2012 is going to be a significant year for any number of reasons. According to the Mayan calendar, there is supposed to be a major astrological event that year and there are some folks who are of the opinion that Doomsday will occur in that year as well. The magnitude and significance of these events are open to question and, possibly, ridicule but we do know that for Jamaica and the US they do hold significance.

The next scheduled general elections (after the upcoming US elections) for both countries will be in 2012 and both will feature contests in which there will be reconstituted political parties: the PNP in Jamaica and the GOP in the US.

According to reports in the US, the Republican Party (aka the GOP – Grand Old Party) will meet within a couple days after this upcoming election to review and analyse what it has and has not done to find itself in the position it is currently in. Various factions within the GOP will also supposedly examine and reexamine their roles within the party, and it could either result in a party that will either reach a goal of peaceful coexistence or a fracturing. A primary goal of this meeting is to develop a core message that would form the basis for the party going forward. It would be tweaked to reflect the times and circumstance but its foundation would not change.

This brings us to the PNP and the fact that it has and is undergoing its own review and analysis now that it has become the Opposition. Unlike the GOP, the PNP’s leadership issue is settled, at least for the time being, and the primary issue seems to be the development of a ‘Progressive’ agenda. This agenda is supposed to ensure equal opportunity and ‘equality of outcome(s)’ if what’s been reported is correct. This agenda that the PNP is working on is supposed to be reflective of the goals/ideals/pursuits of the Party as well as the underlying basis for the Party’s message going forward. I would imagine that the PNP agenda will be flexible enough to be tweaked depending on the times and circumstances.

Looking at this argument, there are three points here worth looking at:

1) What role(s) will certain factions within each political party play in their plans to reconstitute and otherwise reposition themselves? According to the PNP hierarchy, the Peter Phillips faction of the PNP has a role to play and a supposedly significant one at that. But really, is anyone buying that? It is being seen that this agenda that the PNP is formulating is aimed primarily at the party’s base supporters and is not so much trying to reach out to attracting new supporters. This is the same charge being leveled at the GOP in that it is preaching to the converted rather than trying to incorporate themes and ideas that can attract new members. Some folks have also been wondering what role(s) will moderates and the more dovish Republicans have in what looks increasingly like a more rightist GOP. The intelligentsia within both parties are looked at with a great degree of suspicion and even disdain.

2) What is the message? As mentioned earlier, the PNP leadership claims to be working on an agenda for the Party that is supposed to be reflective of its roots but which, if what’s been leaked out so far is any indication, might be nothing more than tired old rhetoric from failed social experiments. In any democratic society, equality of opportunity should be a given but ‘equality of outcomes’ has me stumped. What we will likely see from the ‘reconstituted’ GOP will likely be the same old message repackaged as ‘new and improved.’ That is tax cuts for the well-off, less government interference and private enterprise as the panacea for all that ails a society. In other words, ‘old wine in a new bottle.’ However, this could change somewhat if the moderate wing of the GOP were to wrest control from the conservatives.

3) What is being done to reverse the negative perceptions? Like it or not, both the PNP and the Republican Party have image problems. For the PNP it is that of a party that condones corruption and cronyism. Its leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, despite her street smarts, is not exactly seen as a paragon of virtue. Thus far she has failed to rid the PNP of those who have brought the party into disrepute and the odds are that it won’t happen since just about all those characters supported her in her bid to retain the party’s presidency. For the GOP, there is the perception that it is hostile to minorities, especially African-Americans. This past Republican Party convention was the whitest party convention ever and one is left to believe that if the ‘conservative’ wing of the party has its way that will likely be the case. Like it or not, the face of the Republican Party is increasingly being represented by the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and others who think like them – very right-wing, mostly Caucasian and not exactly noted for their tolerance of those who don’t think like them.

When all is said and done, there are certain steps that both the PNP and the GOP will have to take make themselves more palatable to a wider public. Political parties should be seen as ‘big tents’ that can accommodate and tolerate diversity in terms of viewpoints and even colour. While it may asking too much of perfection in party leaders it surely is not asking too much of them to elevate the level of discourse about the issues. When one is thrust into a position of leadership there is a heightened degree of responsibility that comes with it. Leadership demands that tough decisions be made and for political parties that means that the agents of intolerance, the corrupt and the criminal should have no place within them. The parties and their supporters should not be setting low expectations for their leadership. Also, political parties are going to have to do a better job of getting society involved in helping to resolve the issues and problems that beset it.

It’s okay to differ/disagree without being so strident or militant in our disagreements. After all, democracy is not helped when disillusionment replaces participation, ignorance replaces knowledge, and homogeneity replaces diversity.

Categories: Analysis

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