McCartney’s Vanity Fair
Halloween arrived early at the House of Assembly last week. It made a sneak preview during the debate on establishing a Straw Market Authority. In his debate wrap-up, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham spooked Branville McCartney by lobbing a few political ‘trick-or-treats’ at the DNA leader.
They were offered in a trademark Ingraham jest, often crafted to rattle opponents by delivering a serious message guised as humor. So effective were the barbs that McCartney’s tough-guy mask slipped, sending him into a dizzying array of costume changes.
The MP for Bamboo Town reacted as a cry-baby and as a victim and martyr before trying to steady himself and regain his tough-guy persona. He even donned his maximum leader costume by imperially declaring: “The good thing about being leader of this party is that I can determine where I can run.”
For his reference, Sir Lynden Pindling, who enjoyed a safe seat in New Providence prior to the 1967 general election, was persuaded by some of his colleagues to run in South Andros. It proved pivotal in ushering in majority rule.
McCartney made no mention of a selection process for candidates at the branch or national level of the DNA. Instead he flatly stated that he will run wherever he pleases, possibly leaving Bamboo Town for North Abaco to teach Hubert Ingraham a lesson.
He floated the possibility with little respect for the people of either constituency. He also did not seem to consult with his party. Not even Sir Lynden, much less Hubert Ingraham, would claim such a singular privilege.
One must presume that McCartney is also prepared to remove an already nominated candidate from a constituency and run there if it suits his fancy. If this is how McCartney thinks based on the power he has in the DNA, one can imagine how he might behave given real power.
Both Sir Lynden and Ingraham understood that ours is a parliamentary democracy where the party and cabinet take precedence. We do not have a presidential system, which McCartney still seems not to understand despite his pretensions of collegiality.
When the current heads of the PLP and FNM are no longer the leaders of their parties, there will be others waiting to succeed them, who their respective party colleagues view as possible prime ministers. McCartney confirmed this by noting that he sees potential successors to the major party leaders within their respective parties.
The same cannot be said of the DNA. Most voters do not view McCartney as a credible prime minister, not to mention his announced candidates. Voters know too that the PLP and FNM are bigger than Christie and Ingraham.
Smarting from a bruised ego and piqued at Ingraham’s playful ribbing, McCartney, in his martyr costume, issued a highly unlikely and amateurish bluff. All laughing aside, he suggested he might risk his political career by switching to North Abaco to teach Hubert Ingraham a lesson.
In saying that he is prepared to lose there to deny Ingraham a victory and tilt it to the PLP, McCartney confirmed the gist of what the prime minister stated in the House, riling the DNA in the first place.
It is that in Bamboo Town, as across the country, the DNA is unlikely to win against the major parties. Whatever his capacity for irony, the paucity of the DNA leader’s judgement is remarkable. Leadership is not mostly about skill-sets. It is about good judgement.
In even floating the idea that he might out of animus run against the Member for North Abaco is not the type of poor judgement a more seasoned leader would make. Essentially it is vanity, not good judgement, that led the DNA leader to brag that “as leader of this party” he can run wherever he wants.
It is this unquenchable vanity that provoked the Member for Bamboo Town to overreact to the prime minister’s jocularity in the House, which drew thunderous laughter.
The over-the-top response to Ingraham’s mild tap-up speaks volumes about how the DNA and its leader must see themselves: They are special and precious and should be treated with kid gloves. How dare anyone criticize them seeing how special they are?
Never mind that month after month, McCartney and his party have relentlessly attacked Hubert Ingraham in even more pointed and barbed language, eliciting no response from Ingraham despite the constant attacks.
McCartney suggested that Ingraham is uncaring and lacks compassion. He accused a man who dedicated his life to improving the quality of life for Bahamians as basically being unpatriotic, unconcerned about protecting Bahamian interests. McCartney continues to question the prime minister’s integrity and the DNA has called him all manner of things – child of God is not one of them.
Apparently it is perfectly okay for Ingraham to be the DNA’s punching bag. Yet when he ever so slightly slapped back, which was much milder than a punch, the DNA and its leader doubled-over playing the wounded victims. Rather than the rough and tumble nature of politics, they may consider competing in ballroom dancing.
Politics is not a Vanity Fair for those who believe that the world should recognize and reward the supposed brilliance they see when they look in the mirror every morning and tell themselves how wonderful they are among other mortals.
Politics is a noble art and vocation. It is an arena where those who dare to compete for the privilege of office, do so through the ideas, character and skills they may bring to the tough task of governance, as individuals and as a party.
Among the tests for being afforded such a privilege are those of resilience, imagination, and organizational prowess. Luck and timing are often pivotal for political success. But, as the saying reminds, “Chance favors the prepared mind”.
Patronage too plays a role. Ingraham convinced the FNM constituency association of Bamboo Town to accept McCartney as the candidate for the traditionally safe seat for that party. He also appointed the freshman MP a junior minister in the two high-profile areas of tourism and immigration.
Clearly, this was not enough for the preternaturally ambitious politician who seemed miffed that other junior ministers were given substantive posts ahead of him. In exiting the Ingraham administration he bemoaned that he felt stifled, that his gifts were not fully utilized. This, after only approximately three years in cabinet.
Suppose Ingraham had appointed McCartney to a substantive ministerial post? Suppose that Ingraham indicated to the junior minister that he saw him as a potential successor? What is the likelihood that he would have left so abruptly?
Others in leadership in the DNA might ponder those questions. And, this: Did Branville McCartney launch the DNA to bring about change in the political process or primarily as a vehicle to accommodate his overweening ambition?
Moreover, if the FNM is re-elected and Ingraham invites McCartney back to a substantive cabinet post and indicates that he may be a possible successor, what is the likelihood that he would remain in a defeated DNA?
Vanity is a blinding obsession. The real test of one’s genetic make-up as a politician is how one reacts in the face of real power. How McCartney might react if he eyed a rapid path to the top of the FNM in its last term or possible next term is where his artifice and profiling would likely give way to realpolitik.
Since the launch of his DNA, McCartney has tried his hand at the classic strategy of triangulation. It was clever to do so given voter frustration over various issues, including the persistent global economic crisis and the resulting desire to blame and punish someone or some group for their woes.
The DNA also tapped into the ever-present hunger of voters as consumers for the next new thing or personality. Bahamians also like a good show. But, most independent voters, critical in the next election, require more substance than the DNA has provided in terms of leadership and policy.
The DNA leader’s meager contribution to the Straw Market Authority debate was the latest example of his preference for profiling given his seeming discomfort with substantive policy discussions.
With his trademark studied gestures and little room for triangulation, McCartney spoke during the debate as if he were a reporter and not a parliamentarian. He commented on what the FNM and PLP said about the bill in question but, as usual, added little by way of insight or substance to the debate.
Sensing an opportunity for scoring a cheap political point, McCartney regurgitated the manufactured news item about a regulation concerning hygiene in the straw market. The underlying premise of the story was subsequently shot down by the prime minister.
The halls of Parliament are where political careers advance, stagnate or flounder. Given a prepared text or a staged-event, McCartney performs adequately. Yet given the opportunity to think on his feet and demonstrate his political mettle on the floor of the House, he failed to rise to the occasion. Worse, he proved unready, not prepared for the big leagues.
It proved Ingraham’s point about McCartney still being in the junior leagues. The contest in Bamboo Town thrusts three young men who led their own parties into a contest to see who may someday have the opportunity to contest for the chairs in which both Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie have sat. But first, they have to win in Bamboo Town.
Oct 18, 2011