Brainstorming the uniqueness of American Politics

by Dr. Wunmi Akintide

The reason I am doing this is not just because I am fascinated by what I, as a Political Science Major, has observed, as the ultimate reality of American Politics. I am doing it because I am convinced, there are useful lessons for most developing countries, and Nigeria in particular, to learn from just putting America under a microscope of sorts, as I intend to do in this article, using a few pertinent illustrations that have captured my fantasy or imagination. If Charles Dickens were writing this piece like he had done in his famous “Tale of two Cities,” he, probably, would also have profiled America as the best and the worst at the same time, just like I am projecting in this article. I have traveled quite a bit around the world, and I am yet to find any other country in this planet that can match America, in terms of development and technological breakthrough not to talk about her military and financial power to mention just one index of civilization. A European or a Canadian or an Australian born writer doing the same paper, may not readily see the contrast I am drawing here between America and the rest of the world. But when you are born and raised in any of the developing nations, like I am, you come with a perspective that may be totally different from the perspective of such writers, because the situation they were born into, and raised in, are sometimes a few notches worse or better, in some respects, than what they find in America. So those E-mail tigers who may want to jump all over me for extolling the virtues of America as I express them in this article must be reminded of that fact before they go bananas.

I don’t know about you, but I am often amazed and sometimes surprised by how much progress this country has made in just over two hundred years of independence. I have flown over a good number of American cities at night and day time. It is sensational to see America the Beautiful from the Air and to observe its sheer size, and those wonderful highways, Bridges and their network of fly overs not to talk of the sheer beauty of American cities at night, with their unfailing electrical power which has redefined for me the true meaning of a National Electric Power Grid which has created more problems than it has solved in my own country. In America, the national electric power grid has not only created uniformity in power generation across the country that each State has fully tapped into, in a way that enhances their industrial and technological development across the board. You fly over the Grand Canyon and the Silicon Valley in California, you see the majesty of those mighty Lakes and Rivers and rolling mountains scattered around the country’s landscape, and you wonder how far human ingenuity and creativity have improved on the works of nature.

I once drove on the American Highways from Hartford, Connecticut to Los Angeles. As I drove through the Everglades and the area called Orange County in Florida, the Orange and Citrus trees looked more to me like Flower Gardens in their beauty. The best example of that, from my own limited perspective, as a foreigner, is the miracle of the Niagara Falls, a joint venture, I believe, of both the Canadian and the United States Government. If God the Almighty were to be awarding marks to countries, for how well they have used their God-given talents to improve on what God or Nature has provided, there is no question that America is going to rank very high on the scale of performance. On the other hand, if God were to rank mankind on the basis of how they have dared to challenge Him or question some of those mandates or commandments, the Bible and some of the Holy Books have spoken and written so much about, I guess America is also going to be at the receiving end for daring God in so many ways, all in the name of Development and Civilization.

Here is a country where gay and lesbian marriages around the country are now becoming the rule and no longer the exceptions. America has recorded so many firsts in the world that this writer has lost count. I am only going to focus in this write-up on one or two that have captured my imagination. The first is Politics an offshoot of Democracy and the unique way it is played and practiced in this country. This country, like Great Britain before her, has emerged with two major political parties, and a legion of smaller political parties, groups and associations that are allowed under the Law to exist and be heard, even though it is clear to everybody, the only games in town are the two major parties namely the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It does not matter which of them wins in a General or Presidential Elections, the ultimate interest and well-being of America remains nonnegotiable. Neither Party would deliberately or willfully commit itself to anything that might compromise the progress, development, and security of America. The two major parties and their presidential candidates know that for a fact, and nothing in this world would make them deviate from that goal. And if for any reason they do, they can only do that for four years and not more because the system will take them out. Majority of Americans, men and women also know that for a fact. Americans are one when the national interest and security of the nation is threatened or under siege. Americans would always stand with their President in a War or in a time of crisis. It is that advantage or prism that has kept President Bush’s opinion poll assessment relatively high today, in spite of his blunders in Iraq and Foreign Affairs and even on a few domestic policies and issues. The same reason has informed the reluctance of John Kerry to want to go after Bush, with vengeance, at a time like now. Some of those statements that Ralph Nadir has been making, are only possible because Nadir knows he is going no where. It is for the same reason that John Dean’s campaign did not have much traction from the “get go” If Ralph Nadir finds himself in the shoes of John Kerry who may well be the next president, when all is said and done, he too would have to exercise similar caution for him to have any hope of winning. American voters are highly sophisticated and enlightened, and they know the four year ritual of an Election gives them a chance to objectively reevaluate the incumbent, and to make up their mind whether to keep or take him out, without necessarily putting the interest and the security of their nation in jeopardy. This is an attribute that developing nations around the world ought to emulate. It is an attribute that is so much lacking in Nigeria, and one that Nigerian voters and leaders must cultivate to make our country better and more secure.

