Bush versus Kerry: Lessons Learnt for Liberia?

By Theophilus Totee Bettie


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 10, 2004

You would probably agree that anyone who closely followed the recent U.S. presidential election, especially those famous presidential debates, would confess that the intellectually superior candidate lost. Some of us are still pondering: how could fifty nine million Americans be so wrong? How could a president, whose modus operandi is characterized by myopic responses to complex issues, be allowed a four-year lease renewal on the world’s premier real estate? How could a supposedly sophisticated electorate settled for less?

Notwithstanding the wishful thinking of candidate Kerry’s supporters and sympathizers (this author included), it is worth emphasizing that the system worked. In a democracy, while it is true that the rights of the minority are protected, it is the will of the majority that reigns. Those of us who prematurely jubilated over a Kerry’s victory have rapidly sobered to the realization of four more years with Bush. More than a hundred and twenty million Americans voted and not a single shot was fired. What a beauty!

For us Liberians, the question becomes: are there lessons to be learnt from the recent U.S. presidential election? Without a doubt, the answer is an unequivocal yes! Not only are there lessons to be learnt but those of us who witnessed this exercise have a responsibility to teach, by examples, our less fortunate compatriots in Liberia. There are ample lessons to be learnt in civility, tolerance, and the necessity of placing the wellbeing of a country over personal aggrandizements. It is imperative that we borrow from these examples and seize the moment to have them transferred to our national stage.

A very important lesson that ought to be derived from the recent U.S. elections is the need to get involved. Those Americans who found themselves diametrically opposed to the policies of the Bush administration did not vent their opposition via barbaric means. Instead, they organized themselves into grass root organizations and worked assiduously at influencing the outcome of an election through democratic means. We Liberians in the Diaspora cannot escape some responsibilities for the current quandary devouring our motherland. For the most part, our actions (or lack thereof) have amounted to a participation in a conspiracy of silence. Instead of vociferously agitating against the ills of our society, we have opted to cocoon in these United States. Our lack of involvement in the political affairs of our country is one of the reasons why in Liberia we have the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty, and scarcity in the midst of abundance. We owe it to our generation to make complacency in the presence of injustice an experience of the past. If we ever needed an excuse, the unsatisfactory conduct of the Liberian government under the Chairmanship of Mr. Bryant provides ample justifications for the need to get involved.

Although the Liberian tradition considers it disrespectful to confront an elder, we must make an exception. Those elders who, through their direct involvement in past administrations, have directly contributed to the current plight of our country must indeed be confronted and challenged. This is becoming increasingly imperative considering the audacious manner in which these recycled politicians, most of whom have outlasted their usefulness, are once again attempting to seize our national agenda. We have an obligation to our generation to dominate this debate because it is our future that is at stake.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned, I must however caution that our disagreements with one another need not degenerate into the kinds of personal insults and character assassinations idiosyncratic of Liberian political disagreements. How we conduct this national debate is just as important as its outcome. The need to be tolerant of opposing views should serve as a sine qua non of such political discourse. Even though the Liberian colloquial seems to connote that being in opposition means literally opposing any and everything emanating from your opponent, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. As we recently witnessed in the U.S. presidential election, it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. In spite of the venomous campaign between candidates Bush and Kerry, there were numerous instances when they agree on issues.

Based upon their voting preferences, political commentators have recently dichotomized the American electorate into “Blue-states: Red-states”. If such caricatural representation is of any relevance to the soon to be Liberian experience, we should brace ourselves for more than a “Blue-state: Red-state” divide. Judging from the plethoric number of political parties and presidential candidates in Liberia, we are likely to have our equivalent of Blue-states, Brown-states, Red-states, Green-states, and God knows what else. In my opinion, what are more important are not how many candidates we have but our ability and willingness to ensure that the electoral process is free, fair and transparent. Unlike most of my colleagues, I mockingly celebrate the multitude of individuals declaring their intention to contest the Liberian presidency. I disdainfully say, the more the merrier. The more candidates we have, the more T-shirts would have to be bought, the more bags of rice, club beer, cane juice, … (you get my drift). The current festivities that accompany the arrival of presidential candidates into Liberia bears testimony to the fact that we are about to witness a spending bonanza in our country never before seen since the lavish days of President Tubman. Who are the likely beneficiaries of this massive spending? Ordinary Liberians who normally wouldn’t be allowed within an earshot of some of these candidates, least to mentioned being “wined and dined” by them.

Whatever our political preferences may be, we do justice to our country by being reminded that if fifty nine million Americans could be “so wrong”, then surely it is possible that given free & fair elections, most Liberians may also be “so wrong” by not voting for the candidates of one’s liking. Would we have the intestinal fortitude to accept defeat? Are we prepared to embrace this reality without crying foul and resorting to violence? I sincerely hope so.

About the Author: Theophilus Totee Bettie is a Yale Alumnus and a Fulbright Scholar. He holds a M.A. in International and Development Economics and a M.BA. in Finance. Mr. Bettie is also Chairman of the Friends of Brumskine – USA Political Advisory Council. He can be reached at ttbettie@comcast.net