Of politics, scandals and leadership
Politics and scandal have gone hand in hand. They have been inextricably linked from time to time with political stewardship. Such accompanying scandal has not always of necessity related to criminal behaviour, but has often involved men and women falling –– even surviving –– ingloriously because of poor judgement or some other inherent human flaw.
Almost a century ago, United States Interior Secretary Albert Fall saw the interior of a prison cell for accepting a $404,000 gift for leasing the rights to oil without going through a bidding process. Just over 50 years ago, British Secretary of State for War John Profumo was forced to resign from the Harold Macmillan government after lying in the House of Commons about an illicit sexual affair with a teenager. Late former United States judge, presidential candidate and Ways And Means Committee head Wilbur Mills resigned from public office in the mid-1970s for repeated public drunkenness, and after being found in the back of a car with an Argentine stripper.
Whether it be Watergate, the Iran-Contra arms deal, CARSICOT, the Basdeo Panday affair, Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit imbroglio, GEMS Of Barbados, Crab Hill Police Station building mess, history has played –– and, sadly, it seems, will continue –– to man’s avarice, ineptitude, foolhardiness, absurdity and other immoral or unethical failings. Inevitably, in all such situations where people seek public office, they must accept that they will be held to a higher degree of accountability than the average Joe.
And this accountability is equally demanding, whether it relates to issues of legality or matters of morality. To whom much is given, much is expected. And so this brings us to the question of leadership.
Where leadership is lacking, weak, easily compromised, prone to inertia, fallible and a bedfellow of procrastination, the Falls, Profumos and Millses and others in high places find prolonged safe haven. Chinese Taoism suggests that a sound leader’s aim should be to open people’s hearts, fill their stomachs, calm their wills, brace their bones, and so to clarify their thoughts and cleanse their needs that no cunning meddler could touch them. The philosophy adds that without being forced, without strain or constraint, good government comes of itself.
Of course, there is another school of thought, as postulated by assassinated 19th century German socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg, that disappointment in the masses is always a compromising sign for political leadership. Luxemburg added that a real leader, of real moment, would make his tactics dependent, not on the temporary spirit of the masses, but on the inexorable laws of historical development. The suggestion is that such a leader will “steer his course by these laws in defiance of all disappointments” and rely on history to occasion the maturing of his actions.
It is a dangerous sign when leaders hide behind legalese or legal jargon and make light of morality and people’s expectations of the persons in whom they repose their trust and place into high office. Elections are won and lost in the court of public opinion; not in legal writ.
Given that the average Joe expects his leaders to be of better and sterner stuff than himself, a country’s leadership would do well to demonstrate overt respect for the decisions determined in the highest court of the land. And, such rulings should be followed by compliance or appeal, if possible. Neither politicking nor empty verbosity is appropriate.
Thus, where there is suggestion of less than prudent conduct by those in high office, which is subsequently given validity by the highest court in the land, there can only be one recourse. Proper leadership owes it to the community being served to make the moral decision –– not legal –– to remove the source of disquiet from its authority until such time hearts are opened, stomachs filled, wills calmed, bones braced, thoughts clarified and needs cleansed.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart would do well not to adhere –– this time –– to Luxemburg’s philosophy. To defy the disappointment of the masses and to rely on history to bring maturation to his apparent stance on Carringtongate could result in not only his being punished with Barbadian laughter, but as well some great measure of disdain.