Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Challenging Hillary and Obama

Challenging Hillary and Obama By Edwin Madunagu

LET me start with a confession. I would have written this article several weeks ago, but for fear. Yes, fear - or something close to it. The subject is the forthcoming American presidential election which, because of the critical place of primaries in the process, can be said to have even started. My position on this matter is, to put it very midly, that there is no reason for us to be excited or emotional about the possibility of a blackman or a woman becoming the President of the United States of America - for the first time. I had feared that this position would be unpopular even with most of my remaining comrades. I was simply not in the mood to provoke another round of private rebukes.

On the other hand, there was no way I could "water down" this strong feeling that we are being diverted by an exercise whose result would make little or no difference - one way or the other - to the conditions of the wretched of the earth" - be they nations, peoples or individuals. So, I decided to shelve this article and rather continue to follow the interest generated by the historical possibility of either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton succeeding George W. Bush as American President in January 2009. I also decided to continue to follow the primaries and the debate on the relative chances of these two "makers of history" and the desirability of victory for one or the other. I watched as sharp divisions started to grow in the ranks of those who hope for a "historical change" in America. With time there appeared, in the Nigerian media, "Obama supporters" and "Hillary supporters". I continued to hope that something would happen to dissolve my fear of intervention.

As I waited I remembered what Samir Amin once said, namely: that there are no "separate Democratic and Republican parties". He recalled that Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, joked that what existed in America was "two single parties". Amin explained further: "Vote Republican, vote Democrat, it makes no real difference when your future does not depend on your electoral choice but on the uncertainties of the market". Nyerere and Amin were referring to American voters. But their conclusion applies even more forcefully to most of the people living outside America. I am not sure the term "two single parties" obeys the rules of English grammar. But historically and politically, it is an appropriate term.

The United States of America entered the Vietnam War in 1946 - after World War II. It entered the war as an ally of the colonial power, France. Harry S. Truman a Democrat, was the American President. The Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, wrote a passionate letter to President Truman urging him not to support the French but to extend the fruits of Hitler's defeat to the Vietnamese people. Truman ignored the letter. Ten years later in 1956, after the Vietnamese had defeated and humiliated the French colonialists in the battle of Dien Bien Phu, America took over the war. Dwight David Elsenhower, a Republican, was the president. John Kennedy, a Democrat, did not stop the war during his brief tenure as President (1961-1963). Lyndon Johnson, also a Democrat, who took over the presidency after Kennedy's assassination in 1963, did not stop the war. In fact the most savage battles of the entire war took place during Johnson's presidency.

Richard Nixon, a Republican succeeded Johnson. He too did not stop the war. The war came to an end under Gerald Ford, a Republican. The 1961 abortive invasion of Cuba, the "Bay of Pigs" invasion took place under President Kennedy, a Democrat, a genuine liberal and a Roman Catholic. The NATO war in the Balkans, led by Americans in the 1990s was directed by George Bush (Senior) (Republican), and Bill Clinton (Democrat). The First Gulf War was fought under Bush (Senior) (Republican), and continued by Clinton with unrelenting intensity throughout his tenure. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue after George Bush (Junior).
As I reflected on this segment of world history I continued to hope that an end to my fear would soon come. It came on Sunday, March 2, 2008. My fear vanished after reading an article posted in the internet. Written by an American, Kavila Mandini Ramdas, who is currently President of the Global Fund for Women, an organisation based in the United States of America, the article carries the title Leveraging the power of race and gender. The premise of the article is in its last two sentences: "What is at stake in this election is not merely the historic first that would be accomplished if either a black man or a woman became the next U.S. President. What is at stake is the fragile future of our shared world".

Before that, she had lamented: "There is something profoundly wrong when a conversation about qualifications to be President of the most powerful nation in the world ignores the reality facing most of that world's inhabitants". Reading through Ramdas' article, I saw that no self-respecting democrat or liberal in Nigeria or in America, would be able to publicly oppose her theses. The theses are "provocative", but they are not easy to oppose publicly. My fear disappeared and I recovered my voice.
My position on American elections has been the same since I become conscious of American imperialism. But with the emergence of the two "historic" Democratic contenders - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - I ask myself, again, if this position does not need a review. My answer is that, of course, it makes a difference - a symbolic difference - that either a woman or a blackman would become the Democratic candidate in the 2008 presidential election. But the real difference is the hope that for the first time, we have candidates, who, by the logic of their social and historical attributes, will be "naturally" inclined to challenge some of the worst inequalities that exist inside America or are promoted outside America by the rulers of America.
This expectation has so far, been unrealised in the campaigns of Hillary and Obama. Kavita demands in her article: "I want to hear from the woman running for President why being a woman and a mother matters to her and how it will inform her leadership. I want her to stand up for the millions of women who are not heard here or around the world. I want her to chat her course as the wisest, most humane President this country has ever seen, not to show us how much more macho she can have as our next Commander-in-Chief".

Further, Kavita says: "Women in the developing world are not re-assured when they see Madeleine Albright standing next to Hillary Clinton. They have not forgotten that this former Secretary of State, when questioned about the death of more than 500,000 children as a result of sanctions against Iraq, responded that 'this price had been worth it'. Kavita then urges "As a woman and a mother, Hillary Clinton could bring insights and perspectives no other President in U.S. history could have brought to the negotiating table of war and peace".
On Barack Obama, Kavita says: "Obama has his own powerful but underutilised tool: race. What prevents him, for example, from drawing analogies between the plight facing women - many of who live in subjugation simply by virtue of their gender - and the experience of slavery". Further: "What is happening when a truly multiracial candidate, whose first name means 'blessing' in Hebrew and Arabic, and whose middle name is Hussein, feels he must spend his moral capital proving his Christian credentials". She continues: "By owning the question of race on an international stage, Obama would have an amazing opportunity to reach out to people worldwide - who are in more need of hope than most American could imagine".

I hope that Kavita Ramdas speaks for many of us when she says: "As the stepson of an Indonesian Muslim and the son of a Kenyan and a white woman from Kansas, Barack Obama manifests what it means to be a global citizen"; and that she would like to hear from Obama that "when he looks at the United States or the world, what he sees are not Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews or atheists, but simply human beings desperate to be treated with dignity and respect."

In one of the editorials in its issue of March 1, 2008, The Economist warned that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were becoming "worryingly populist" in their economic policies. That is blackmail, clear and direct. The paper followed with this cynical analysis: "Democratic candidates always veer to the left during primaries because that is where the votes are. But come the general election, the winner will tack back towards the centre, where the crucial independent voter resides".

Blackmail and cynicism: That is the response of the mainstream Western media to Hillary and Obama. So, while we urge these historic candidates to become more radical, the "kingmakers" are saying that they have already gone too far! Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama still have the opportunity to make their appearance truly historic - whichever of them eventually emerges as the Democratic candidate and whether that person goes on to win the presidential contest, or not.