Saturday, January 20, 2018

A tale of two leaders


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The Prime Minister was definitely right on one thing last week. She cited the life story of US President Barack Obama as "a beacon to the world that points the way in which each of our destinies can be fulfilled against all odds".

Her comments were contained in her congratulatory message to the US President on his inauguration the same day her People's Partnership Government suffered its humiliating defeat in the THA elections.

She wrote that it was "ironic" that the ceremony was being held on Martin Luther King Day, adding that "the event was the fulfilment of a destiny etched in the soul of a nation some fifty years ago".

Most people will all agree that Obama's success story is somewhat of a "beacon to the world". There is agreement that his presidency can be traced back in large part to Rosa Parks who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, which then prompted Dr King to mobilise millions of Black Americans against America's system of institutionalised discrimination.

But the "irony" is much larger than the PM chose to cite, or, probably, she may have missed it. Rather, it was contained in one of President Obama's most memorable lines in his inaugural address.

"You and I, as citizens," he told the American people, "have an obligation to shape the debate of our time not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defence of our most ancient values, and enduring ideals." Obama's words about values and ideals seemed to have resonated in Tobago last Monday.

Early in his first term, the President realised that he needed to fine-tune his understanding of America's complex political landscape. He sought the advice of America's best-known historians, inquiring how previous presidents confronted the challenges of their times.

Obama focused on how Abraham Lincoln dealt with a nation torn apart by civil war and Lincoln's thoughts on re-uniting America. He looked at Franklin Roosevelt whose presidency faced the Depression of the 1930s, and how Roosevelt's New Deal re-energised the American spirit.

Obama possesses a sense of history which guides his presidency and enables him to deal truthfully with his nation's tumultuous past. His address on Monday was a rallying call to all Americans intended to lift their spirit, with an appeal to remake themselves "anew, and move forward". He was inspirational and statesmanlike. His address was on point, confronting America's issues of the moment at a time when some observers are projecting his country's "decline".

It carried the content that I wished had come from our own Prime Minister.

Here at home, beyond the stale platitudes, there have been no such memorable lines or studied reference to our rich past in the Prime Minister's speeches, or in her decisions.

In fact, the appeals in 2011 that the centenary of Dr Eric Williams' birth celebrated at Oxford and other institutions worldwide should be acknowledged here too were met with only her Government's promise sadly laughable, that Dr Williams would have been honoured during last year's Independence celebrations, alongside President Noor Hassanali, and Albert Gomes.

So while Obama crafted a stately presidential message last week, what have we been hearing from our Prime Minister?

First, her displayed ignorance of Tobago's history, its people, their distinctive political culture and their values. She went there in support of Ashworth Jack's TOP, but instead the focus shifted to questions about her own leadership.

She was everywhere. In Trinidad, she hastily introduced the Tobago Constitution Amendment Bill. In Tobago, armed with a bag of goodies, she was patronising. She opened a gas station, attended an inter-faith service (where she was reportedly preceded by sniffer dogs), made promises of a UTT campus, promoted a $300 million WASA development programme, NGC's proposals for the island, an upgrade of the Arthur NR Robinson airport, to name a few of her candies.

Supported by a multi-million advertising campaign, she then dived into the muddy pit already dug by Jack Warner, Anil Roberts, and her Attorney General with personal charges against persons involved in the Milshirv land transaction. But worse was her attack on the independent Integrity Commission again, lowering the status of the Office of the Prime Minister.

Her partner Ashworth Jack at the same time was plagued by questions about the funding of his mansion. Jack's response? He promised that, if elected, all Tobagonians would live in "nice houses" too. There were other questions he could not answer on his performance at the debate, and his failure to file his interests with the Integrity Commission.

Author Robert Greene reminds us that "when you are trying to impress, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish".

Why did I not think about President Obama when I read this? Why did I think only of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet?

* Keith Subero, a former

Express news editor,

has since followed a career in communication and management.