On the last legs of her ten-day trip to sub-Saharan Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the US to Nigeria. Speaking generally about the need to lift the shroud of illegitimacy that often covers elections on the sub-continent—rather notably, in the disputed 2007 vote that seated current Nigeria president Umar Yar’Adua—Clinton told a town hall in Abuja, the Nigerian capital:

In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for President was the governor of the state. So we have our problems too.

Predictably, conservative proponents of American exceptionalism soon accused Clinton of airing US dirty laundry in public, suffering from "Bush Derangement syndrome," and even harboring “moonbat conspiracy theories” about the Florida recount (as though slander about Clinton and her husband aren’t hard currency on the right).

To be clear: The secretary didn’t accuse Bush the junior of anything; she made a statement of fact. Jeb Bush *was* responsible for certifying the results of the election that featured his brother. This isn’t the same thing as 20th century African cronyism and clannishness, wherein nepotism in private and public dealings is rampant, and free elections and fair political succession are considered an inconvenient liability by those seated at the levers of power. (For an example of the public-private revolving door, note that flashy Nigerian tycoon Aliko Dangote, who "controls much of Nigeria's commodity trade, including rice, salt, cement, textile, vegetable oil and sugar,” last week became head of the nation’s stock exchange.)

But, as with the gracious hostess who drinks from the finger bowl to make the badly-behaved guest feel better—the secretary of state probably made the point to help the patrons of Nigeria’s unruly democratic apparatus feel less bashful about their subpar ethical performances.

What’s more, Clinton went on to cite America’s positive example in this arena:

In my country the man that I was running against and spent a lot of time and effort to defeat, asked me to join his government. So there is a way to begin to make this transition that will lead to free and fair elections in 2011.

Here’s hoping.


Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.