That John Kerry, a Democrat, is even openly flying a kite, he could possibly tap Senator John Kerry among his likely candidates for running mate, is an eloquent testimony to Politics without bitterness in America. There have been instances when candidates would cross party lines to pick on individuals they believe can best serve the Nation. They don’t do it with a view to splitting the other party or causing problems in their rank and file, like President Obasanjo of Nigeria used to do in his disguised or subtle attempt to create a one Party system in Nigeria, regardless of what he may be saying to the contrary. American politicians do it because they strongly believe the Nation’s interest trumps sectional interest any day. President Clinton had no qualms picking Bill Cohen as Secretary of Defense during his second term, and the Nation totally supported the move. As a matter of fact, President Clinton promised the Nation he was going to pick a Cabinet that looks like America, and he delivered on that promise with the support and acclamation of the whole Nation.

America is a breed apart when it comes to practicing the tenets of Democracy. Does it mean America is therefore perfect? I will be the last person o say that. The report of Detainee abuse in Iraq and other unilateral abuse of power under George Bush’s doctrine of preemptive strike, post 9/11, is a clear proof of that. But when you see what has been done, and still continues to be done since the scandal broke, you can see that Democracy still works in America, perhaps better than many other countries around the world. In a Democracy, War is not just an opportunity to kill, maim and dehumanize the enemies. That is why War was once described by Winston Churchill as “Diplomacy exercised by other means.” With the possible exception of Great Britain, no other country understands that concept better than the United States.

In War as in Diplomacy, there is really no permanent enemy or friend, there is only a permanent interest. An enemy today can be a good friend tomorrow. America and Japan which were implacable enemies following Pearl Harbor in 1945, are today the best of friends. That observation is not only true of nations, it is also true of many politicians in America. Senator Robert Dole, the War Hero and clearly one of the group described by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation” was the man defeated by President Clinton in 1996 Election. Today they are two of a kind, and the best of friends working together to advance the interest of America in Bosnia and around the globe. You could also cite the case of President Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford. They both ran for the same office. One lost and the other won, but that did not stop both of them from becoming bosom friends and allies after that, in the interest of their nation. That has been the nature of Politics in America, and I am fascinated by it, to tell you the truth.

America appears to offer the gold standard in Democracy by some of what they do in their Politics. Which other nation would have offered a wrestler an opportunity to become a State Governor? Only in America. President Ronald Reagan went from being an actor to becoming the Governor of California for two terms, before going on to become the President of the United States. Arnold Schwarzenneger is today the Governor of California and is one of the rising stars within the Republican Party, following the same track as Ronald Reagan. Both Ross Perot and Ralph Nadir, as Independent candidates, have rocked the boat of Politics in America by always putting the feet of the two major political parties under fire in two presidential elections. Nadir may, in fact, repeat the same scenario again next November because American Democracy is an open system that allows and encourages dissent and participation at all levels, like no other nation.

If Nigeria were to be America, Obafemi Awolowo, our most competent politician and action man would have been President of Nigeria and our nation would have been the better for it. Nigeria is now able to appreciate Awolowo long after his death. He had left an imperishable legacy of achievements in the West and in the Federal Government as the best Premier of the old Western Region, and as the best Finance Minister the Nation has ever had and the best Vice Chairman of the Executive Council under General Yakubu Gowon. If Awo were born in Britain as observed by Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, he, Awo would have been Prime Minister several times over. By the same token, If he were born in America, he would, most likely, have been President without any question.

Our politicians have a whole lot they can learn from this country about the practice of Politics in our country. I want to end this piece with my analysis of the American presidential election coming up in November, and what factors may be driving the prospects of failure or success of the two major candidates, namely George Bush and John Kerry. Since the Presidential Election is often based on the assessment of the performance of the incumbent President in office, I am going to start my analysis with President Bush who had started his campaign for second term even before he took the oath of office. He has been obsessed with the politics of reelection like no other American President in living memory. He was obsessed with taking over or dividing the Jewish vote by distancing himself from proactive stance of President Clinton on the Arab/Israeli conflict. President Clinton who had kept the two sides talking, and giving them hope that America can be trusted as an honest broker in the Peace deal was able to keep the two sides relatively peaceful during his eight years in office. The whole scenario took a different turn once Clinton had left office.

