By Udoh Ekerete
In a rare show of bipartisan spirit, the U.S. Congress subsumed the irritating and nattering spirit of divisiveness and voted to stop the much feared fiscal cliff that would have reversed the economic gains the country has been making howbeit slowly in recent months. By putting ideological differences at abeyance and trumpeting those of the common good, the House and the Senate have shown that where a will to confront complex and daunting issues exists, the way forward could always be charted however unpleasant the mechanics for achieving such may be.
For most of Obama’s first term, Congressional Republicans aided by the extreme wing of the party and edged on by a media echo chamber that saw cooperation with Obama as an abdication of its core values demanded a strict adherence to its principles of extreme conservatism. On issues that cried pragmatic approach and bipartisanship-from Job Bills, to Healthcare reform, to immigration- all mainstream pieces of legislation that enjoyed the support of American people across party lines, and the Congressional Republicans gave zero support. Their mantra and battle cry from the outset of the Obama administration, was to mount several roadblocks and in the process make the Obama a one-term president. Rush Limbaugh went on record to state on his radio programme that his prayer was that Obama should fail woefully.
It didn’t matter if some of the pieces of legislation that Obama advanced and initiated had the signature of the Republicans; it didn’t matter if the key component of the Healthcare plan such as the individual mandate was an aspect that was first sold by the Republicans, as long as the marketer of the idea now was a Democratic president, then it was considered a bad policy. The Congressional Republicans frustrated every aspect of the legislative agenda of the Obama administration, all in the hope and expectation that by adopting such tactics, the base of the party would be galvanized to support them at the polls.
As they realized to their chagrin on November 6, 2012, there so much, mileage you can get from being obstructionist. The party’s flag bearer –Mitt Romney was politically obliterated and the inflexible ideological platform he ran on, rejected and punctured by American people- whose only desire is for elected leaders to do the business of the people and check their ideological differences at the door of the hallowed chamber of the Capitol Building. The electoral evisceration of Mitt Romney presented a sobering reality to the Republicans and forced them to come to terms that the party cannot be seen for ever as the “Dr. No” party and expect to reap electoral victories.
The leadership of the party has since November 6, been engaging in several soul searching approaches to make it more marketable to the American people. It still remains a defaced and muddied brand and the fiscal cliff talks was going to make the party even a harder sell, if the leadership had stuck to its ideological guns and refused to play ball.
After several harangues and overt threats from the anti-tax denizen-Glover Norquist- a man whose influence on one of the defining elements of the Republican Platform-taxes and taxation has made him a much-feared person had failed to whip the Congressional Republicans on line and the bully pulpit that President Obama had employed, the Congressional Republicans were forced to kowtow to popular will and national sentiment and voted to avert the fiscal cliff.
The compromise illustrates one cardinal point, and that is the fact that though the two parties are ideologically heterogeneous, that if there is a will to do the people’s business, hard choices can be made, and solutions that move the country forward advanced and employed. The success of the negotiations of the fiscal cliff may usher in a period of bipartisanship in American politics that has been desired and hoped for, by the American people. The mandate President Obama got on November 6, 2012, may have finally rattled the Republican establishment about the need to de-emphasize extreme conservatism and work to win new hearts and minds among the American electorate-especially those who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal but cringe at the vitriol and hate that come from sections of the party’s base.
American politics has always thrived on compromises and hardball negotiations. Some of the landmark bills that were passed such as Voter Acts and Civil Rights Acts were functions of negotiations and hand-wringing from leaders who saw the need to compromise and do the needful.
Here in Nigeria, we are faced with so many challenges- daunting challenges that would require support across ethnic and religious lines. I believe Nigeria could be the country of our dreams if we de-emphasize ethnicity and religion from the national fabric and allow ourselves to be propelled by issues that advance national agenda. I have always cringed in horror and have written volumes about ethnic- based organizations that seem to trumpet regional agenda as opposed to national ones.
America on face value may come across as a homogenous society, but the truth is that there are disparate tendencies within its society. But those tendencies get subsumed by a greater national pull. The south has a culture that is decidedly different from the north, but those cultural disparities are not emphasized. What gets emphasized is the greater American creed that everyone has bought into. I think we can do same here in Nigeria. It’s all good and dandy to be an Igbo, Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Ibibio, Annang, Ijaw, Efik etc., but the national ethos and values should always trump regional and parochial ones. Just as the Congressional Republicans saw the need to compromise in spite of their ideological bent, Nigerians can begin to celebrate a new nation- a renewal that is anchored on shared values. That should be the spirit that propels us in 2013.