Obama Has Just Said He’ll Be A ‘Bull’ | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Comment, Opinion

Obama Has Just Said He’ll Be A ‘Bull’

Posted: Jan 15, 2016 at 10:44 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Tunji Ajibade

President Barack Obama will vacate the White House in about 12 months. Some people have therefore queued up, helping him to count

days. His former Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, is one. The Republicans are not left out; what with a certain billionaire, Mr Donald Trump, grabbing the headlines by saying everything that’s not politically correct. Some clap for him. A significant others in the US and in the UK are fuming. Even Clinton has said Trump puts

America at risk by making inciting comments about Muslims. Trump isn’t the direction I am going. It’s President Obama. Those who want his

seat now grab all the attention, but he has sworn to remain relevant until the last minute. It takes a bull of a president to achieve that objective in an election year, and he knows it. But he said he meant business, and he talked about some “unfinished business” in a New Year’s address. What all of that has done is remind everyone that it’s

getting close to the time the first African-American President will close shop.

Every president in his last year in office gives a fight. It’s because they worry about legacy. So, they struggle to remain in the picture as public attention shifts to those who desire to occupy the seat in the

Oval Office. This scenario generally turns presidents into lame ducks.

It was for that reason Obama returned from the last Christmas vacation to outline tough jobs for himself, his way of saying he would neither become lame, nor be a duck in the first instance.

The political space has its vocabulary. Every space, including each institution has its own, a reason I informed members of staff of a young institution during an empowerment training programme sometime ago that soon they would develop their own lexicon for internal communication. It’s never deliberate. It just happens; one word here,

one word there, and they catch. Lame duck is a familiar phrase in Washington DC, for instance. A lame duck is the office holder who is close to the end of his tenure. So, everyone helps him to count days.

With such weight, the office holder has less control over the direction of events as everyone looks beyond him with expectations.

The matter is serious for the politician in Washington DC. It is when it’s considered that lame duck officials exercise less power, not because they don’t have it, but because other elected officials have reasons not to fully cooperate. Nevertheless, lame ducks can do

serious damage, leaving behind, sometimes, a nation in tatters. A few of the things lame ducks do is implement decisions that are unpopular, or find jobs for their cronies by appointment. In 1801, for instance, President John Adams and the outgoing Congress created more federal judge seats. Adams appointed the judges and the Senate confirmed just

before the President-elect, Thomas Jefferson, took oath of office. On his last day in office, President Bill Clinton issued 140 pardons. The beneficiaries were fellow Democratic Party members. There were also

his own half-brother, two former close colleagues, and campaign donors. It’s all politics.

“Lame duck” was first used in 1761. That time, one creative mind at the London Stock Exchange who used it had referred to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts. When in 1791 a royal personage lost a huge chunk of money in stocks in England, it was society gossip that her name was to be posted up as a lame duck. Anyway, in the more ordinary

usage, lame duck is the duck that won’t keep up with the flock and is therefore an easier target for predators. Lame duck had thus been in popular use long before it was linked to politicians in the 1800s. In the US, November when officials are elected and early the following year when they are sworn in is generally known as the lame duck period.

When a president gets a Congress that’s so bipartisan that he doesn’t get anything to move, he becomes a lame duck. But a president who gets

a second term is also sometimes regarded as a lame duck. That’s because he cannot contest anymore, and he therefore takes some decisions he wouldn’t have taken in his first term. This can affect

the fortune of his party, and it’s often the case in midterm elections when the party of the sitting president generally loses seats in Congress. Sometimes, his actions may cost his party the next

presidential election. Obama’s rating in opinion polls had not been so strong since he returned for a second term. How this plays out in the election this November shall be seen. But more than that is what he does with the remainder of his term. As things stand, he has vowed to fight, taking some tough actions. This will have effect on his party.

Some of what he plans to do at home are inevitable, others are forced on him from abroad. There’s the need to deal with Islamic State in the

Middle East, nurse the thaw in Saudi Arabia-Iran relations with its implication for stability in the region, manage the South China Sea imbroglio where China keeps claiming marine territories to the displeasure of everyone else in that axis, as well as North Korea that claims it detonates a hydrogen bomb just the other day.

At home, gun-related violence is an issue Obama promises to attack. Gun control is ever a problem in the US. The nation’s constitution makes it the right of any gun-loving citizen to buy and own one. That

way, every politician who tries to do anything about gun control is a lame duck. For the US gun lobby simply goes to Congress, and there the

matter ends. Occupants of the White House have thus learnt to do other fruitful things with their tenure. But bright red splashes continue to appear on the US map across the 50 states. One is shot dead today, 10 tomorrow, an entire family is dead on another, and someone with a skewed mind goes on a shooting spree, leaving dozens dead in his wake

on yet another day. It’s a regular story, and each time the number one politician in Washington DC has to go out and say, Sorry, to

Americans. Obama’s friend was among one of those gunned down weeks ago, and he had had to leave his seat to deliver an eulogy at his funeral. In a New Year’s address, Obama listed fighting gun violence

as a resolution for his last year in office. He had sounded serious. A major piece of “unfinished business” was what he called the battle he

wanted to wage. This battle must be of epic proportion. That’s because fighting like a bull for gun control, never an outright denial of the right to own gun, is something we all have to spend the remainder of his term watch him do in a ring that has an unrelenting US gun lobby.

Gun lobbyists are ever that powerful. But they and the increasing gun-related violence have only given Obama something to fight for in his last year, thus causing Americans to keep an eye on him, not just

on the presidential hopefuls. This has been read by some to mean that Obama won’t be a lame duck in his last year in office. Well, White House thinks it finished strong in 2015, so it wants to build on the

momentum in 2016. It’s important Obama does. For if he looks good till election time and his party grabs the Senate from the Republicans, his achievements including ObamaCare will survive long after he’s gone.

That’s even surer if he utilises his executive power to do something significant about gun control, and if Clinton succeeds him. Above all, the need for a trusted successor is one other reason Obama is

determined not to sit down in Washington DC. He’s convinced he has earned enough medals in the last seven years to be an asset to Democratic Party’s candidates. He therefore intends to be on campaign

platforms, shoving the Republicans this way and that way with his oratory. This alone ensures no one will get to find and fix him with a “lame duck” sticker. That’s my way of asserting that the first African-American President has done creditably well, so he’s paved the way for more of his kind.