Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cuffie’s fantasies

Maxie Cuffie is a dear friend. It is unfortunate that he misrepresented and distorted what I said in my article. In his anxiety to defend our party, he simply repeats and repositions what he believes rather than to confront the points I made in “PNM’s Last Chance”.

I never said, as Cuffie purports, that the People’s National Movement (PNM) “has not done enough for Afro-Trinidadians” (Trinidad Guardian, March 9, 2014). I reminded the PNM that a nation should be judged by how it treats its lowest rather than its highest citizens. I noted that if PNM and Dr Rowley left our depressed brothers and sisters in the same way they found them in 2014, 2020 would mark the beginning of the end of the PNM as a political force.

Using statistics from the Household Budgetary Survey (2008), Cuffie asserted that the income levels of Afro-Trinidadians surpassed those of Indo-Trinidadians “in every income group save the $19,000 to $24,999 income cluster”. I never made a case for all Afro-Trinidadians. I spoke about a specific subset of the Afro-Trinidadian population that has not done as well as it should under the PNM.

If the people of these areas are in a better shape today in their overall well-being (that is, in education; finance; a crime-free environment; have greater safety in the streets; are better prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, etc.) than they were 30 years ago, then I stand refuted. If this is so, all the PNM has to do is to keep on doing what all previous governments did and all will be well.

There is no need to pay serious attention to Cuffie’s contention that I discount Penny Beckles’s challenge to Dr Rowley and that “an easy victory for the PNM is dangerous, especially if there is a perception of the ‘we time now’ politics which the professor seems to champion.” The truth of my predictions shall be known after May 28, 2014 and the general elections of 2015. If Rowley and PNM win, I am vindicated. If they lose, I was wrong in my prediction. It has nothing to do with “we time now”, that wondrous leap of fantasy on Cuffie’s part.

It is obvious that there is “serious work to be done to achieve a PNM victory at the polls.” That does not invalidate my proposition. Fifty years of political history and reading the political mood of our people tell me that the PNM shall be victorious in 2015 just as it told me that PNM would lose the 2010 election.

Cuffie says that “elections are fought in T&T over how much of the treasury the government can allocate to certain interests groups”. He believes the government “should have as a goal, making its supporters and the population less dependent on the government than they have been and fostering the spirit of self-reliance that is the foundation of great democracies”. These goals sound good but do not respond to the point I made.

In spite of what Cuffie thinks, “self-reliance” has never been the “foundation of any great democracy”. After the United States broke away from Great Britain in 1776, its political development had little to do with self-reliance. After the constitution was adopted in 1787, the major challenge the country faced (putting aside the enslavement of blacks and the taming of the American Indians) was the relationship between the central (or federal government) and the local or state governments. This was the substance of the big argument between Thomas Jefferson who focused on the “firm protection of states’ rights against federal encroachment” and Alexander Hamilton who believed in the power and authority of the federal government.

These concerns had to do with how citizens structure their relationship vis-à-vis the federal and state governments and then the subsuming role of the towns and cities (smaller political entities) within the state. In Massachusetts, a state of 6,692,824 people, there are 296 self-governing towns and 55 cities. Some of these towns are as small as 8,485 people (Adams) and others as large as 42,844 people (Arlington). All of these towns and cities have their own budgets and run their own affairs.

Since Mr Cuffie is concerned about “great democracies”, I remind him that the first bills Lyndon Johnson enacted when he became the president of the United States were the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He also implemented Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and “the War on Poverty”. He was determined to help the least fortunate among those in the United States.

A week ago John Harwood, in a “Political Memo”, observed:

“After signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B Johnson famously told an aide: ‘We just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time.’ But he had also done something else: he delivered the African-American votes to the Democrats in overwhelming proportions.

“The party of Lincoln [the Republican Party] has not won as many as one in five blacks in a presidential election since, while the African-American share of the electorate has swelled (New York Times, March 9, 2014).

This is how party politics is played in the “great democracies”. Look out for the least fortunate segment of the population and they in turn will stand by you.

And this, my brother, is not about affirmative action; it’s the nature of political reality. It is something the PNM can learn from.

Professor Cudjoe’s e-mail is

scudjoe@wellesley.edu and tweet @ProfessorCudjoe