Edmund Hillary, the intrepid New Zealander who conquered the Everest in 1953 alongside Sherpa Tenzing died recently after enjoying a halo of global fame during his long life. It, however, caused some surprise when, during a South Asian jaunt, a former first lady divulged that she was named after the brave mountaineer, although there existed a chronological discrepancy in her claim because she was already six years old when the Himalayan summit was reached. Ever as the claim was looked upon as something of an innocuous fib, Hillary Rodham Clinton took the line that her mother told her this when she (Hillary)was a child.
Nonetheless, her determined attempt to reach the pinnacle of power was likened by some to Edmund Hillary's feat in ascending the top of the Everest first. While that comparison may be debatable, it is true that no previous White House aspirant has come this far in the race after encountering so many dampers. What is less debatable is that Hillary Clinton had a near-death experience when she stumbled at the first hurdle in Iowa early last month. Yet, she refused to give up.
Although the presidential campaign got underway a year or so ago, the Iowa caucus represented the first crucial test in the somewhat convoluted nomination process in the US electoral system. The Democratic and Republican party conventions are scheduled to be held in August and September respectively during this year, but unassailable winners could emerge as early as February 3, which has been dubbed super-duper-Tuesday because it would feature primaries and caucuses in 22 states, including important ones such as California and New York.
After the reverses in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, Hillary Clinton could still go on to win the nomination, but that would be as hard as scaling the Himalayas. Unexpectedly, she came third in Iowa, well behind Obama and Edwards. Her showing in New Hampshire had also been equally poor -- trailing behind Obama by a substantial margin -- almost sealing her fate. Her campaign team lapsed into total despondency, and almost all television channels showed images of her coming close to tears. The critics enjoyed her apparent loss of nerve.
The concerted assault mounted on Mrs Clinton stirred something deep down among New Hampshire's womenfolk, who seemed to reckon it as male chanvinism against one of their kind. This realisation resulted in an unexpected victory for Hillary, although her margin over Obama was barely three percent. It was, however, a life-line of sorts for Hillary for the coming contests in Nevada and South Carolina soon afterwards.
There could be surprises galore in the US' presidential election with the introduction of many new factors in the multi-faceted exercise but, as far as Democrats are concerned, the contest is essentially between Mrs Clinton and Obama Barrack. And, at the moment, even if Hillary appears to have the edge it all could end in tears -- given that the Clintons inspire revulsion among a large number of Republicans and distrust among the liberals in the Democratic camp. After all, Senator Hillary still bears the stigma of approving president Bush's Iraq campaign, and has seldom been vocal about bringing back the American troops from virtually the jaws of death in Iraq's inferno.
Besides, Obama, her opponent, continues to be a formidable hurdle for Hillary, because his appeal is more bipartisan. That he refused to capitalise on his African-American identity won him considerable support in a far wider spectrum of the American electorate. Indeed, he showed wisdom in casting himself as a post-racial candidate. In the electoral circus, amid the jugglers and clowns, he has excelled as a tight-rope walker with speeches whose dearth of substance and gravitas is trumped by their eloquence.
There is widespread optimism that an Obama presidency would dramatically repair the tarnished image of America. It would also drastically alter the international perception of America as an arrogant and aggressive superpower, as well as America's image of itself. If Obama can make it to the White House, it would imply fulfillment of Martin Luther King's dream of a country whose citizens are not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
All these factors with regard to Obama's candidature make him a formidable hurdle to be surmounted by Hillary Clinton to reach the White House, hitherto an abode for white supremacists. Even if Hillary can occupy it she will find it as difficult as climbing the Everest. However, it will vindicate her fond claim of her being named after the conqueror of the Everest.
Brig ( retd) Hafiz is former DG of BIISS.