TranscriptCNN International Interview with Nigeria's President Obasanjo andUSAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu on Democracyand Security Issues

 

The Democratic Party stood fornothing in 2002 election cycle 
By JONATHAN ELENDU

Exclusive commentary for USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.comand NigeriaCentral.com


Last Tuesday, November 5th, was my birthday. Normally, it would havebeen a day to take things easy, toast a few drinks with friends andfamily and generally take time off to reflect. Instead it was a busyday becauseit was the mid-term election in the United States of America.

My day started with me taking off to Milan, a suburb of Ann Arbor. Itraveled with a Democratic Party operative in Michigan, Peter Morman.The Saturday before the Tuesday election, I had taken a similar tripwith a candidate on the ballot for the election. On the Saturday tripto the outskirts of Detroit, we rode with a group of volunteers fromMichigan State University in East Lansing.

The volunteers were three eighteen-year-old women who kept a livelyand continuos commentary on everything from American football tolatest dating tips, and periodically, I tried to interject politicsin the exchange. I was amazed at the level of their passion forheadline national events in the country. For purposes of disclosure,I will state that these were Democrats, or Democratic Partysympathizers.

The women were fiercely opposed to anything or anyone who wouldrepeal Roe Vs. Wade. They were against the impending war withIraq. They thought the tax cut neither benefited neither them noranyone they knew. And how did they feel about Affirmative Action?They talked about the skewed nature of the American society and howsome people are born into poverty and because of government policies,remain at that level until they die. Their children follow in theirparents' footsteps as they attend the worst schools, work minimumwage jobs (if they are even hired) and the cycle continues.

Iasked the candidate what he thought about the women's concerns? Heagreed with everything they said and lamented that his party, theDemocratic National Convention, DNC had abandoned the little people."Would you have voted against the tax cuts and the Iraqi resolution?"I asked. "Probably not," he replied. And why not? Because it is notoften a smart thing to do in politics, that is, to go against a verypopular and formidable President.

The Saturday conversation and my discussion with the Democratic Partyoperative earlier on Tuesday, November 5th, came back to me later inthe evening when a friend called me shortly after I settled down inmy favorite chair for what I thought would be a long night. My friendhad called me to ask what I thought the night would look like andwhom I felt would win. I told him the Democratic Party may win somegovernorship seats but would likely lose the Senate and some seats inthe House. "Why?" he asked.

The Democratic Party started hemorrhaging when Bill Clinton ran forthe Presidency for the first time in 1992. He made Republican Partyissues his own. Since then, the blurring of Party lines by both sideshas been a continuous process. Often people cannot tell what theparties stand for and how they differ, except, of course when theextremists on both sides are on stage. Fortunately, or unfortunately,the leadership of both parties has very few clear-cut partisanthinkers in their fold. Simply put, the parties have morphed andAmerica is on a conveyor belt to a one party state. I know it's astretch to say that America stands to become a one partydictatorship, however, it is an idea worth pondering, especiallygiven the way the opposition collapsed after the tragedies ofSeptember 11, 2001.

The Democratic Party lost control of the Senate on Tuesday night. ThePresident's Party won. This came as no surprise to anyone, who hasbeen watching the political trends in this country for a while. TheRepublican Party won for two reasons: The popularity of George Bushand the lack of a coherent message from the Democratic Party. Infact, George Bush's popularity arises from the lack of a message fromthe Democratic Party.

What do Democrats stand for? What is the Democratic Party's agenda ininternational affairs, economy, health care and other nationalissues? Nothing. The old cliché that if you don't stand forsomething you will fall for anything is true, even in this day andage. The Democratic Party stood for nothing in this election cycle.They abandoned long-held principles for political expediency. TheParty leadership was busy trying to protect their jobs at all coststhat is why they lost it. Ask Congressman Dick Gephardt (who hasdecided to quit his own leadership position).

Thisineptitude did not only cost them this election; it also cost themthe 2000 presidential election. Many pundits have argued that if AlGore had embraced core Democratic Party values in addition to runningon the economic legacy of the Clinton-Gore years, he would bePresident today. I agree with this assertion. I saw Gore a few weeksago campaigning for Jennifer Granholm, the Governor-Elect of theState of Michigan. Gore invoked Clinton's name more than five timesin a speech that lasted less than 12 minutes. This is something hewas unable to do when he ran for President in 2000.

