Anyone who has been in government, fought an election and tasted defeat, knows that there is no material difference, either in consequence, emotional hurt, or political loss, to what the vanquished would be feeling had the loss of power come via a coup d’etat.
Whether the defeat comes via ballot or bullet, the previously ruling group loses all the privileges, from decision making power to security detail and all the other perks that come from occupying positions of influence, in an instant, the day after the election.
Whilst with a coup, however, the defeat is sudden and illegitimate. With an election, the element of unexpectedness is absent. Everyone can see coming the date of possible defeat. It is like being on death row, and as the date approaches, politicians can lose their minds through anxiety and fear of loss.
It is this period of madness which is described as the silly season. It is a moment when normally reasonable men, fearful of material loss, see enemies everywhere.
It is precisely because of the flight of normal rationality during this period that what is required with greater urgency, is a cadre of level headed objective observers, providing the country with calm, dispassionate and intellectually honest discourse as a way of assisting the public in separating the politically loaded from the objectively true.
This becomes even more important in small, underdeveloped Caribbean democracies, unused to seeing this role performed in its optimum fashion.
Given this onerous responsibility, the commentator must heavily guard against placing himself in the middle of the political event which he claims to be objectively analyzing. He diminishes himself when he resorts to personal insult, emotional outbursts, and worse, when he takes analytical discussions as personal attacks. He also does this by entangling himself so closely with political events and personalities that the public is cautiously suspicious.
The analysts whose job it is to weekly criticize the ideas and practices of the country’s leaders and who are indeed the first to cry foul at any hint of “heavy-handedness” should demonstrate an alternative example. As a first impulse, they should possess the virtue of humility, accept that their views will meet resistance, and their words are not gospel.
Indeed, people who have successfully traversed the academic path, accept that criticism is the life blood of their work, and are trained, from every early to respond to things, analytically, and not personally. They grow through criticism. This distinguishes the successful from the aspirants.
Given the sensitive nature of politics, similar traits can advance the work of public commentators. As the silly season deepens, one technique of politicians is to draw the commentator into politics. The more he avoids it, the greater his success. Very few meet the ideal.
As in academia, many are called, but few are chosen.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]