Still on American Election: Lessons for Nigeria

24 Nov 2012

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Diasporan Perspective, By Ekerete Udoh

Let me start first by sending my heartfelt sympathies on behalf of the millions of Nigerians in the Diaspora to the President of the Republic-His Excellency-Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on the death of his brother, Chief Meni Jonathan. May the good Lord give the president and his family the fortitude to bear the loss.

It’s been almost three weeks since the American Presidential elections were concluded, but certain fundamental facts about the election remain constant and those currents would dominate, illuminate and shape political discourse in the next months and possibly years to come. Its effect too, may someday be applied to the Nigerian situation.It was an election that turned conventional wisdom on its head and demystified long held notions about the immutability of certain ideological beliefs. It was an election that finally revealed the unworkability and shallowness of the Southern Strategy that had served the Republican Party for decades- a strategy that appealed to the worst fears of what until now was a rock-solid electorally majority white population that usually vote overwhelmingly for the Republican Party and whose bloc votes were enough to secure electoral victories without other voting constituencies in the union.

It was an election whose post mortem has now defaced, diminished and revealed the narrow base of the right wing entertainment complex whose stock in trade has been to traffic in lies, fear and division. It was an election that finally introduced to America, a new alignment of forces and interests- a new governing majority that may take decades to dismantle. It was an election where if political strategists in Nigeria studied and followed acutely, may be applied to our electoral process and a new accent introduced-one where emphasis would be put on manifest abilities as opposed to geography or pedigree.

Until the 2012 Presidential election, the conventional wisdom especially among the Republicans was that they could win elections by appealing to the general white population, the social conservatives, evangelicals, the Wall Street economic potentates and the traditionalists-those who eternally fear a coarsing of American culture through immigration. The Republican Party in order to appeal to those blocs of electorate, injected in their discourse vile and repulsive rhetoric that alienated others. They sought for and recruited candidates that were put through ideological purity test-those who would outdo others in their display of intolerance and anger against the ‘secular humanists’ that the Democratic Party in their warped calculations represents. Through such single issue groups like  Tax Enough Already  or TEA Party, Club for Growth and other Political Action Committees (PAC) they elevated identity politics to a level that lack tact, rationality and reasonableness.

Their allies in the Congress and in the Senate pursued legislations that were narrowly tailored to their interests while blocking those that would advance the American dream. Their calculation was simple: if they could rail against imaginary defilement of the American social order by the “others”, if they could use the bogeyman of big government and attach an emotional element to it- soaring debt occasioned by deep spending on entitlement programs ( a code word for aids to the minority population) which will ultimately affect the white population’s children’s capacity to live the American dream; if they could demonize immigration and raise the fear about the clear and present danger of the ‘browning’ of America, they- (the white population) will abandon the Democrats whose tent is broad and all-inclusive and vote for the party that would conserve the culture and traditions of America-the Edmund Burke’s way. The whole political strategy was based on appealing to the white population while demonizing other blocs.

While the Democrats were talking about middle class issues and how to level the economic and opportunities playing field for all Americans, the Republicans were talking about tax cuts and the need to allow untrammeled forces of capitalism without any regulatory regime. While the Democrats were courting the Hispanic population and empathized with them on immigration and the need to reform the system, the Republicans were busy talking about self deportation and such contemptible figures like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, in Arizona was being feted and lionized by the Republican establishment and their media chamber as an example of what American needs to stem the tide of immigration. The Hispanics population which has been the target of this hectoring bull were watching and were not amused.

While the Democrats were preaching tolerance for people who may have adopted an alternative lifestyle-the gays and lesbian and were actively courting them- realizing that though most Democrats may not agree with the same sex marriage, those people too, are Americans and thus should not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. The Republican Party members on the other hand were busy condemning and passing judgment on this group, who unknown to them form a sizeable portion of the electorate and whose membership cuts across ideological spectrum, with some located at the upper reaches of their party. The Republican  Campaign Manager for the successful Bush/Cheney 2004 Presidential Campaign- Ken Mehlman who later became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), was a closeted gay who later ‘outed’ himself  after he left the  RNC chair and started advocating for the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Republican tent.

