All is fair in love, war, and politics

All is fair in love, war, and politics

Henley W Morgan

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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All major religions carry the message of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus Christ, in Matthew 22: 37 - 40, King James Version, proclaimed the following: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Bryant McGill, in one of his quotable quotes, expressed this truism: “There is no love without forgiveness and no forgiveness without love.” That makes forgiveness an essential quality; the oxygen of human relationships.

The concept and practice of forgiveness is greatly tested and found lacking in some life experiences. The two most frequently cited are expressed in the popular saying, “All is fair in love and war,” meaning win by any means necessary with little or no regard for pain caused.

We are fast approaching a time when the age-old adage may be rephrased: “All is fair in love, war and politics.” Old grudges between rivals for political power do not easily die, and forgiveness is seldom a part of the equation that would solve the enduring conflict.

Article 11, Section 2, Clause 1 of the American Constitution represents an important departure from the tendency of the political machinery to be bereft of forgiveness, save and except for members of the particular political tribe. It states, inter alia, the president “shall have power to grant reprieves, and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”, thus giving to the holder of the office unbridled clemency power.

A pardon is one form of clemency power by which the president can completely set aside, one might say forgive, punishment for a federal crime.

There have been times when the power and discretion of the president to pardon has been extended toward high-profile individuals in politics. Possibly the most consequential of all such pardons was that extended in 1984 by incoming US President Gerald Ford to outgoing President Richard Nixon, who, although never charged with a crime, was convicted in the court of public opinion and left office in disgrace for his role in the so-called Watergate scandal.

Ford and Nixon belonged to the same political party. The pardon was controversial at the time for constitutional reasons. However, it never reached boiling point as it would have had they been political foes from opposing parties. It may not be long before the pardon power of the US president faces its sternest test.

There is growing debate led by figures such as former counsel, US House Judiciary Committee Michael Conway, about whether incoming President Joe Biden, a Democrat, should do the unthinkable and pardon an unrepentant and vindictive President Donald Trump, a Republican, of his many crimes before he demits office on January 20, 2021. Would the Joe Biden presidency survive such a magnanimous use of the clemency power?

President Trump may seek to pardon himself for federal crimes committed before, during, or after he leaves the White House. This is a risky proposition which has never been constitutionally tested. A safer bet might be for him to resign the office before the January 20 handover date. The presidency would pass to his Vice-President Mike Pence, who would then issue the pardon. This too carries some future political risks should either himself or the vice-president choose to run for the office in 2024. Better for him to be pardoned by the incoming president from the Democratic party, thereby avoiding the all-too-apparent shenanigans involved with the first two options and shifting the political risks to Biden.

There is no precedence for this level of forgiveness by a sitting president to his political nemesis. He, Joe Biden, may have the heart to do it, but the more natural tendency in politics is for partisan party supporters, in a manner reminiscent to Jesus's trial before Pilate, to shout: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

America may look to Jamaica for a rare example of forgiveness, approaching the biblical quality of grace and mercy extended to a political rival by the person sitting at the helm of the Government. In 2003 the UK Privy Council upheld a Court of Appeal decision that former Prime Minister Edward Seaga's companies, Premium Investments Limited and Town and Country Resorts Limited, were liable to pay the Government over $100 million for General Consumption Tax (GCT) and penalties arising from the failed Enchantment Garden property in St Ann. P J Patterson's reluctance to grab the opportunity to put the proverbial sword to the old political warrior is well known.

I have been reliably informed by someone who was present that, at a meeting of the People's National Party's (PNP) National Executive Council (NEC) held at Linstead, speaker after speaker, including ministers, called on Patterson to “lock him up” if Seaga failed to pay. Patterson, in his characteristic manner of staying above the fray, remained silent with legs crossed until the furore subsided. He then rose to his feet and spoke words to this effect: “Unnu done talk? Well, let me say this: As long as I remain prime minister and leader of this party, Her Majesty's leader of the Opposition shall not go to jail for a debt that he owes to Her Majesty's Government.”

The Jamaican prime minister does not enjoy clemency power as provided by the American Constitution to the president. But legal luminary and skilful tactician that he is, P J Patterson can find “different ways to skin a cat”, or for “the law not to be a shackle” as he would attest. So, the legal conundrum faced by Seaga was made to go away and hardly anything more was heard of the matter.

It is also not clear what, if any, political price Patterson may have paid for the “unmerited favour” shown towards his much-vilified political opposite. He left the political stage in 2006 without facing the electorate again and leadership of the party passed to Portia Simpson Miller.

The larger point, though, is that such magnanimity shown by a politician toward a political rival is rare.

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com


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