Notwithstanding the history of general elections in Barbados, it is often a universal truism that many, if not most politicians, who call for clean general elections are frequently the practitioners of some of the dirtiest politics in any democratic process.
Indeed, some might argue that a clean general election is as much an oxymoron as bittersweet or a damned-saint. We human beings, brought up in various crevices of the church, for whatever periods of time, or those of us intoxicated by naïveté or a tunnel vision of the possibilities of the goodness of man, will continue to hold fast to the belief of a clean general election.
But if we must be honest with ourselves, and with our knowledge of history, instances of this phenomenon – clean general elections – are hard to find in the pages of the past. And if they can be, we aver that their infrequency gives little hope that we will witness one in our collective lifetimes. We do not attempt to be either cynical or pessimistic, but modern human history suggests that the ideal is anachronistic with the appropriate time period being anyone’s guess.
Politics and power carry high stakes. For the winner, the spoils are significant. The opportunities to make one’s place in the world and – yes- to help others are greatly magnified. For the loser, occasional impassioned, empty rhetoric, frustration and vexation are among the unwanted apparel of powerlessness one has to bear. But of course, those involved in the political process are all clean and must be seen to be clean and must call for a clean general election process. The general election must be devoid of mud-slinging, slander, lies, innuendo, impossible promises, and the like.
Writing in his The 48 Laws of Power – a holy bible to most, if not all politicians – Robert Greene suggests that those seeking power and to maintain it should always keep their hands clean: “You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency. Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s paws to disguise your involvement.”
And Greene goes further in his dictates to those who would court the people in their pursuit of power. He suggests that power-seekers should play to people’s fantasies. “The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes for disenchantment. Life is so harsh and distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the desert: Everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.”
Thus, in the imminent Barbados general election there is the virtually certain likelihood that in the midst of some reality, great fantasies will be sold by all parties and personages seeking power. It is the nature of politics. Irrespective of whatever negative social, political or economic situation that exists, everyone will have the right solution, even if all different.
We are faced with an economic situation that is affecting the lives of mostly middle and lower-income Barbadians. Access to a university education is not as easy as it once was; access to meaningful employment is not as easy as it once was; access to affordable land and housing is not as easy as it once was; the value of the dollar in supermarkets, shops, at gas stations, is not what it once was. Any politician seeking power must be able to sell the reality or the fantasy that he or she can provide an oasis in this Barbadian desert. And we will want to believe because romance is more palatable than ugliness and unpleasantness.
In our reality we are aware that political parties distribute great largesse during general elections to win. It is hidden in plain sight, we see it, and many benefit temporarily from it. Yet all of our politicians say they do not engage in the practice and they call for stricter measures to deal with a situation that no one engages in and therefore does not exist. But in truth, there is often no honest line of demarcation between the fantasy and reality of the politics they sell.
But we must still call for clean political elections. We must still believe that such is possible. We must still entertain the notion that politicians will deal only with the issues of the day. We must still believe that there is hope in what they sell. We must still believe that our politicians can indeed engineer better for us. Such is the construct of our democratic processes that our politicians are vitally important, if not omnipotent as we foolishly view them to be. And why must we believe? To do otherwise would be to consign our reality to Hobbes’ notion that we Barbadians, like mankind in general, are doomed to a life that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. We must always have hope for better.