Monday, July 28, 2008

The Audacity of Change: Thoughts on Reclaiming Hougang (oops...the Singapore Dream)

The title of this entry is clumsy play on Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream”.

A wave of new found optimism is gathering strength in the United States as Barack Obama’s campaign steamrolls along. Emblematic of this movement are energized youths, engaged and interested in reclaiming a piece of the American dream - not their forefather’s dream, but rather a dream of their own.

With a faltering domestic economy, a political system governed by big business and special interest groups, and a draining foreign policy driven by a military culture, it would be by no stretch of the imagination to say that Americans have been frustrated and cynical of the status quo. Yes, they want change.

What strikes me as particularly interesting in this political movement is that there is an ongoing sideline struggle between what essentially are two factions in the ‘change camp’.

The frequent contentious public statements and retractions on Obama by cantankerous characters such as Obama’s spiritual mentor Rev. Wright, and more recently by civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, represent a section of African-Americans voters who hanker for Obama to openly embrace his black heritage and not try to be something for everybody. In fact, critics doubt the eloquent statesman can win over the African-American community as successfully as he has done with the white community.

On the other side of the ‘change camp’ are the new guard of civil activists who buy into Obama’s post-racial ethos that transcends race and class differences.

These frictions between the old and new guards of the black civil rights movement got me thinking about the political scene here in Singapore. And with our nation’s 43rd birthday approaching in a matter of days, what better time to reflect on where we are as a nation and where we want to be.

A few days back, an old guard of the ruling party used a National Day event as a pretext to deliver a clear message that the fight for opposition-held wards was not over and that members of the grassroots should act as opposition for the opposition. In reaction, Choo Zheng Xi, editor-in-chief of The Online Citizen, astutely highlighted in a recent article that “Singapore is larger than the People’s Action Party (PAP) and its supporters”.

Surviving old guards of the PAP struggle with the baggage of early nation building and a siege mentality that was necessary at the time. They also struggle with the inevitable prospect of handing over custodial responsibilities to a new generation of leaders ‘polluted’ with liberal ideas from the west.

We see this struggle of ideals in opposition parties as well. Take for example the mini exodus from the Workers’ Party after the 2006 general elections. Young members seeking, more aggressive approaches to oppositional politics, grew disillusioned with the WP’s ‘safe’ politics.

I would like to think that until we find leaders, PAP or otherwise, that are ready to rise above partisan lines and embrace post-political politics, we will not see a sweeping movement for change in Singapore any time soon. When the right leader emerges, the ground will be ready to reclaim their Singapore Dream.