While a sizeable number of white Americans are on food stamp and other social programs, the Republicans in order to galvanize the white population and to tag the African Americans as lazy and who are dependent on the tax dollars the hard working white population provides, has been stigmatizing and stereotyping the African American population as welfare kings and queens. Mitt Romney after losing the election repeated that nonsensical line when he rationalized his failure at the polls on the laughable notion that Obama won because he gave goodies to the minority population- the hated 47 percenters that do not pay taxes and are lazy and dependent on government for survival. The American 2012 Presidential election revealed the decaying of the old order and the maturation of a new order

How does the American new governing coalition relate to Nigeria? My take is very simple. For a long time, we have placed accent on identity politics while alienating currents that spark national impulse. From the North to the South West to South East, except the South south and the Middle Belt who were used as foils to balance the electoral powers and might of the other groups, past electoral fights have been waged along ethnic platforms- from the NPC, the AG, NCNC, and the UMBC in the first Republic to the NPN, UPN, GNPP of the Second Republic, ethic issues took precedence over national.

The one shining moment where Nigerians buried the ghost of ethnicity and religion and voted based purely on a clearly defined ideological platform of progressivism that the SPD had marketed in 1993, which the Abiola/Kingibe was poised to win, but which was annulled by the Babangida administration remains a seminal moment that speaks to the capacity of Nigerians to look beyond identity politics.

The 2011 Presidential election was the second time Nigerians again showed that though we can vote local issues at the state level, issues of national importance and cohesion may trump local ones and Nigerians can vote across party lines as it always happens in America. President Jonathan’s PDP was able to win in a densely ACN enclave of the South West, Anambra and Imo with APGA governors and the Middle Belt and the North East and Central respectively.

With the new alignment that came into the picture in 2011, a candidate with the right vision and platform can appeal to certain voting blocs within the polity and actively court and speak to issues that they embrace and such a candidate can win a national election without having to kow-tow to an old order that always felt they held the key to electoral victories. Like the Republicans found out three weeks ago, any party that is seen to represent a narrow vision or speak to a narrow base will be ignored by the electorate. Any socio-political organization that is stridently promoting its narrow interests while de-emphasizing those that galvanize the greater majority of Nigerians would be left behind as the Republicans found out to their chagrin three weeks ago.

Nigeria can rise above identity politics and the debilitating resort to geography and zoning. The Republican Party never believed for a moment that its hold on the geographical spread of the American heartland, the Bible belt and the white majority men and married women will present t a negation of their political hopes, but times have changed. I believe times are changing in Nigeria too, and 2015 will be the moment when conventional wisdom will be trumped- where zoning will lose its luster, where Nigerians will demand and insist on purpose-driven leaders no matter what zone such a leader may come from. Those who will insist on status quo will be pushed aside and rendered obsolete as the coalition that had always won election for the Republicans have found themselves currently. The world is changing and this wind of change-where old orders are giving way to new realities and other best practices will soon dawn on Nigeria and our journey to building a nation of talents and skills may gradually begin to emerge. Mark my word!

Post script: I read a comment on my article penultimate Saturday “Why the Republican Mitt Romney lost” in which I asserted that the Republicans may go the Whig Party way and flame out of extinction if it refused to rediscover its iideolgical moorings. The reader who goes by the name Naijafaithful1  had challenged the basis of my analysis and asserted that I was intellectually disingenuous  for making such claims and insisted that it was a close election and that Obama did not win a landslide;  that the Republicans were not vanquished  . Well let me without questioning the reader’s knowledge base re-emphasized here that Obama won a landslide victory over the Republican-Mitt Romney.

America presidents are not elected through popular votes cast; otherwise we would have had a President Al Gore in 2000 as opposed to President George Bush. Gore had the majority of the votes cast in 2000. American presidents are elected through Electoral College- a smart and  a work of genius by the framers of the Constitution, which today protects the smaller states from being swallowed and rendered electorally inconsequential by such behemoths like California, New York, Texas, Florida. President Obama won 332 Electoral College votes to Mitt Romney’s miserly 206. By the matrix of Electoral College, that is nothing but a landslide.

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