Clinton's president

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 October, 2008, 12:00am

For days now, I've been trying to contact George Clinton. No, this is not a brother of a certain former US president or a distant relative of a vice-president of the same name from 1805 to 1812. The man I've been seeking words of wisdom from is a renowned practitioner of a musical genre known as funk. But it is not because of this prowess that I have been trying to reach him; it is for a song he co-wrote 34 years ago that fantasised about there being a black American president.

Chocolate City was the opening track on an album of the same name by Clinton's band, Parliament, dedicated to American cities with majority black populations. It tapped into the sense of solidarity among African-Americans of the time. I will spare those not au fait with this sort of entertainment the torture of listening to the song by relating that the lyrics include the line: 'They still call it the White House, but that's a temporary condition' and end with the phrase, 'God bless Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs'.

In between, Clinton assigns the presidency to then reigning world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Clinton was not the first to consider the possibility of a black leader. The 1972 film, The Man, put actor James Earl Jones into the White House. Both considerably pre-dated comedian Chris Rock's playing of the first black man to take the Oval Office in the 2003 film Head of State and the featuring of two black presidents in the TV series 24. None can hold a candle to Brazilian author Monteiro Lobato, though; his 1926 science fiction novel, O Presidente Negro (The Black President), predicted a US presidential election set in 2028 that was determined by race and gender. The social conditions are far removed from those today, but the fact that the main characters are a white man, a white woman and a black man has prompted the Brazilian publisher to reissue the long-out-of-print book. I hope Lobato's prescience is coincidental only to a point; the black candidate wins, but is found dead before he can assume office and the incumbent, the white man, takes the re-election.

Under no circumstances do we want Republican Party candidate John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, near the corridors of power. Erratic behaviour, schizophrenic politicking and far-right religious policies do not have a place in a globalised world with the US at its centre. We need a safe hand on the tiller and intelligent thinking, and Democratic contender Barack Obama and his vice-presidential partner Joe Biden are clearly the more likely to provide these.

Nonetheless, with election day looming, I wanted to hear Clinton's views on his hypothesis. What does the proud black man who lived through the civil rights movement think of Senator Obama's policies? Should an Obama cabinet group the best people, regardless of race, or faithfully reflect America's racial mix? Would a black president mean an end to racism?

Alas, I still have no answers. Clinton, although 67, is a busy man. All I have to go on is an interview that was published on September 10 by the Santa Barbara Independent. In it, he is overjoyed by the prospect of an Obama presidency, but acknowledges that there are many mountains to climb. He is, however, more excited about Senator Obama's message than his race. 'I wouldn't care if he was black or white or whatever if he's talking like he's talking, but I really thought it would be a black dude, because it takes a guy with some style to sell those good things,' he told reporter Matt Kettmann.

Clinton uses colourful language typical of the people he mixes with; Senator Obama, he enthuses, 'is the right kind of pimp we need'. Regardless of the musician's linguistic contortions, the music he performs, or his state of mind and place, I agree wholeheartedly with him.

After eight years of Republican President George W. Bush, Americans and the entire world need a change. Alternative thinking and choices are the order of the day. Senator Obama's skin colour is irrelevant; he is speaking what we need to hear and offers the best chance of ushering in a bright, new era of hope.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor