Hubert Ingraham’s inclusive social vision
To compare the social vision of Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham with that of the Catholic social tradition is not to suggest that they are identical. But they do bear a resemblance which led to collaboration between the prime minister and the late Archbishop Lawrence Burke, S.J., on a variety of ground-breaking social initiatives.
Bishop Burke, a Jesuit, was never seized by the hackneyed theology of those religionists who view politics and statecraft as inherently corrupt. “He understood modern life and the challenges of those responsible for the conduct of the business of state… ” He saw government as an indispensable means of advancing the common good and often preferred dialogue and private persuasion over hectoring and haranguing national leaders.
This does not mean that he did not have a prophetic voice. He famously and publicly chastised a now sitting member of Parliament for the latter’s comments related to the illegal migration of Haitians to The Bahamas. Bishop Burke’s response was swift and unequivocal, emanating from a first principle that ordered his social witness and mission and efforts in the realm of social justice.
It is the same principle or lodestar that has guided Hubert Ingraham’s ethic of care and compassion and his extraordinary social agenda: the defence of the dignity of the human person. Guided by this principle, Mr. Ingraham has expended political capital and energy combating inequality, prejudice and discrimination while expanding social and economic justice and mobility.
What is remarkable for a man of his age and times is that he has fiercely resisted the temptation to stigmatize various social groups or to pander to the baser instincts of some in The Bahamas who seek to maintain old prejudices or to scapegoat others.
The country often acknowledges those women from Dame Dr. Doris Johnson to Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson who have enhanced women’s rights. Along with them, any hall of fame honoring champions of female equality must include Hubert Ingraham.
He has appointed or facilitated women attaining high office in government, including an unprecedented number of women to senior cabinet portfolios, and the first female chief justice and governor general, as well as senior posts in the public service.
Mr. Ingraham’s successive administrations instituted sweeping social legislation to secure greater opportunity for and to advance the equality of women and their children. As Hubert Ingraham was acting vigorously and boldly to improve women’s rights, there were some who conspicuously and in a self-congratulatory manner made speeches, travelled the globe and even collected awards for supposedly being champions of women’s rights.
When the courage of conviction was needed both of these evaporated in the face of political opportunism by some. It was Hubert Ingraham who was the profile-in-courage and proved to be more committed to feminist ideals when it came to amending the Constitution to make Bahamian women equal to men in the automatic transmission of citizenship to their children born to a non-Bahamian spouse.
Sadly, the party of Dame Doris Johnson failed to redeem itself on this glaring constitutional omission. It was the PLP who, at the Independence Conference in 1972, did not support the FNM’s progressive view that Bahamian men and women should enjoy equality in all things including this citizenship question.
During a break in the formal talks in London, when a senior PLP leader was pressed by an FNM delegate on the matter, the flippant response was that if Bahamian women got such a right, they would then want the right to use the men’s bathroom.
In the 2002 constitutional referendum, the PLP seemed on the verge of correcting a mistake it made three decades earlier, initially voting in favor of the citizenship question in the House of Assembly. But rank and hypocritical opportunism hijacked the remnants of progressive and liberal ideals that were calcifying in a party that abandoned the struggle for equality for Bahamian women on various fronts.
Returned to office in 2002 with the promise of constitutional reform and purportedly ardent female and male proponents of women’s rights and equality in the Cabinet, the PLP for a third time failed to do the right thing constitutionally on behalf of Bahamian women.
Then came the matter of proposed domestic rape legislation. Last week in a speech at a celebration luncheon for the 30th anniversary of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Prime Minister Ingraham noted:
“It is an unfortunate and painful reality that when one seeks to equalize conditions that are glaringly offensive, the effort sometimes fails to attract support from those who would benefit.
“This was most recently demonstrated, for example, by the public debate which arose around my government’s initiative to extend protection in law to married women who may be abused by their husbands.”
“Indeed, it appears that many in our society, both male and female, are not yet convinced that women are equal; instead stubbornly holding on to outmoded and long discredited 19th century social mores and laws which regarded women as chattel, incapable of making their own decisions and unqualified to vote, own property or defend themselves against the decisions of male relatives.”
While it is disheartening that such a regressive mindset still pertains among many, the sickening reality is those flamboyantly dressed in progressive garb, who mercilessly exploit such regressive mindsets for political advantage.
Refreshingly, the PLP has been more progressive on removing discrimination against gays and lesbians and protecting such persons. It was the Pindling administration that decriminalized consensual sexual acts between gay people of consenting age.
In 1998 when a cruise ship with gay passengers travelling to Nassau stirred up the fire and brimstone and scapegoating and hypocrisy of some religious leaders and other belligerents, Hubert Ingraham made one of the most courageous and progressive responses ever by a Bahamian prime minister. It read in part:
“I have been chilled by the vehemence of the expressions against gay persons made by some in our newspapers and over our radio talk shows. Admittedly, there have also been expressions of reason and understanding on this matter on the editorial pages but these have been largely lost in a sea of bitter, poorly-reasoned diatribe.”
He pressed further:
“I do not believe that the future of The Bahamas will be placed in danger because chartered cruises by gay persons are permitted to continue to call at Bahamian ports. The future of The Bahamas is not threatened by foreign persons of homosexual orientation. Homosexuality is not a contagious disease; and it is not a crime in The Bahamas.
“Insofar as family life is concerned, studies conducted in developed nations around the world, most notably in North America and Western Europe, maintain that homosexuals are born and raised by well-adjusted loving heterosexual parents; and that well-adjusted homosexuals have given birth to and raised well-adjusted heterosexual children. While research has not been conducted in The Bahamas, the results would very likely be quite similar among Bahamians.
“An individual’s right to privacy is a basic human right cherished by all people. It is a right which citizens of democratic countries expect to be respected by their government.”
One of the modern additions to the Catholic social tradition was a more pronounced and articulated option for the poor which placed the needs of the poor more deliberately at the heart of Roman Catholicism’s witness on social and economic justice.
Hubert Ingraham’s unrelenting, expansive and dogged focus on responding to the poor and promoting social and economic mobility grew out of his own life story and remarkable personal and public journey.
From helping to stimulate job creation to social development efforts in housing, education and health care, he has uplifted thousands of our poorer citizens. His massive increases in social assistance and landmark social legislation has helped to alleviate the burdens of poorer Bahamians whose daily struggles and ambitions he knows by lived experience.
In his person and his policies he has upheld the dignity of poorer and vulnerable Bahamians. While it is easy for some to caricature him because of his sometimes gruff personality, history will recall that he responded in a more Christian manner to various matters of social concern than some of his supposedly Christian critics including some religious leaders who presumed to be able to read the heart and soul of Hubert Ingraham.
History will also recall that his record of care and compassion will be measured in countless deeds, not the rhetoric of those who talk about compassion but whose records pale in comparison.
Moreover, Hubert Ingraham has enacted a more progressive and socially liberal agenda than those who cloak themselves in progressive rhetoric easily abandoned at the altar of greed and political convenience.
When a then former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham retires he will be able to go fishing, at peace with his record and his conscience that he significantly advanced the cause of social justice and progressive politics. Even some who now cuss or criticize him on a regular basis may eventually do some soul searching and reflection. And, maybe they will accord him the recognition that is his due for creating a more progressive, tolerant and just Bahamas.