It is ironic and indicative of the kind of manGore is that Bill Clinton's name was taboo during his campaign, yet,only a few years earlier he had stood on White House lawns andproclaimed Clinton one of America's greatest presidents. He distancedhimself from Clinton and he lost. Now in every speech, you hear about"my friend Bill Clinton," or "Clinton and I," over and over.

After the tragic incidents of September 11, 2001, the American peopleand indeed the whole world rallied around the American flag. President George Bush was given all the support he needed to goafter Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It was a solemn time and politicstook the backstage. The President, whose approval rating was at 51%on September 10, saw his approval-rating rise to over 90% a few dayslater. The Democratic Party leaders were intimidated by this suddenchange of events. Like any smart politician, Bush and members of histeam, led by Karl Rove, took advantage of the situation to push thePresident's agenda. The Democrats complained in their cloakrooms inCongress. They dared not speak out in public. George Bush and hispeople continued to clobber them. Anyone who opposed his policies wastagged unpatriotic.

It is curious that the hype of Iraq took a more prominent position asthe President's approval rating was dropping to realistic levels.Suddenly, Iraq became "so dangerous" that America had to go to warimmediately. The Democrats were caught off guard. Their consultantswere asleep at the switch. If they were alive to theirresponsibilities, they would have seen that coming. Karl Roveforewarned them. The President even told them shortly before he tookoffice that war was going to be his passion. Looking at thecomposition of his Cabinet, they should have seen this coming. IfSeptember 11th had not happened, Bush would have found a reason tostart something somewhere else.

Would George Bush start a war just because of elections? I don'tknow. But what is obvious is that the racheting up of the war chantsby this Administration a few months to Mid-term elections was nohappenstance. That Karl Rove, the President's political director,told Republicans to run for elections on National Security issuesmonths before the war rhetoric started was no coincidence.

Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle took the bait. They thought by rammingthe Iraqi resolution through the Congress they would have time todraw attention to domestic issues. They forgot to consult with thebase of the Democratic Party. The majority of those, who were up forreelection in the Senate and who voted for the war resolution, lost,including Max Cleland, a war hero who lost his two legs and an arm towar. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who was in a tight race forreelection, saw his numbers going up after he voted against the war.Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash with his wife, daughter andthree staffers a few days before the elections.

After Wellstone's death, people paid glowing tributes to him. Hiscolleagues on the other side of the aisle called him a principledman. He was a man who often voted his conscience. He was a liberaland in this climate where it has become a taboo to be called aliberal, he wore the title with pride. He stood for something andeven in death, he was appreciated and recognized as the conscience ofthe Democratic Party.

What do Democrats stand for? The Democratic Party is no longer theparty of the common people. They are as much in bed with corporationsas the Republican Party. The welfare reform of 1996 is a disasterthat needs to be corrected. The tax cut of 2001 largely benefitedGeorge Bush's friends.

As an economic policy, it has not worked. TheParty leadership should do a better job with the media. The liberalbias in the media is a fallacy hoisted on the country by RepublicanParty operatives. The American media has been unfair to liberals ingeneral and to the Democratic Party specifically and they should beheld accountable.

This loss is an opportunity for soul searching by the DemocraticParty leadership. For the Party to survive, it has to go back to itsroots. The common people and their causes should be paramount to theParty, or else many more nights like Tuesday, November 5, lieahead.
(The animation is derived from forgan high in Oklahoma).
Elendu is a contributing editor ofUSAfricaonline.comand NigeriaCentral.com.He writes everyFriday, exclusively for USAfricaonline.comArchiving of this essay on another web site is notauthorized; only web links are allowed.


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Impeachment process shows Nigerian democracy "is alive... being tested." Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the impeachment process shows that "democracy is alive, is being tested, and being tried.... What they (the legislators) have tried to do in the democratic way, which is not easy, would probably have been done by taking arms or by -- with bullets. So, but with democracy, of course, some people feel that this is the way this should be, and then I have an opportunity to defend myself. There is discussion. There is dialogue. There is a decision. There is fairness." He made these comments when he appeared on Tuesday September 17, 2002 on CNN International to discuss the issues of impeachment facing him, the allegations of corruption, abuse of the constitution and deployment of soldiers ina civilian environment which led to the "massacre of civilians" in Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue). On the charges by international human rights organizations and Nigerian media that his government has been involved in actions which have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the retired General gave a surprising answer. He was asked that "as many as 10,000 people, it's being reported, have been killed in Nigeria (in) communal rivalries, and the number is believed to be increasing. And people are saying that although President Obasanjo has done a lot of good for Nigeria, you're accused of not -- accused of failing to halt that spiraling violence." Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.


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