The Conversation

South Africa Journal: The Pettiness of Distance

The past two weeks in South Africa have provided an opportunity for me to catch up with local politics. From afar, it has often looked quite petty, as personality conflicts and the peculiar Kremlinology of the ANC capture national attention. Though I remain immersed in U.S. politics, even while overseas, from a distance it leaves the same sordid impression: a clash of characters often unequal to the principles at stake and the tasks at hand.

The fight over Duck Dynasty was, no doubt, an important milestone in the battle against political correctness. Yet for nearly two weeks the country's politics seemed dominated by one man's description (albeit graphic) of his sexual preference. The ongoing collapse of Obamacare provides a kind of dull vindication at best. The fight between the establishment and the Tea Party is real, and consequential--but also, in part, sad and unnecessary.

From a distance, the broader trends seem more compelling. Here in South Africa, the quiet tragedy is that while the ANC's dominance is unraveling, the constitutionalists of the Democratic Alliance may not be able to take full advantage, and the radical statists of the misnamed "Economic Freedom Fighters" party are ascendant. Indeed, by the time the ANC eventually cracks (as it probably will), the far left may emerge as the primary beneficiary.

Looking at the U.S. from abroad, the salient fact is that President Barack Obama has been stopped--or slowed, at least--by the Tea Party victory of 2010, and will slow even further in 2014, despite re-election in 2012. The question that remains is who will lead the country when its silly adventure through utopia winds down. It is as much a question about the kind of leadership they will provide, as who, in particular, they will turn out to be.


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