Lessons in Democracy: Liberia and America



By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 6, 2005


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The United States of America is supposed to be the modern champion of democracy, although its cradle lies in ancient Greece. But as one lives and observes life in America, it becomes convincingly clear that the American public still has a lot to learn about this phenomenon called democracy; One has only to watch television to learn that America is “selling” the ideas of democracy to other countries around the world, as if she herself practices with a full commitment. Nothing could be further than the truth.

The ABC television show titled, “Commander in Chief” is about a woman who ascends to the oval office after the sitting president suddenly falls ill and dies. The woman, a former university lecturer, had served a term in Congress before being picked as a vice presidential running mate. His reason for picking a woman as a running mate was to win over the votes of “soccer moms”. The team was successfully elected and was in its first term when the tragic event occurred.

The president suffered a stroke and movers and shakers were thrown into motion immediately; they feared the worst – not only was the president expected to die a woman was about to become president of the United States. Well, in a “democratic” country where women make up about 51% of the population and many are as educated as men, why would that be a problem? But that is the troubling plot upon which the show is based.

The vice president was immediately summoned into the hospital bedroom of the sick and dying president. The president asked the vice president to resign her position because he did not feel comfortable leaving her in charge of the affairs of government. He said to her bluntly: “I want you to resign. I will not resign until you do.”

Why was the president making such a drastic request? After all, didn’t he handpick the vice president to be his running mate? Didn’t they both get elected on the same ticket, meaning everyone who voted for the president technically voted for the vice president as well? Well, here is their excuse: The president and the vice president did not belong to the same party. The vice president was an independent who was picked to give the president a shot at female votes. The rationale was that the vice president now could not carry on the legacy of the president and the aspirations of his party.

Although that was the official explanation, it was not lost on the logical mind that the true reason for all the fuss was much more sinister: The vice president was a lady and the nation was not ready for a lady president. She was being pressured to give up her right because she was simply a woman and the nation needed a strong male to sit in the oval office. Here is a paraphrase of what the Speaker said to her: “People who are not hungry for power have no idea what this job entails. You must be hungry for power to appreciate the position.” Imagine a sane man in a democracy uttering such insanity.

Well, the president died before the vice president was forced to resign. Upon the president’s death, the vice president refused to step aside. She took the oath of office to succeed the president. This set pandemonium throughout the halls of power and throughout America. Not only were the power brokers caught off balance, the American general population was equally shocked and dismayed. Surprisingly, women from all walks of life expressed the male sentiment: This country is not ready for a female president.

By the time the first episode ended, many key people had resigned; the trend continued in the second episode. Apparently, many did not want to work for a female president. The thing that boggles my simple mind is, if America is now the champion of democracy, why should the idea of an American woman becoming president of the United States such a far-fetched idea? If the United States is spending billions of dollars around the world to foster women’s rights, shouldn’t women have arrived at the pinnacle here already? The reality tells another story, according to public opinion.

ABC television is priming the American public for the eventuality of a female president. It has been suggested that the main aim of the show is to explore the hitherto taboo topic of a female presidency. The rationale is if the American public absorbs this piece of fiction, they’ll eventually be prepared to deal with a dose of reality when a real female presidential candidate is presented in the not-too-distant future.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Here is where Liberia comes in. Already we’ve gone past America in this important aspect of democracy. We have a very real and viable female contender in the Liberian presidential race. Her name is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s Iron Lady.

While America, the champion and self-described exporter of democracy, is still experimenting with such a basic idea, Liberia is ready to take that giant step that will make her the first in Africa (and one of few in the world) to elect a female president. Yes, electing Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will send a strong message to countries all over the globe that in order to practice democracy to its fullest, to reach its most fundamental core, we must equally involve everyone. No segment of the population must be excluded, if we must claim to practice true democracy. And to strategically exclude over half of the population from the top office is an absurdity that must be frowned upon.

It is time for the people of Liberia to bring this great experiment to fruition. It can be done and it should be done. We have an opportunity to teach other people this great but simple lesson. Women should be allowed to live their lives according to the capabilities, not limited by gender. That is the essence of democracy.

The legendary President Harry S. Truman said it wisely when he said: “The responsibility of great states is to serve and not to dominate the world.” Women can serve too; they can be genuine leaders. It’s time to honor the women of the world by giving them equal rights; that is a fundamental tenet of democracy. Liberia, here is your golden opportunity.