I can remember during one of my recent trips to Africa being asked by an African Pastor “Republicans and Democrats, what is the difference?”. I vividly recall my initial reaction upon hearing this question. My first thoughts were “how can a person not know the difference between the two groups?” and “what kind of a question is that?”. Then, in my self-focused analysis, I thought to myself, “how can we have a serious conversation about politics if he doesn’t even know the difference between the two groups?”.
Now, you may be reading this article and thinking at this point, “how could anyone not know this?” or, “everyone should know the answer to such a question”. But, to you I say “do you know the difference between a Kikuyu and a Luo?” At this point, you may be asking “what are they?”. My point is, the difference between these two tribes in Africa is as significant in African politics as is the significance of the difference that we in the United States perceive between Republicans and Democrats.
So, imagine being asked such a question. Having a clean slate on which to influence a person’s opinion and thoughts about the two major political parties in the United States. Knowing and understanding that your answer will become a point of reference for this person in their opinion for the rest of his life.
To be honest with you, after getting over the initial and more simplistic emotion of thinking to myself “here’s my chance to stick it to the other party”, I began to realize the depth and gravity of the moment. After thinking a few moments, I repeated this pastor’s question out loud in order to give myself more time to think and formulate an answer. During these few moments I began thinking to myself how wonderful and refreshing it was to be talking to someone who isn’t caught up in all of the debate and controversy surrounding American politics. Then I thought, “I don’t want to change the innocence of this fellow’s understanding of American politics”. Then, it hit me, “how do I answer this question?” At this point, the reader needs to understand that I am no novice when it comes to politics. In 1984, while in graduate school, I was actively involved, as a student volunteer, in the State campaign of a particular candidate running for Governor of West Virginia.