Reflexive opposition

Stabroek News
June 29, 1999

Several years ago the American conservative George Will drew attention to a gap between the political face of black America and its real opinions, as suggested by polls. Will argued that although African Americans showed consistently conservative instincts on major issues like government spending, welfare reform and capital punishment they continually voted for the Democrats because of the lack of credible sympathy in the Republican party. Black America was driven by a sense of exclusion from the traditional establishment (associated with conservatives) so strong that it was willing to overlook its feelings on the 'issues' and to prefer the liberal big-government Democrats who understood its vulnerability in a racist society.

American political analysts are very aware of the power of the minorities and they have tailored candidates' messages accordingly. President Clinton, whose masterly caress of the minority vote has long been the envy of the Conservative heart, has urged a national conversation on race problems and George W. Bush - the man who would be Bill - has launched himself under the daring, almost oxymoronic label of 'compassionate conservative.' He has produced campaign ads in which he speaks Spanish and has made a determined effort to reach to socio-economic groups and racial minorities far beyond the traditional support base of the Republicans. What striking concern for outsiders, especially when they make up less than a quarter of the total vote!

And so to Guyana, where nearly half of us live in various states of uncertainty or fear over the 'agenda' of the other half. Where a legacy of ethnic conflict and bitterness from years of rigged elections and fraudulent government have created a politics of endless racial gridlock. Where, like the black Americans in Will's analysis, there are no issues which cannot be subsumed by a sense of exclusion or fear.

The public service strike has shown the narrowness of this outlook. The serious issues raised by the union were largely forgotten as the party political and ethnic spin took on a life of its own. When this happens politics becomes a squabble and neither side ends up doing much more than heap abuse or blame on its opponents. Solutions to the current problem become provisional and must be revisited. Precious energies are wasted in the Byzantine tedium of the quarrel.

A political process which is purely adversarial soon decays to nihilism. It becomes a vulgar calculus of Us and Them and reduces the problems of national life to aspects of a single question: How To Frustrate The Other Side? Support and co-operation across the ethnic divide is not a marginal electoral concern in Guyana. It is a political necessity. Without it the country cannot move beyond the politics of reflexive opposition and neither side can govern effectively.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples