The Minister of Creative Economy, Culture and Sports John King’s recent admonition to retrenched Barbadian workers to stop dwelling on their loss of unemployment, understandably created quite a national uproar. He was accused of insensitivity and arrogance among other things. Mr King subsequently apologized while indicating that his comments on the retrenchment process had been misconstrued. He explained that the context in which he spoke was to encourage Barbadians not to lose hope.
Mr King joins a long list of politicians worldwide who have made political gaffes or misstatements, often not because of insensitivity or arrogance, but due to inexperience, over-exuberance, ignorance or even as a result of jest. We make no apologies for the goodly minister but we acknowledge his newness to this political game while appreciating that his social background hardly gives credence to any notion that he is uncaring as to the plight of Barbadians who find themselves on the breadline. Truth be told, we accept that he spoke within the context that it serves no purpose to cry over spilled milk and that the better course of response to adversity should always be to be positive and progressive.
Several politicians with far greater experience have placed their feet firmly in their mouths and have occasioned reactions not dissimilar to what transpired after Mr King’s faux pas. We recall former US President Gerald Ford once stating during a political campaign that his administration wouldn’t allow Russia to control Eastern Europe. “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration,” he said then. This was the mid-1970s and Russia at the time dominated Eastern Europe. Ford’s ignorance of world affairs was palpable and he paid for it.
And then there was the case of former US Vice-President Joe Biden. During a 2008 campaign stop in Missouri, where Columbia Senator Chuck Graham was in attendance in the audience, Biden sought to pay homage to the senator and asked him to stand and be recognized by the crowd. Graham would have obliged Mr Biden had he not been confined to a wheelchair since the age of 16. It was not one of Mr Biden’s smartest moments.
As public figures, politicians will frequently have to make prepared and impromptu speeches. Some do it better than others. There are many who make a muddle even of prepared texts. There are a few who appear quite fluent without a script but careful attention to their comments often reveal fluent folly. Our Parliament has previously provided the platform for high hilarity as a result of gibberish emanating from the mouths of politicians.
But political status does not render one immune to error. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commenting on gay marriage once said with a straight face that he believed gay marriage should be between a man and a woman. In 2002, no less a person that the defence secretary of the most powerful country in the world, Donald Rumsfield, had this to say: “We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” This came from a politician with the capacity to affect human lives.
We reminisce on these events not only to highlight the humanness of politicians but to indicate that often our political persuasion leads us to ignore the verbal misstep of one political personality while willing to crucify another whose party colours are dissimilar to our own. By all means hold our politicians to high standards, indeed, to whom much is given much is expected. But at the end of the day, we ought never to forget that they are prone to verbal error caused not by callousness but due to their humanness. Neophyte politicians frequently take time to learn the language of their trade. It is a stage of their development where theirs is a refreshing openness and honesty from the heart. But then they learn the trade and often speak from the head at length without saying anything.
We believe Mr King is still speaking from the heart.