“I think it’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general.”– President Barak Obama-November 2013.
Like most Diaspora subjects, I straddle two spaces-home and Diaspora. I am a product of two existences without the double consciousness of looking at the world and at myself through the eyes of the world outside me. I look at the world and myself through my own eyes. So to extend W.E.B Du Bois, the first-rate African-American thinker and one of my intellectual and moral sources, my consciousness is true and real.
This true consciousness is both a privilege and a burden. It is a privilege when I do not view myself through the eyes of the world surrounding me. I view the world and myself through my own eyes. I commit this mode to my children too. I tell them: see yourself through your own eyes and see the world through your own eyes. It is a form of subjectivity. In other words, I rest my consciousness as a Diaspora subject on a carefully, and critically self-chosen subjectivity. This allows me to be blunt -without being defensive-with my two existences and especially with myself and the part of my heritage that needs redeeming.
But Diaspora consciousness can be a burden for you are constantly comparing one space with the other. Sometimes this is unnecessary. Sometimes it is necessary depending on how you see yourself. But whether it is necessary or not depends on a lot of factors, one of which is your perception of your social and moral responsibility, duty and obligation to the world and your society.
So my topic this week is what the Nigerian President –Goodluck Jonathan -without surrendering his Nigerian-ness -can learn from President Barak Obama. In view of the instructive manner President Obama has handled the difficult challenges of his signature policy the Affordable Health Care Act-called ObamaCare, I call what the Nigerian President can learn the burden of leadership and the unwritten but given moral obligation of a leader to his people. I have chosen this topic this week because I think that there is something in the Barack Obama Presidency in the last two troubling weeks, which President Jonathan can learn from. I will illustrate.
This past week has been an especially difficult moment for the Barack Obama Presidency. This is it. The distinction between democratic and republican parties in America and the world is their commitment or lack of it to the most vulnerable (socially speaking) sections (working people, disadvantaged, physically challenged, old people, women, children) of society. Most conservative parties (The Republican party is an example) are less committed to and sometimes not committed to strong social policies that support the most vulnerable in society.
On the other hand, most social democratic parties (the Democratic party is an example) and their presidents are committed to social policies that tend to defend these sections of our community. One of such policies is access to health care. Thus the ObamaCare is a moral obligation to the most vulnerable sections of the American society. But this is an obligation that was almost bungled through a technical mishandling of the policy.
The American government website healthcare.gov through which people are supposed to register for the ObamaCare suffered an embarrassing technical hitch. The result? Many Americans who wanted to register could not. Previous health insurance were canceled contrary to President Obama’s pledge. Even when for purely economic and profit reasons insurance companies are not naturally enthusiastic about a health policy that may make them to be more responsive to the needs of the insured, the bottom line is that the buck stops on the table of President Obama when and if anything goes wrong. And as an American he knows it. No questions. No argument. Consequence? Due to the website technical problem, whereby people could not register for the ObamaCare, a moral gap was artificially created between what President Obama said and reality.
Even when unforeseen circumstances do affect the implementation of a policy and what someone said, true leaders do not back off from what they said especially in a situation where the moral worth of the enunciated policy remains intact and untouched despite the technical glitches of implementation. True leaders do not deny their word. They stand by it. This is what Obama has done. And he acknowledges the moral gap (artificially created, but he does not pass the buck) between what he said in the past on his signature policy and the reality during the implementation of the policy.
And as a true leader he accepts and takes the responsibility. First, he has not passed the buck. He says literally “throw all the dirt on me… I will take them… it was caused under my watch, I promised, I need to fulfill the promise…” Second he said the American people he leads deserve better. Third, he admitted “with his own mouth” (permit my Nigerian lingo) that he must win back some credibility on the health care law. This is strength-moral in all its nuances.
My family is one of the numerous Nigerian Diaspora. My family read and listened to President Obama in the last two weeks on the challenges of implementing his health care signature policy. We learnt what leadership is all about. We thought about Nigeria. We thought about President Jonathan. We thought about Nigerian governors. We thought about contemporary Nigerian politicians. As Nigerian Diaspora we came to the conclusion that President Jonathan and other Nigerian politicians have a lot to learn from the way true leaders and Presidents -like Obama- handle difficult moments in the lives of their countrymen and women.
Leaders do not pass the buck like President Jonathan does. Leaders struggle to fill a moral gap between what they have said and reality when this happens unlike what President Jonathan does. The relevant question here is: When last did President Jonathan apologize to Nigerians on a problematic policy of his?
The strength of a leader is moral. The ethical is what endures, nothing else endure. Leaders work hard to earn moral credibility for their policies and win it back if there is an unanticipated moral deficit as it is the case with President Obama in the last one week. This is a profound but accessible moral strength. Can President Jonathan learn from this? Will he? I commit this to you from the Diaspora.
Adeolu Ademoyo email@example.com is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.