ve had a secretary of state—you’ve had Colin Powell, Rice—is it still as dramatic when you’ve already had such important positions filled by African-Americans?

AHMAD: Well, I would say that Obama has to do a bit of redemption, in the sense that we have had two most highly placed officials of African-American background in a Republican administration at the highest levels, and the world has seen them carry out the policies of imperial project. He has to show that a liberal, progressive Democrat will actually make a difference as an African-American. So he has to redeem that legacy.

JAY: We did stories in West Virginia, we did stories in Kentucky, and in those states quite a profound racism. But also something else: a profound questioning of Obama’s patriotism, mostly based on concoctions—that he’s a Muslim, because he sat in the same church with Reverend Wright for 20 years and someone who could say “God damn America.” So he’s going to be fighting this issue of racism and questioning of Cold War conceptions of patriotism. So what does that mean if he can win in spite of that?

AHMAD: It’s a very worrisome development. Statistics show that about 10 percent of the Democrats believe that he’s a Muslim. So the campaign on all those issues against him has been vigorous, and it’s going to be even worse. He’s going to have to rise above it, get out of a defensive posture on it, and distinguish himself from McCain where the real distinction really lies, which is on issues of economic policy. And I would say that the essential difference between the two of them which is now emerging—as you know, Obama is now, starting this Monday, going on a two-week national tour, speaking on his economic policy. He has been rather vague on all of those issues, but his speeches now are beginning to get very concrete. And the real question there would be: is there going to be an Obama presidency which turns American economy into a productive economy led by real investments in social infrastructure, infrastructures of various kinds, and drive it away from the oil-weapon dollar corporations which were the ruling and dominant part of the American economy that were driving the Bush-Cheney crowd? That is where the real difference between the two of them actually lies.

JAY: And if he’s going to do that, he’s going to need a mass movement behind him, because that’s going to be a war.

AHMAD: He is going to need a mass movement behind him. And what I think we can hope for is that there is in fact a bit of a mass movement behind Obama which is not a creation of Democratic Party, which is not simply a creation of disaffection with the Republicans, but which is really about this whole rhetoric of change and so on and so forth. Young people, people not deeply affiliated even with political parties and so on, can he turn that into a real mass movement?

JAY: Or can the mass movement turn into something itself?

AHMAD: Indeed.

JAY: In part 2 we’ll look at: what are Obama’s plans for the US economy? Please join us for part 2 of my interview with Aijaz Ahmad and looking at the real differences between Obama and McCain.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.