George Bush clearly taking the side of Israel from the get go, and declaring Yassir Arafat a persona non grata was out to impress the state of Israel and to break the Democrats stranglehold on the Jewish block vote. The very first country George Bush had visited on taking office is Mexico. He was again obsessed on going after the Hispanic Vote. Rather than playing the peace maker between the Palestinians and the Jews, George Bush had toyed with the idea of taking out Saddam Hussein in an effort to kill two birds with a stone. By so doing he would have completed the unfinished job by his father, and clip the wings of the most powerful country and dictator in the Middle East thereby scoring a big point with the Jews who would respond by giving him the Jewish vote, to guarantee his reelection with effortless ease. He had gotten the perfect excuse he was looking for when Osama Bin Laden played into his hands in September 11, 2001, by attacking the Twin Towers. He quickly tried to link Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as one, in order to equate the War on Terror with the War on Iraq and he tried his best to roll over the UN using the mighty leverage of America on all fronts. When the UN refused to fall in line, he chose to go it alone, so to speak, citing his doctrine of Preemptive strike as a justification in the climate of 9/11 and the panic it unleashed around the world.

The President’s rush to attack Iraq was based on his assumption that the outcome of such a war was never in doubt, because he figured it out that the Iraqi Military had been weakened by 12 years of sanction by the allied powers and the devastating effect of the Gulf War led by his father. That was why he very easily bought the statement credited to George Tenet that defeating Iraq was “a slam dunk” George Bush has had cause to believe that defeating Iraq was going to be a cakewalk and a sure guarantee for his reelection in 2004. He couldn’t care less about the cost of the War in cash and American blood, because he knew America loves a winner, and would stay the cause and finish the job. He was sure Saudi Arabia and Kuwait the two countries that feared Saddam the most, would be there for him, and that the gains to come from the fall of Iraq should far outweigh the losses, as the Iraqi limitless oil resources would now have to be at the beck and call of America under George Bush. It looked like a perfect plan, and since according to Bob Woodward, George Bush does not entertain any doubt, once he makes his plan, he went after Iraq without paying too much attention to details and without developing an exit strategy, if for some reason, the whole enterprise turns into a quagmire like it did.

George Bush did not wish to go down in history as one of a few candidates to become president through the logic of the Electoral College votes by losing the popular vote to Al Gore by more than half a million votes. He had promised to be a uniter, he has ended up being the great divider. He promised to manage the finances of America in such a way that the surplus left by Clinton would quadruple in four years. The last time I checked. The surplus had totally disappeared. America’s Budget is back in the red again. He had promised to clip the wings of the UN and to force them to live up to the goals of their founding fathers or to go it alone if the UN would not go along. But the whole plan seemed to have backfired big time. George Bush is today crawling back to the UN to literarily begging the UN to bail him out of the quagmire in Iraq. He initially talked of limited Sovereignty for Iraq in the first few years of American leaving Iraq. Now it is going to be full and unconditional sovereignty because George Bush is feeling the heat. None of his expectations and calculations have turned out to be true, because George Bush had not grasped the immortal admonition of his self chosen mentor, Winston Churchill who had, years ago, warned that “the problem with allies is that they do also have their own ideas” or choices which may not always tally with the preferences of the only elephant in the room.

The greatest problem of George Bush, in my judgment, is that he himself has been a bigger flip-flopper than the man running against him, John Kerry. The problem with Kerry is his inability to take full advantage of Bush in a time of War which was the same constraint I highlighted at the opening paragraphs of this article. George Bush could conceivably turn the table against Kerry by using his limitless War chest to blackmail Kerry as endangering the life of American soldiers who are busy fighting a war. Kerry as a decorated War hero, knew up close and personal, how his criticism of George Bush’s handling of the War could possibly impact the fortunes of innocent American soldiers in the Battle front. He also instinctively knew that once the war has started, it made no sense for America to retreat without finishing the War. He understood perhaps better than George Bush that “cutting and run” was not an option for America, given the issues at stake Internationalizing the War against terror and recognizing that allies and other countries do have their own choices and preferences which may be different from those of America, was a reality that America cannot wish away. The point that Kerry is forcefully but quietly making is that there are other ways to do what Bush is attempting to do. The American voters know that for a fact, and are going to let that be their guiding principle in deciding next November, which of the two candidates is better able to implement a change of policy and direction without throwing out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. That is what I call the ingenuity and the uniqueness of American Politics

I rest my case.

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1 comment

Adeniran Adeboye October 7, 2006 - 1:41 am

Passionate analysis. We need a reference to the comment attributed to Harold Wilson about Obafemi Awolowo. Many people bring up that comment, but a number of people challenge its authenticity.


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