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
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
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
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
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