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Elections not mere contest of egos


As a triumphant Barack Obama walked onto the stage in Chicago, his home town, to give his victory address after his re-election for the second and final term as United States President in the early hours of Wednesday, he did this to the accompaniment of blind African American singer Stevie Wonder’s 1970 hit Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.

Report by Conway Tutani

As the polls closed on the east coast the previous day, his Republican Party opponent Mitt Romney had boasted: “I have just finished writing a victory speech.”

A few hours later, Romney had to quickly change that speech from a victorious one to one of conceding defeat as Obama recovered ground to record a clear victory, leaving the Republicans in shock and disarray.

Yes, the final result in some ways epitomised that America has changed by delivering — for the second time — a black President. Of course, it was not essentially about race, but still one could not help but notice the significance of this as descendants of slave owners and those of slaves cheered the emotional moment, putting to shame such messages as one emblazoned on a T-shirt at a rally by Obama’s white rival Romney, which read: “Put the White Back into the White House”. But, gladly, racism did not carry the day. Obama’s tone was the correct tone. He projected himself as a national leader while not eschewing his black heritage or burying race as a non-issue in the US, because an issue it still is. But it is now far less a factor as compared to the 1960s when black civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr was felled by a bullet from the gun of a white supremacist in 1968.

Again, whites must have voted for Obama in significant numbers, though not resoundingly so. Look at the numbers, they speak for themselves: Whites  make up 75% of the US electorate, so he wouldn’t have won without their significant backing. Racism is still there, but it is no more institutionalised. The US Presidency is not a straitjacket. It is not restricted to or reserved for whites only. There has been some healing and acceptance that America does not solely belong to the whites, but to all its citizens. This is more so after people realised that what caused the financial meltdown of 2008 leading to massive company closures and job losses was corporate greed. Classism, not race, was/is now their biggest enemy.

Again tragic, but fortuitous things happen to boost politicians. Last week’s Superstorm Sandy — which killed over 100 people, destroyed homes and left whole sections of cities without electricity for days — in addition to being a natural disaster, allowed Obama to be presidential. Sandy sidetracked campaigns to the benefit of Obama and detriment of Romney as he could not be seen to be politicking on the disaster. It also showed the need for a strong central government to co-ordinate emergency measures as opposed to small government which his Republican rival Romney had been calling for. The natural disaster really refocused people and they voted accordingly. Said a political analyst: “Obama brought together the various structures of government to aid America in a time of crisis.” This became the electoral coffin for the Republicans.

Voters seem to have given Obama credit for his focus on the concerns of the middle class and underclasses. He has also moved to extricate the US from military engagements in Afghanistan and Iran, some of which have turned out to be misadventures in terms of lives and money. Said Obama in his victory address: “Anyone who fights for this country must never fight for a job when he returns home.”

But what really struck me was the graciousness of the loser, Romney, in quickly accepting defeat and congratulating Obama, the winner, who, in turn, was magnanimous in victory, immediately acknowledging Romney as having put up a fight, mostly a clean one, and pledging to consult him and the Republicans to make a deeply divided America work and move forward.

So, in the aftermath of this painful defeat, Republicans ought to do deep soul-searching if they intend to be a party that represents modern America. They must move with the times which demand inclusiveness, whether you are white, black or yellow, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican. And finality is in store because this is the last term Obama is ever going to serve as President whether there is unfinished business or not; no  shifting of goalposts. America is bigger than Obama. It will be there long after he is dead and gone.

This is the stuff civilised politics is made of, but sadly and tragically lacking in Zimbabwe. Politics — elections in particular — must not be nothing more than the contest of egos – it’s about delivery to the electorate, the people. People are asking for clean and fair elections – what’s wrong with that?

Said Obama: “You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours.”

Clearly, Zimbabwe has a distance to travel before the lessons of the US elections are learnt.

  •  ctutani@newsday.co.zw

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