2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Indonesia: Neither Washington nor Menteng


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3/9/08 Jakarta Post 5

Just to roam beyond Indonesia's borders for once, it seems that the cult of Mr Obama is gathering pace over in the good old U.S. of Stateside.

However the real reason that I can shoehorn the upcoming American elections into this week's MM with impunity is that Mr Obama was once a curly haired young resident of Menteng in Central Jakarta and known to all and sundry simply as Barry.

Weird as it is to imagine a kid who once played around the city's back alleys turning into the world's most powerful man, there are others in the U.S. who wish to use Mr Obama's past to push a more sinister agenda in an attempt to arrest his seemingly irresistible momentum. Here's one such Fox News type, liberal baiting quote:

"Obama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the Western world."

As we now know though, during his stay here between 1967 and 1971, Obama attended a run-of-the-mill Indonesian state school that had no problem with either the celebrating of Christmas or the wearing of miniskirts.

In addition, his African-Muslim father was not very religious at all and his Indonesian stepfather was also a typically moderate local Muslim who apparently enjoyed the odd bottle of Bintang. Okay, I'm glad we cleared all that up.

It's probably not wise to draw any definitive conclusions about Mr Obama based upon his time running around the streets of Menteng in short trousers.

One anecdote does tickle me though. Apparently Mr Obama used to stand up for fairness and honesty during games of marbles with his chums on Jakarta's streets and apparently often used to say, Kamu curang, kamu curang (your cheating, you're cheating). Shades of Junior George Washington not being able to tell a lie over chopping down his old man's cherry tree perhaps?

Mrs Clinton has tried to ridicule Mr Obama in her increasingly desperate attempts to secure her party's nomination and has said that, "Being a 10-year-old in Indonesia isn't foreign policy experience." Fair enough I suppose, although I'm not sure Hillary's had much direct foreign policy experience either outside of receiving bouquets of flowers after descending the steps of Air Force One.

Mr Obama did at least major in International Relations at university. George Bush of course, everyone's favorite incompetent incumbent, is famously far less well traveled than his recent predecessors, preferring instead to barbecue hogs on his ranch in Texas.

Nevertheless he has still managed to declare war on two foreign countries during his eight years in office. Who was it who once said that war was God's way of teaching Republicans geography?

So then, it's Indonesian Barry versus Auntie Hillary. To digress for a moment, I'm not without sympathy for Mrs Clinton. Being a woman standing for presidential office is every bit as important as being an African-American tilting for the top job.

When someone heckled Mrs Clinton recently at a campaign rally with the rather cheap line, "Iron my shirts," laughter was heard to percolate through the room. Now if someone had come out with, "Shine my shoes," at one of Mr Obama's rallies then we would never have heard the end of it.

It seems that sexism and chauvinism still have their place in our political discourse whereas racism doesn't. Perhaps it's this double standard that has led white American male voters to prefer Mr Obama to Mrs Clinton.

Returning to our hero Barry though, let us suspend reality for a moment and imagine what it would be like if an Obama presidency actually did model itself on the Indonesian political zeitgeist.

The political elites of this country and the U.S. both seem to inhabit ivory towers to the point where I feel that both groups need to be grabbed by the lugholes and frog marched down to street level like naughty Menteng schoolboys in order to see what's really going on. Aside from this though, there are certainly differences that might prove hard for the U.S. electorate to swallow.

If Brave Barry were to follow SBY's example and even suggest that the American motorists use gasoline quota smartcards at the pumps, then the gas-guzzling U.S. electorate would no doubt revolt before the week was out. On a more positive note though, if Barry were to release an album, as SBY has done, then I would fully expect it to pack more musical oomph and sas than Mr. Susilo's collection of stillborn ballads.

More generally, it's a pity that no candidate looks likely to emerge during Indonesia's next presidential campaign that can rouse and galvanize the jaded electorate in the same way that Barry has done in the US. Perhaps there's an Indonesian politician who spent his schoolboy years in Oklahoma who should throw his hat into the ring.



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