Rhetoric and apology

The furore over the statements made by PNCR Chairman Volda Lawrence is likely to follow her for some time to come. Through her tactless speech, she has unwittingly provided fodder for members of the opposition to use perhaps forever, more so because she is also the minister of Public Health and had prior to that held the portfolio for Social Protection. Furthermore, this being the time of the year for it, we can expect to see Ms Lawrence’s ill-formed statements and sparse apology in the usual annual satirical shows. But it truly is no laughing matter. Far from it.

It would seem that in making the statements she did, Ms Lawrence assumed that she was speaking just among her friends — the only ones she has, according to her. What she apparently did not take cognizance of is that she holds an office, no two, where anything she says is deemed to be of importance and quotable.

This is one of the reasons why speech writers are employed: to ensure that ministers, presidents and people of import remain on message. This is important because as it is well known, when a president, minister or chairman speaks in public, s/he speaks not just for him/herself but for the country, ministry or organization s/he represents. Tone and message are therefore crucial and the speaker has to be careful not to let his/her personal feelings dominate.

If she needed an example of how not speak/behave while in office, Ms Lawrence needed to look no further than back at recent history and then strive to be better in all aspects of public and political life. After all, that was what her party promised the nation while trying to get votes. Instead, of doing better however, Ms Lawrence and her ‘friends’ have engaged in rank one-upmanship.

Ms Lawrence, in a post on her Facebook page, said she “humbly” apologized and it was deduced that she was referring to the statements she made at a November 25 party meeting. She was recorded as saying among other things: “Well I got news for you: The only friends I got is PNC, so the only people I could give work to is PNC. And, right now, I looking for a doctor who can talk Spanish or Portuguese and ah want one that is PNC.” And later on: “…You see this long, long story, me ain’t able buse and cuss and waste me time; I lash you in you head and done the story. Done the story. Sometimes we like to yap, yap, yap, yap too much…” Clearly, she does not follow her own counsel as it is her yapping that has landed her foot inside her mouth.

But Ms Lawrence did not reference those nor any of the other comments she made in her Facebook apology, so it is not clear whether she is sorry that she made them, though she is obviously sorry that they got out. Instead, part of her post read: “…The rhetoric attributed to me over the last few days, is not reflective of who I am as a person or leader. I have learned that as a leader I must be cognizant of what I say and do, and must not allow emotions or political fervour to get in the way…”

It was rhetoric alright, and it was not just attributed to Ms Lawrence, it came from her very lips. Persuasive bombast is the type of speech that politicians in general are fluent in. Many native to this country, from both of the major parties, appear to have been weaned on it. They use it to create division among us so that those who are ‘friends’ with one side, cannot be ‘friends’ with the other and that is how they win. Divide and conquer is not just a saying, it is a strategy that works.

What Ms Lawrence and those of her ilk continue to fail to realize is that while they can have ‘friends’ at the party level, once elected to govern, they have to count the entire nation as among their constituents. The racial divide in the country that shows very little sign of ending to date is as a result of politicians thinking and acting like Ms Lawrence, even those who might not have been caught saying it out loud. And those who have, ought not to be pointing fingers.

Recall if you will, statements made by former president Bharrat Jagdeo on March 8, 2015 during a commemorative event at Babu John, Port Mourant, Berbice. Those statements were labelled racist and inflammatory, but the then government, led by Donald Ramotar had defended Mr Jagdeo, even going so far as to state that he was attributing the comments to others.

Mr Jagdeo had also stoutly defended himself, claiming that the opposition was no better as its members had made racially inciting statements during the 2011 election campaign, though he could provide no proof of this. Then, like Ms Lawrence did recently, Mr Jagdeo was speaking to his party’s base; he too, likely assumed he was among ‘friends’.

Likewise, Leader of the AFC Rafael Trotman leapt to Ms Lawrence’s defence, even before she issued her ‘apology’, stating that he knew she was neither racially, nor politically biased. No doubt the rest of her ‘friends’ will also rally around her. The flood gates are now open for opposition politicians to say similar or worse things and point to government’s lack of opprobrium to Ms Lawrence’s statement.

But an eye for an eye will eventually make the whole world blind. And using rhetoric to whip up party support falls in that category. It is wrong, it is old and should be consigned to the garbage heap. The quality of politicians determine the quality of politics and we can safely say that our politics is depressingly poor. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will see much change in the near future.

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