Vandalised vehicles, distasteful billboards and corrosive rhetoric. This is where we have reached on the slippery slide to the bottom of political campaigning. Some will say that it has never been a slide and that we have always been at the bottom but let us assure you that we are a long way from the bottom when it comes to election campaigning.
Before we begin, let’s deal with some of the recent events and complaints. The latest report (as of writing) came from the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and related to the apparent “malicious damage” to a campaign vehicle of Vincent “Vere” Cornelius, the party’s candidate for the St. John’s Rural East constituency. In a press release strongly condemning the action by persons unknown, the DNA states, “we totally condemn and repudiate any and all acts of violence, intimidation, victimisation and fear which have in recent times, begun to characterise our politics.” We should all join in condemning and repudiating any and all violence and we should reject any persuasion by political operatives to engage in these types of acts. We hope that there will be some show of solidarity by the parties in this regard.
Shortly before the DNA made their release, the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party issued a press release condemning what it described as an “outrageous attack on the prime minister’s family.” The attack in question is related to the inclusion of PM Browne’s family, including his 6-year-old son, Prince, in the composition of a political billboard with what the ABLP describes as “disgusting” quotation being attributed to family members. The billboard in question has been erected in the prime minister’s constituency and is in support of the United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate for the area, Wilmoth Daniel.
Since the billboard was erected, there are many who have defended it. They utilise a variety of defenses including “is de PM dat bring he family into dis,” “dem doh like to rememba all de nastiness dey done do” and “everyting is fair game in politics.” That last one is the crux of of problems and we must ask, why? Why is everything fair game in politics? Do we not have a line that we do not cross? In our mind, this, and many other things, have crossed the line and it appears that our society has lost some sensitivity as to where the line should be established. We do not need to cast our minds too far back to a similar incident with the distasteful Whener video. The same defenses were employed then, but at the end of the day, what is wrong is wrong and we should be able to stand on some firm, moral ground and say that.
People dismiss these sorts of incidents and give politicians a pass as though they are in war, but the fact is, they are not. And we must thank God that our slippery slope has not reached to the point of violent and/or deadly confrontations during our election campaigning. What this demonstrates is that we have given our politicians and their operatives too much moral leeway in the past. We have allowed them to use tasteless, disgusting rhetoric against their political opponents with impunity and that turns everything into a game of one upmanship. One side says something nasty and the other side must retaliate with something nastier.
It begins with casual name calling. Supporter laugh and cheer at the vile comments. This, in turn, emboldens the speaker to amp up the rhetoric. In return, the subject of the nastiness says, “I not takin dat so” and responds in kind, or most likely, with a more abrasive tirade. With each volley, the situation spins out of control and the crowd yells “wheeeee!” as we slide down that slippery slope.
Nowadays, politicians no longer focus their campaign on the issues and their plans. Instead, they try to appeal to the most basic instincts in people. They feed the “dem like ugly” character of people with name calling and unfounded and baseless claims. Gone are the day of generic claims of corruption and bad management. Today, it is serious claims like fraud, arson, and pedophilia wrapped in labels like “flushable waste” and “anti-man.” And the crowd goes wild. The politicians, who generally act like children, see the applause as explicit approval and push the boundaries. When will it stop?
This is why it is very important for everyone to say when wrong is wrong. The damage to a campaign vehicle is wrong. The exploitation of children and family members for political gain is wrong – etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! But before we reach this far, we need to tell our childish politicians that use of derogatory language is wrong. Name calling is wrong. And making claims without evidence is wrong. If we do not, they and their supporters will continue to push the boundaries to see what they can get away with. And like children, they will only stop when something serious happens. Even then, it will only be for a while.
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