We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers!
Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster
ON second thoughts, perhaps I should describe what is happening now in American politics three weeks after the 2012 presidential elections not as an “epilogue” but as a “post-conflict” impasse. The elections are over; Obama won the Electoral College by a landslide and by a plurality of the American electorate the size of which is simply without precedent. The people have spoken and they spoke unambiguously, decisively. But the Republicans seem not to have got that message, much in the manner in which in post-conflict situations in many parts of the developing world, cessation of hostilities is just a pause that enables the defeated side to regroup in order to launch the next phase of the war. A battle has been lost, but the war continues. In this last essay in a series on the 2012 American presidential elections that began in this column two weeks ago, I wish to tease out some important lessons that we in Nigeria and other parts of Africa can learn from this epilogue to the 2012 elections, these post-conflict skirmishes between the Democrats and the Republicans.
Let us call the first lesson recognition of the fact that irredentism is the last refuge, the last redoubt of conservatives when they lose to more moderate or progressive parties and absolutely refuse to accept electoral defeat. For Nigerians to get a concrete grasp of what this entails, think of a scenario in which the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) and the Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) become the dominant political platform for, respectively, mainstream Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo politicians within the Nigerian ruling class parties. Everyone knows that for each of these groups - ACF, OPC and MASSOB - their three-point agenda is, first, the interest of their own ethnic/regional group; second, the interest of their own ethnic/regional group; and third, the interest of their own ethnic/regional group. Since Nigerian ruling class parties must necessarily campaign in all the states and regions of the country, they cannot openly and unambiguously adopt the respective irredentist platforms of ACF, OPC and MASSOB since to do so would spell electoral doom for them outside of their own region. Incredibly, this is the scenario that we confront now in the American political order after the defeat of the Republicans in the recent presidential elections.
Actually, in the last two or three weeks of the campaigns before the elections, Romney tried to move away from the extreme right-wing views of the so-called Tea Party movement. In the context of American politics, the Tea Party movement is the rough ideological equivalent of ACF, OPC or MASSOB. Of course, the Tea Party movement makes claims to embracing all racial and ethnic groups, but everyone knows that the movement is overwhelmingly dominated by white people of the type that, for the most part, still see America as a white, Christian nation. In many of Tea Party rallies, virulently racist whites openly displayed disparaging, hate-filled signs and placards about Obama. Additionally, the Tea Party movement sees America and unrestrained free enterprise capitalism as two sides of the same coin; any deviation from it, any tinkering with it is considered foreign to America, the work of “socialists” like Obama who, to Tea Party activists and ideologues, is after all not really an “American”.
In these times of great economic hardships for the vast majority of Americans, most people want government to intervene in the economy to keep the kind of unregulated capitalism that caused the meltdown of 2008 in check. They want government to create the conditions, the environment in which business and the economy will thrive again and unemployment will decrease. And in particular they want government to make the billionaires and corporations pay their fare share of individual and corporate taxes. These were the reasons behind Romney’s move away from the unpopular Tea Party positions in the last weeks of the campaigns. But because he had moved so far into the ideological embrace of the Tea Party, the majority of the American electorate could not and did not trust him.
With Romney’s defeat, the Republican Party has moved right back into these same Tea Party positions. Regardless of electoral defeat, the zealots of the party are, in their own words, bent on “taking back” America from Obama and the Democrats. “America”, in their thinking, is nothing other than first, the dominance of Whites over all other racial and ethnic groups and, second, free market capitalism without any constraints by government, with billionaires and corporations running the show. A battle has been lost, but the war is not yet over. For the next four years of Obama’s second term, this may well be the state of affairs that we will confront in American politics.
But this is not a foregone conclusion and herein lies the second lesson that we can extrapolate from the unfolding post-conflict impasse between the Democrats and the Republicans. In this second lesson, we must recognize that try as much as we want to ignore the facts of changing economic and demographic realities, these facts will ultimately catch up and deal with us. For after all, we are talking here of America, the richest country in the world, with the most advanced technological and scientific infrastructures in history, even if American dominance in all areas is being challenged by other nations of the world. The “America” that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party wants to “take back” is, historically and demographically, a thing that belongs to the past, a thing that is rapidly changing, just as the “Nigeria” that the ACF, OPC and MASSOB each wants to preserve is past, if in fact it ever existed.
“We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers!” This clamant assertion by one of Romney’s pollsters was one of the most outlandish expressions of the Tea Party grip on the Republican Party during the long campaign season for the 2012 presidential elections cycle. In the long run to the showdown between the Democrats and the Republicans in the general elections, first, the candidates in the Republican primaries had to battle it out amongst themselves before the eventual winner, Romney, had to fight it out with Obama. Under the scrutinizing gaze of the Tea Party, all the candidates in the Republican primaries tried to outdo one another in denying the facts of demographic shifts in the country, the facts of climate change, the facts of science with regard to the evolution of human society, and the facts of America’s declining economic and diplomatic hegemony in the world. One of the most absurd of these flat out denials of facts and realities was the one in which so-called “creationists” pronounced that the earth is not millions of years old as taught in evolutionary biology but is only a few thousands of years in age as decreed in the biblical creation myth. More banal were the denials of polls that consistently showed that Obama was leading in the swing, battleground states. This particular order of the denial of reality took so tight a grip on Romney and his surrogates that when defeat came rather swiftly on the night of the elections, they were in total shock. Indeed, reportedly, the Romney family is yet to awake, yet to recover from the shock of an apparently totally unexpected defeat borne out of a consistent denial of all the indications that they were going to lose.
But the moderate wing of the Republican Party has woken up from this ostrich-like flight from facts and reality. The reason for this is simple: survival instincts. This moderate wing of the GOP recognizes all too clearly that if the party does not adapt to the changing historical and demographic realities of the country, the party will remain permanently non-competitive in all future presidential and congressional elections. Thus, something of an ideological civil war is looming within the party. As the Tea Party wing of the party applies itself unrelentingly to what it calls “taking back” the country from Obama and the Democrats, the moderate wing of the GOP is readying itself for taking back the party from the Tea Party fanatics. The catch here is that every pundit, every commentator recognizes the fact that the Tea Party faction is much stronger than the faction of moderates within the party.
Contemporary American politics presents all of us in Africa and the world with perhaps an unprecedented scenario in which one of the two ruling class parties in a rich, technologically advanced nation is dominated by a strong faction that is openly and militantly opposed to national and global trends towards multiculturalism, progressivism and cosmopolitanism. The equivalent in Europe is a scenario in which the conservative parties are dominated by the far right, xenophobic “National Front” parties. The equivalent in our Nigerian context is a PDP, an ACN and an APGA completely dominated respectively by the ACF, the OPC and the MASSOB.
Among the many developments that are likely to arise from the present American conjuncture, I would like to conclude with two. In one probable scenario, the Democrats will continue to expand their plurality and will win all national and presidential elections for at least the next decade while the Republican Party searches for its soul in the political wilderness. In the other scenario which, by the way we have encountered several times in 20th century European political history, the far right factions become so strong that they overdetermine national and international politics towards xenophobia, national chauvinism and, ultimately, warfare. For America and the rest of the world, much is riding on the Democrats finding the will and the strategies to expand their newfound plurality on the basis of economic justice, peace and progress - at home in the United States itself and at large in our world.
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