Monday, April 22, 2024

PEOPLE & THINGS: Monstrous perversion of common sense Part II

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THE PRECEDING ARTICLE presented a somewhat peculiar suggestion that appears to have caught the interest of political thinkers who would now logically ask “how?”  

As such it is now proper that an analysis of the mechanisms or tools employed by a leader to become the “most successful” be undertaken in the context of 21st century Barbados. One of the characteristics of an immature democracy is the paucity of scholarly analysis of leadership types and the impact individual styles have on the development of the office of prime minister.

In the United States, the maturity of their democracy is such that this type of analysis is popular and it is fortuitous that in my pursuit of political science at the advanced level, Mrs Rosemary Alleyne introduced me to the perspectives of Erwin Hargrove and James Barber who established two important categories of president there.

These were the presidents “of action” or “active presidents” and presidents “of restraint” or “passive presidents”. Moreover, within each broad category there can be sub-categories to reflect the fact that neither category is necessarily “good” or “bad” since there can be “active-positive” and “active-negative” presidents, along with “passive-positive” and “passive-negative” presidents.

I have frequently deferred to these categories in my own Barbadian analysis since the establishment of such markers helps to refine one’s arguments and the fact that we have only had seven leaders compared to the United States’ 44 is irrelevant. Hence, one can easily identify the leaders who fall within the “of restraint” category and can easily identify Prime Minister Stuart as one such, along with Prime Minister St John.

The fact that one of these leaders won an election and the other didn’t supports the suggestion made earlier that the label “passive” is not always negative and as such President Howard Taft was identified by the analysts as a good president who was passive.

These classifications are relevant to this discourse largely because a leader’s success or failure will hinge primarily on the type of classification into which they fall either by accident or by virtue of deliberate actions on their part. One of the major factors contributing to Stuart’s success therefore is the fact that he is passive and his passivity has become an asset. The proposition seems odd, but if one alludes to Margaret Thatcher’s book The Downing Street Years and her references to President Carter (also passive), it becomes clear that this type of leader has his time and in her opinion that time was not Carter’s. In our instance, this is perhaps not the best time for passive leadership developmentally, but the 2013 election was an excellent time for a passive leader politically.

That election juxtaposed two leaders who were equally unpopular if one were to use the CADRES poll as the basis of analysis. Clearly, Barbadians were not excited by either and this opened the door for us to consider alternative bases for evaluation such as the extent to which one antagonised us more than the other.

We reflected therefore on the passive and potentially passive-negative, as against the active and potentially active-negative and opted for the former. This preference surprised me. However, I now accept the extent to which we thought it better to select a “Carter type” in preference to a “Reagan type” since we believed that the impact of a nice person doing little or nothing would be better than selecting a leader with the potential to irrigate.

Stuart’s success therefore had much to do with the fact that he fell into the job at a time when the political environment was conducive. This could be seen as good political fortune. He does, however, have other overt characteristics which have contributed to his success, while not necessarily helping us move forward developmentally. Among these, the most irritating to those among us who think is his inclination to insult our intelligence with impunity, which is especially distressing because we are considered to be among the most educated populations in the Caribbean.

Certainly, if we reflect on Dr Gonsalves’ The Idea Of Barbados paper, it presents a flattering image of a country with considerable intellectual talent. Presumably, such a country is not easy to mislead and would be less inclined to tolerate insults. This is, of course, the presumption that most of those who sought to lead this country were respectful of the limits of our tolerance. In this instance, however, we communicated our support for obvious insults to our collective intelligence prior to February 2013 and must therefore brace ourselves for more of the same until February 2018.

In the meantime, those across this region like Gonsalves who perceived us to be of superior intellect might want to consider the extent to which they regard us more highly than we regard ourselves.

Peter W. Wickham (peter.wickham@caribsurf.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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