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Raffique Shah


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No, we can't

By Raffique Shah
December 14, 2008

Ever since Barack Obama shot into the limelight and coined the campaign slogan "Yes, We Can!" politicians of all hues and persuasions across the world have adopted it to suit their own agendas. Upon becoming President-elect then putting together a same faces, different administrations White House team, Obama ignited a passion for what many see as "national consensus" politics. That, too, has caught on, especially among politicians in opposition, those whose only hope for sharing in the spoils of office lie in accommodation by the lucky ones who have power.

As much as there is a measure of idealism in this notion of national unity, isn't there a glaring contradiction in promoting this brand of politics? In Obama's case, he rode to power on people's deep dislike for Bush and his Republican cohorts. Most Americans who, post 9/11, supported the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, soon changed their stance when they realised their President had misled them into inextricable quagmires using a complex web of shameless lies. To add to their woes, Bush and his ruling-classmates have also taken the country into an economic crisis of unimaginable proportions.

Obama became an attractive alternative when he spoke out against the wars, when he promised to tax the super-rich and profiteering corporate giants in order to relieve the plights of other, ordinary Americans. What has happened since he became President-elect? He has retained Bush's most recent pointman in the wars, Robert Gates, as Defence Secretary. He has named "hawk" Hillary Clinton to the powerful post of Secretary of State. General James Jones, another "hawk", will be National Security Advisor. And many of the high-flyers whose corporate scheming ran Wall Street into a stone-wall, are on his economic advisory team.

So, did Americans who voted Obama get the change they yearned for? Many are prepared to allow him time to prove what he preached on the platforms was not mere rhetoric. They hope that instead of his Cabinet and advisors dictating policies, Obama would show them, and the world, that he is "The Man". I wish I were as hopeful as they are. In fact, I hope that I am dead wrong in my assessment of Obama's politics, my feeling that little will change under his presidency. He is young, he is bright, and he has what it takes to make a difference. Even so, I ask: Can he?

For those in this country who have latched on to the "we can" catch phrase in their quest to pursue power by any means, what are they signalling to an electorate that is far more gullible than America's? If I interpret their notion of consensus politics correctly, they present several scenarios. First, some argue that the PNM Government should accept advice it receives from non-PNM persons-professionals, politicians and others. This can be useful to any government. But what happens when such advice runs counter to policies of the ruling party? If I may take the proposed Rapid Rail project as one example-and here I must declare my mala fides against the RR, proposing instead a Bus Rapid Transit system. The Government is fixated on it. Nothing will get the regime to change its position except the final price, and that will come after it has spent hundreds of millions on "studies".

Others suggest a "government of national unity". What does that mean? That we take some PNM policies and personnel, add them to a few UNCites and their agenda-items, and garnish the potpourri with some COPs? What changes would such a hodgepodge bring about? None, I proffer. This is but a badly conceived recipe for those who lost the general elections to nose their way into the corridors of power.

Yet others promote the coming together of "good people" from all political persuasions to get together and take on the PNM, remove it from power. I don't know that I qualify, but if I did, the first items on my agenda would see me getting the boot. I would move against poverty with vengeance.

I would tax the super-rich much more than the middle class. Then, having created opportunities for people to climb out of poverty, I would demand productivity for pay. Those who refuse to work, and those who choose to remain criminals or look for handouts would feel the brunt of a military-style force they never knew existed. Do you see why they would kick my backside into the Gulf?

The bottom line is our politicians have no answers to the myriad problems facing the country. They differ only in how much they crave for, or revel in, power. Their cry for unity among the masses, which, in large measure, already exists, is as hollow as their platform promises. What the politicians are telling us is PNM in power, UNC in power or COP in power, we can expect little or no real change.Same difference, as some would say.

If Obama cannot deliver real change in America, can we expect any better from this lame lot in T&T? No, we can't. In fact, we should tell them all to go to Hell and not bother to return. That would be heavenly.

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