“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Commentators love to throw Mark Twain’s jibe at politicians. Yet in reality a nation’s elected representatives are its best and brightest of those willing to run for public office. And those disappointed in their parliamentarians must also be disappointed in their country. Yes it would be nice of all our representatives were brilliantly efficient paragons of virtue. But you can’t make silk purses out of sows’ ears. And if our elected representatives are indeed idiotically incompetent crooks, what does that say about we who voted them into office and from whence they sprung?


The American humourist Will Rogers once joked that "the more you observe politics, the more you've got to admit that each party is worse than the other." But as Winston Churchill remarked, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. And a nation’s political representatives tend to be accurate reflections of its fundamental attitudes and beliefs. For you only get elected by behaving in a way voters approve of, telling them what they want to hear, and promising to do what they wish. As the famed economist Frederick Hayek wrote “It would be almost a contradiction in terms for a politician to be a leader in the field of ideas. His task in a democracy is to find out what the opinions held by the largest number are, not to give currency to new opinions which may become the majority view in some distant future.”


Now arm chair critics are forever moaning about politicians’ overweening sense of self importance, their solipsistic love of their own voices, and their incessant grasping for power. Yet shy public speakers who don’t think well of themselves and dislike making decisions affecting other people are hardly likely to enter the vote winning arena. And whether we find verbose, bumptious egoism attractive or not, democracy cannot work unless enough persons are willing to put themselves up for public office. There can be no government of the people, by the people, for the people unless the people have somebody to vote for.


The most important characteristic of politicians is not intelligence, honesty, or charisma but the desire to be a part of the body politic. No matter what qualities the public might wish for in its representatives, it can only vote for those who come forward. Some cynics sneer that successful politicians are like football coaches – smart enough to know how and dumb enough to care. But whatever our candidate’s shortcomings, you have to give them credit for devoting most of their time and energy to the service of their country. At least they put their money where their mouth is and try to put their ideas into action. As one politician put it to me “Talking about imaginary pretty strokes is a spectator sport. To score real runs you have to face real bouncers.”


Jamaican politicians probably fall somewhere in the middle of a worldwide honesty scale. They may not be models of Scandinavian probity, but neither are they wholesale Indonesian crooks. To be sure you can’t help being disgusted at times by their barefaced hypocrisy. To be sure their barefaced hypocrisy can be disgusting. It was sickening to hear Karl “everyone is lying except me” Blythe quote the bible and talk about his integrity remaining untarnished and the truth setting him free even after even after the NHDC Commission reported that he brazenly lied to them. Has the man no sense of shame? Couldn’t he have just humbly apologized for his “mistakes” and quietly walked away?


Did Dr. Blythe ever consider how many more people might have gotten land and houses had Operation Pride been honestly and efficiently run? For only someone with absolutely no concern for Jamaica’s well being could say he had no regrets after being shown to have squandered at least a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money. Frankly it is arrogance like this that causes outraged electorates to angrily turf out governments and give massive mandates to even undeserving oppositions.


And yet stomach churning as they can be, compared with their Argentine and Venezuelan counterparts our politicians truly are incorruptible Father Theresas. At least they have the common sense to realize that if you steal too much the population will one day erupt in anger and demand everyone’s neck, including your own. And many do seem genuinely devoted to the public welfare.


Now I have no insider knowledge, and get most of my political information from radio, TV, and newspapers. But from this outsider perspective, two of our representatives have especially won my admiration – Omar Davis and Audley Shaw.


Now despite his occasional smugness Dr. Davis has in my opinion done an excellent job of steering Jamaica between the rocks of hyperinflation and recession. Despite all the contradictory advice from his critics – lower interest rates but keep the currency stable – he has adopted a workable policy and stuck with it. Mistakes were made, but not fatal ones and the Jamaican economy has kept afloat while bigger ones have sunk. Thank God he didn’t try any extremist experiments such as proved disastrous in Argentina.


His policies have caused discomfort and made him unpopular even within his party. But only dreamers think Jamaica’s financial excesses could have been magically exorcised without painful side effects. Like many here I was bitterly critical of FINSAC. But a well-informed overseas consultant recently told me that in comparison to other developing countries Jamaica handled its financial crisis well, and Dr. Davis and Patrick McDonald should be commended. But such is the lot of finance ministers – they sometimes get it right but they are never loved.


Audley Shaw, if the polls are right, might soon find himself in this same position. Now Mr. Shaw sometimes suffers from the cantankerousness which seems to afflict his entire party. But every Jamaican taxpayer must admire his staunch defense of our dollars. His stock has certainly been boosted by the recent NHDC report. No longer can he be dismissed as a scandalmonger, for at least with Operation Pride he has been proven to know whereof he spoke. I recently heard Mr. Shaw address a JCC function and was quite impressed with his presentation and how he handled questions. If only he could convince his fellow Labourites to also think before they talk.


All in all, Dr. Davis and Mr. Shaw make me confident that whatever happens in this coming election the Jamaican economy will be in safe hands. And they are I think proof that at least some of our politicians are genuinely trying to serve the electorate to the best of their ability.

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