Front Porch | Good commentary and party loyalty needed in a democracy
Good journalism and well-crafted commentary play an important role in public, policy and political debates. Such commentary enlivens and enlightens national dialogue.
Author and New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks is an exceptional writer, who recently published “The Second Mountain”, a meditation on happiness and the good life.
A moderate and mostly center-right thinker, Brooks spent most of his public life in Republican circles. He also enjoys a number of progressive views.
His commentary and books explore an encyclopedia of topics such as bioethics, sociobiology, economics, politics, history, literature, sociology and other fundamental aspects of human nature and society.
Though one may disagree with some of his views, his commentary is well written, thoughtful and informational, often moving and inspiring.
He goes beyond the often trite and banal preoccupations of many in the various journalistic tribes fixated on political fights and showmanship, especially of the Trump era.
Brooks often laments that much of today’s political journalism and commentary are more about political fights than policy substance.
Sadly, many journalists cum commentators at home and abroad seem to lack the desire, the capacity, or the quality of research, study and analysis necessary to go beyond the temporary and often forgettable headlines of the moment.
A former Bahamian newspaper editor now retired from journalism laments the often shallow thinking in print and broadcast commentary.
He observed that some writers often feel the need to immediately react to circumstances without deep reflection. This results in superficial responses and analysis, missing, obscuring the deeper issues at hand.
He pressed that there is too much political commentary and that writers need to think deeper about a broader set of topics from the arts, to culture, to education, to health, to science.
Some writers need to read more broadly to expand the scope of their minds so they can take up more creative subjects. Given that we live in a society in which few seem to read on a regular basis, it is even more incumbent on journalists and commentators to read more in depth.
Commentary in our society can plant seeds in minds and the hearts of the public and policymakers. New modes of thinking may help revive stale and sterile circular debates. Mostly political screeds every week are tiring, boring and ultimately unfulfilling.
A late beloved former Roman Catholic priest was once asked about the quality of preaching in churches. His simple and clarifying response: a preacher cannot offer a parish or congregation what he or she does not have.
Likewise a commentator or journalist cannot offer viewers and/or readers what he or she does not possess. If a commentator does not read or study beyond the daily local headlines he or she would simply continue to offer mostly simplistic views on the headlines.
But even when commenting on politics and government there remains a worrying ignorance of our political system, often perpetuated by some politicians, journalists and commentators who refuse to learn more about our system of government.
What is truly nauseating is the inability of various commentators to explain the nature and history of our parliamentary system before offering hyperbolic and sensational commentary.
Many Bahamians, including some politicians and journalists who ought to know better, frequently conflate our system of government with that of the United States of America. Both are democracies, of course, but beyond that the two are structured quite differently.
The Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy and its executive branch, the Cabinet, is based in and responsible to Parliament.
The prime minister and all of the ministers must sit in Parliament, the overwhelming majority in the elected chamber, the House of Assembly.
In the United States, the president is elected directly by the states and sits independently of the Congress.
The president also appoints the Cabinet, and while the appointees must be confirmed by the Senate, none of them are members of the Congress, none of them are elected.
In The Bahamas a prime minister and his Cabinet can be brought down by the House at any time by a vote of no confidence.
In America the president can only be removed by an elaborate impeachment process or, in the case of disability, through a process set out in the 25th Amendment.
The Bahamas constitution presumes the existence of and government by political parties. Article 73 provides that the prime minister must be a member of the House “who is leader of the party which commands the support of the majority of the members of the House”.
There is no mention of political parties anywhere in the American constitution. In fact, some of the authors of that 18th century constitution, including George Washington, were not keen on the idea of political parties. But the idea inevitably took root nevertheless.
For our parliamentary democracy to work there must be cohesive, disciplined political parties in Parliament, parties whose members are bound together generally by a set of objectives and principles; generally because there is not likely any political party in the world in which each and every member agrees with everything the party advocates or does.
In the United States party discipline is not nearly as important as it is in our parliamentary system. Some members of Congress make a career, and are celebrated, for being mavericks.
In our system, by contrast, elected members of a party who do not understand this difference, or forget it, do so at their political peril.
In our Parliament there are two teams, the government and the opposition. Currently, in our House of Assembly there is not a single member who was elected as an independent.
Members of each side are elected as members of their particular team and are expected to support their team against the other side, especially in important matters like the budget.
Loyalty to a party or institution is not synonymous with being a toady or a boot licker and butt kisser. Indeed, it takes great courage to be loyal as demonstrated repeatedly by St. Barnabas MP Shanendon Cartwright and others.
When the government increased VAT last year, it took courage for Cartwright and others to go back to their constituents to explain their votes and to support the Minnis administration.
Members of Parliament like Cartwright understand that disagreements and policy debates are best done internally in the caucus.
This is in contrast to those self-serving, narcissistic, disloyal members still throwing tantrums because they were not appointed to the Cabinet, and who enjoy preening for headlines and notoriety to the endless delight of some journalists.
In seconding the budget this year, it was Cartwright’s responsibility to affirm the government’s policies. It is called political maturity.
If a journalist at this or another paper repeatedly publicly bashed the leadership or ownership of the journal for which he or she works, that journalist would likely be asked to leave. A basketball team filled with players pursuing their own game at the expense of the team loses.
In every field of endeavor, loyalty is critical to the success of a group, especially at the high level of government and politics.
A recent commentary in this newspaper entitled “Boot Lickers”, began by using as a source of reference and supposed insight the rambling thoughts of the failed former Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins, whose chaotic tenure in politics ended badly.
Rollins, who bounced from party to party to party, was a shambolic figure, who failed to have any major impact on the body politic or on the policy and political direction of the country.
He was a good showman, for a time, who once paid his nomination fees in quarters in a five-gallon water bottle. He proved politically disloyal in a party-based parliamentary democracy which requires political cohesion to operate successfully.
A party or Parliament filled with Andre Rollins-type characters would be an utter disaster, a Tower of Babel in which chaos reigned.
Even the U.S. system of government requires a level of party unity in a caucus as demonstrated by the Democrats in an immigration vote in the House of Representatives yesterday.
The National Review article began: “Back in 2015, then outspoken Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins told The Nassau Guardian that if receiving a PLP nomination for the 2017 election only goes to ‘boot lickers and butt kissers’ then ‘you could keep your nomination’.”
Rollins went on to say: “The country is not well served by boot lickers and butt kissers and that’s real talk.”
This from the man who once ran his own party and who desperately wanted his members to be loyal to him, but who was incapable of demonstrating loyalty to other leaders. Such hypocritical narcissism remains breathtaking and comical.
In his budget remarks Cartwright noted: “Courage in politics, in my view, is just not the ability to speak to people’s fears and anxieties.
“Courage in politics is being determined and resolute in eliminating those fears and anxieties of the people oftentimes by making hard, uneasy decisions for a better future, a better way of life.”
Cartwright may have added that courage requires loyalty and conviction even at the risk of being deemed a boot licker from various quarters, and from those who seem to delight in or mostly appreciate political warfare over the hard work of improving the lives of fellow-citizens in the complex and charged arena of politics.