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Politically discombobulated

CHRIS BURNS

Monday, October 15, 2012    

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THERE are certain happenings, words and sayings that never leave one's mind, no matter what or how infrequently they happen, are used or said. The transitive verb "discombobulate" and its sister noun "discombobulation" come readily to mind. One of my former history teachers at St Mary High School was fond of using these words interchangeably, but without error. The words just magically rolled off her tongue the way "fundamentally" rolled off Michael Manley's lips.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, several of us fell in love with the words, and as to be expected after learning new words, we went to town using them at every chance, without regard to the fact that we often committed the sins of malapropism. Webster's Dictionary (2nd Edition) defines "discombobulate" thus: "to confuse, disconcert; upset or frustrate..." Yet, so in love were we with those two words that in answering a simple question about his diet, one classmate went all-out to use the word to describe the contents of his dinner and his post-meal experience to an entire class of about 40.

Although slightly paraphrased, his description of his dinner went something like: "Well, Miss, I had a big bowl of peas soup last night. The red peas and the pimento seeds jostled for position on my spoon. And, even though salt beef and pig's tail were scarce, yellow yam, dasheen, sweet potato, and cartwheel cornmeal dumplings took pride of place. Miss, the ground provisions appealed to the discombobulation of the worms in my stomach. I innocently and effortlessly discombobulated up the whole place that even the cat ran." Poor teacher, she ruefully begged him not to add to the discombobulation his remarks had already caused, and urged him to take leave to relieve any pending discomfort he may be manufacturing. Luckily, he yielded.

However, that was mild in comparison to what happened to a former co-worker who, upon hearing and learning the word "hectic", was beside himself in using it to describe everything. I kid you not. George was so helplessly in love with the word "hectic" that, according to him, he "wore a hectic pair of trousers, had a hectic shirt, a hectic cup of coffee, with a hectic slice of bread to fill his hectic stomach for a long and hectic day". Well, like a clock that does not work, he got it right at least once a day. I heard someone sarcastically ask him, "George, how confused or frantic is your pair of trousers today?" To that, George responded, "Oh, not at all".

Excursus aside, two Wednesdays ago, Republican candidate Mitt Romney trounced President Obama in the first of three presidential debates in the run-up to the November 6, 2012 elections. Romney scored high by pursuing a strategy of political discombobulation; the aftermath of which continues to reverberate across the American political landscape. His performance has certainly helped to tighten the race nationally, as well as in key battleground states such as Colorado, Virginia and Florida. The jumping-jack strategy is not new, as politicians use it from time to time to present themselves as all things to all men. Creating political confusion can be a winning formula and some people are better at it than others are.

Sadly, in instances where politicians play hopscotch with the truth, and are equally fast and loose, voters are left with the messy end of the stick, since they cannot change their votes once cast. Fortunately, in some countries, such as the United States, "recall elections" offer voters a second bite at the apple. However, in many other countries, voters are stuck with their deceitful representatives for up to five years. Mitt Romney's positions on key issues such as abortion keep changing; and although he won the first debate against a sluggish President Obama, he could well find it difficult to govern should he win in November, because of the confusion he has created.

It does not require the involvement of rocket scientists to figure out how politically discombobulated some voters have become because of Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan's elusive and evolving stance on these critical social and economic issues. Still, it is not only in the US that political discombobulation is practised. it happens here in Jamaica. Our politicians send confusing messages and stridently articulate positions they once opposed before assuming office.

For even if mildly different, the action by parliamentary freshman, Raymond Pryce, MP for North-East St Elizabeth, to remain seated was immature and unnecessary as others stood in acknowledgement of Edward Seaga's presentation during the special sitting of the House of Representatives to honour the former prime minister for his contribution to Jamaica's development. Pryce's behaviour ran counter to his respect for protocol and the civility that I know he stands for; it also betrayed the efforts of his party leader and prime minister to lift the standard of behaviour of parliamentarians in and outside of Parliament.

It was certainly politically discombobulating to hear freshman Pryce wiggle his way out of what was an uncouth reaction to someone he obviously dislikes, if not personally, politically. We cannot always render evil for evil. Mr Seaga has uttered words about the people and place he claims to love that would chafe any heart, but his contribution to the development of Jamaica is significant. Yes, words matter, but the obviousness of certain actions is too glaring to ignore. Pryce knows quite well, and as Dr Martin Luther King Jr so eloquently said, "the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy".

Burnscg@aol.com

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