Lately I've been contemplating the value of giving one's word. Does it still mean what it used to? Do people even expect it to? And, for those who do, are we simply being naive?
As one who's always endeavoured to live by the 'my-word-is-my-bond' way of thinking, I'm disappointed whenever I fail because it means more than letting the other party down; it means I've let myself down, because this is what occurs when one fails to keep one's word. My thinking is this: don't promise something you know you're not in a position to do. Which is why I'm often dismissive of politicians, for example. To win votes, it's so easy to make all kinds of promises that, if they were being perfectly honest, they simply cannot fulfil. But such is the nature of politics, they say.
Still, when political promises are in fact kept, I'm always over the moon. This past week the newly elected People's National Party Government sought to make good on an election promise that they would tackle the problem of unemployment post-haste. I'm writing this before the intended Wednesday roll-out of the JEEP, but I'm assuming it actually came to fruition. Sure, there are a number of questions that will linger about it, but - and I don't know about how you feel about this-there's a lot to be said for making an effort. One of the things that those of us who admire and respect Barack Obama hold dear is the supreme effort he makes to do right by the American people. He may get a fight from the Republicans sometimes, but damn if he doesn't give it the old college try. He will be remembered for this. Ask any American citizen, however, what George H W Bush will always be remembered for and they'll tell you a) being the father of one of the most reviled American presidents, in the form of Dubya, and b) for the infamous utterance at the 1988 Republican National Convention when, as a presidential candidate, he formally accepted the nomination and promised, if elected into office, "Read my lips: no new taxes." Then he became president and of course went and raised taxes to reduce the national budget deficit.
Politicians are always remembered for the promises they break; the lies they tell. When that bond of trust with the people is broken, it's broken. As in a failed love affair, nobody remembers the good times; all that's remembered is the betrayal. Nixon's legacy is Watergate. George W Bush's, non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Let Bruce Golding tell you about his personal Waterloo: After the lies and shame of the Manatt Enquiry, all the king's horses and all the king's men - not even a new, young, and different crown prince - couldn't put Labour in power again.
What our local politicians don't get is that we aren't dolts. Well, most of us aren't, even if a few numbskulls making their prime time appearance on the nightly news cause it to appear that we are. Jamaicans are a savvy people: those who went far in school and those who didn't. We know that politicians aren't perfect people, and we're prepared to work with their flaws. We want our needs to be taken seriously by our elected officials and for them to do everything in their power to do what we elected them for. We will meet them halfway. We just want to see that they're trying. Until we see they're not. We don't want to be disrespected: don't tell us, for example, there was no foreign plane when we all saw the foreign plane hovering in the air on the video newsreel. Word is bond. Broken trust brings unexpected results at the polls.
This is why pretender to the throne, Newt Gingrich, shouldn't get all excited yet about becoming the next American president. We remember him from the time of President Clinton as being one eager to see the president impeached because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. How hypocritical, we thought, that Gingrich, who himself had had an extramarital affair, should be leading the charge to bring Clinton down. Fast-forward to now and Gingrich is looking to become the Republican presidential candidate. Obviously, nobody is saying that in order to be a good president one should be blameless. In recent days we've been titillated by some of the sordid details about his sex life while married to his ex-wife Marianne. What he did or did not do, and to whom, is not really the point. The point is that he was one of those politicians sanctimoniously spouting good old-fashioned family values when he did not believe in and practise them himself. "People want to hear what I have to say. It doesn't matter what I do," he is alleged to have told Marianne, after addressing a Republican women's group about family values, days after asking her for a divorce so he could be with the woman with whom he was having the affair.
Really, Newt? Listen, this is not about your personal life. It's about your character. About rank hypocrisy, which, by the way, the electorate can smell from a mile away. You want to run for the highest office, but if that's the way you feel - that you can do whatever you want, as long as you give the people pretty speeches - then why should they trust you to handle their affairs? I think, more than ever, the words of the late US politician Eugene McCarthy hold true, and all politicians, local and foreign, would do well to reflect seriously on them: "It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember."