Season of political trial by debate

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, October 19, 2012    

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WHO REMEMBERS a time when politics in this here Jamaica was marked by such intense rivalry that the country became like a war zone? Guns were fired and blood flowed as the two armies - JLP and PNP - fought, often literally to the death for territorial rights. It is not exactly a love-fest between the two factions these days, but at least political violence has almost disappeared. The pity is that murderous rage has turned elsewhere...but rest that for now.

During one of the times of intense battle in the past, I recall saying - and more than once - why can't we live like they do in America, where Republicans and Democrats would rather debate than kill over issues? More often than not, according to my theory, Americans united rather than divided when it came to their nation's best interest and that is why they are so strong. Simplistic? These days, there is not so much hand-holding and singing of "Kumbaya". This is the season of political trial by debate.

It seems unbelievable that it is almost four years since Mr Obama's election brought such joy to many, all across the world. I still have my T-shirt and campaign buttons, gifts from friends Over There who delighted in the hope and dreams for a new age. Almost four years later, Mr Obama has far more grey hair than when the journey started. The radiance of his smile is diminished. He is fighting for his political life, hounded by an array of unremitting foes. He learned all too soon that "a prophet is not without honour save in his own country". It is said the campaign to bring him down was launched the very night he was celebrating his ascendancy. Now, as the campaign is reaching its peak, he has to endure trial by debate.

MR OBAMA lost the first round because he was deemed not aggressive enough. He let his opponent jump on him like a World Wrestling Champion leaping off the ropes with one intention - to slam him into the canvas. Whether the challenger's attack was based on fiction rather than fact was immaterial. The ratings of the audience of millions reflected the old maxim: "Nice guys finish last." Mr Obama later admitted that he had been "too polite". He vowed not to facilitate a repeat and lived up to his word in Round Two. He came out punching. There were no smiles on Tuesday night.

Mr Romney took on the avenger role, moving into Mr Obama's space like he was ready to throw punches. Mr Obama kept clear of the ropes this time and landed some telling blows of his own. The evening ended with the president winning by a narrow margin. Like it or not, a win is still a win. The gloves are now off. With one more round to go, it will be do or die as political trial by debate heads for the closing round.

All too soon, the last punch will be thrown, manipulation over, the final promises made...Challenger and challenged will face the ultimate showdown and leave the debating ring for what's next. Boxing match or leadership race? Friend of mine, now a citizen of the USA, has been doing her bit for democracy, going door to door as part of a team encouraging others to be registered and exercise their voting rights. She found many people indifferent - or perhaps just plain punch-drunk from the effects of a battle which has come to appear too long, too much for too little.

Another contact of mine Up There says he's weary of it all. There has been too much ugliness, too much bitterness, none of which he has experienced in US politics before. He said it has helped him to have a clearer vision of the future. Media is having a field day with analyses and commentaries, from the incisive to the inane. It is hard to beat the doe-eyed, toss of the shoulder-length extensions, TV talking head who asked, with more than a hint of disingenuity, "After the final debate, will the Obamas have to go house hunting for a new place to live?" She didn't ask the same about the Romneys. It's that kind of game.

LOOK YAH NUH, we have our own problem, yuh hear. Dengue season is putting heavy pressure on the already stretched public health sector. The Ministry of Health "could preach like Paul", asking we the people to play our part in keeping our surroundings free of "room and board" for the dreaded Aedis Aegypti mosquito, the enemy of the day. Yeah-yeah. Who's listening? It's far easier to cuss de govament.

DISASTER OF THE WEEK: What if you were awarded a national honour and didn't know it? What if you found out only after your name had been announced at the grand ceremony where you were declared "unavoidably absent". How would you feel if you weren't present to answer because you didn't know you had to be there? "Riddle-mi-dis and riddle-mi-dat /Guess me dis riddle and praps not". True or false? Unfortunately, true. Ask a prominent member of the diaspora family who is still reeling from the shock.

CONGRATS, COLLEAGUES: I have to hand it to two of last Sunday Observer columnists for being worthy of nuff respect. Tamara Scott-Williams, take a bow for the piece on Chris Gayle and the role of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in having him restored to the West Indies cricket team. Well-researched, well-written, well-readable.

Claude Robinson was "in 'im ackee", highlighting the reconvening of the National Council of the Partnership for Transformation. How many people actually remember that such an entity existed? It disappeared from the radar some time ago and nobody missed it. Lest we've forgotten, it is supposed to be an amalgam of representatives of Government, Opposition, private sector, trade unions, academics and leaders of civil society, committed to civilised discourse (I assume), all of whom (Claude writes) "are central to taking and implementing decisions which can give hope to a society where this is a scarce commodity".

It is instructive that during the time that the group was out of sight, nobody clamoured for its return. Now the PM is trying to get it back on track one more time. Whose interests will be paramount? "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, tief?" I must tell you I'm beginning to get a little fearful when I see the growing fleet of luxury cars, the monthly bank payments for which are more than what some workers take home in months...if they're lucky. Insensitive or smart business? You can bet our IMF minders are looking at why some live in absolute luxury while others starve. Time for a debate?





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