25 Aug 2008

A lunatic's legacy

From columnist Michael Harris (the highlights are mine):

The remains of his days

Monday, August 25th 2008

I was going to write this week on the matter of Prime Minister Manning's initiative to pursue the formation of a political union with, at this point in time, three other Caribbean countries, namely Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

When I saw that Express Editor-at-Large Keith Smith had already published the first part of his own article on the matter, I changed my mind and decided to write on something else since I was sure that Keith would deal with all the political implications of the issue far better than I ever could.

But, like a "bassman in mih head'' the issue simply would not leave me alone. One question kept reverberating in my mind. Why? Why was Manning doing this? What had prompted him, out of the blue, without any prior attempt to lay the political groundwork, to essay this difficult task?

The mystery of Manning's sudden conversion to the cause of Caribbean political integration is all the more profound in light of the fact that in his 40 and more years on the political stage in this country he has never, ever, propounded or advanced any philosophical vision or even indulged in any philosophical analysis as to what kind of society we should build in Trinidad and why, in doing so, it is necessary to be part of a larger Caribbean nation.

And frankly the core argument for any Caribbean political union is quintessentially a philosophical one, rooted in the unique historical experience of the Caribbean peoples and dedicated to standing history on its head by creating something substantial and original out of the detritus of colonial enterprise.

But to understand that motivation you need the soul of a poet, something Mr Manning has never demonstrated nor claimed to have. He has ever been the most constipated of political pragmatists, moved by nothing except the most expedient option in any given set of circumstances.

Knowing this, my first thought was that his political union initiative, was just another crass political attempt to ensure that the PNM prevailed forever by ensuring, through such a union, a future stream of black dependent voters.

But I had to admit to myself that this explanation simply could not stand up given the fact that it required so much expenditure of political time and energy to achieve an objective which is already, surreptitiously, in place.

So the question continued to perplex me. Why? Why was he doing this? Why?

And then it hit me. And as I thought more and more about it the pieces started to fall into place. Mr Manning is trying to create for himself a legacy; a monument to himself that would ensure his place in the history books.

The evidence is there. We know that Mr Manning has been thinking about the closing chapters of his political career. He has warned his party supporters on a number of occasions within recent times that the time is coming when he will depart the political stage.

Such reflections on how and when the curtain would come down on his political career would inevitably have led him to reflect on that career as a whole and for what he would be remembered. And, even to him, it must have been apparent that the sum total of his career thus far adds up to zero.

Ask yourself the question. For what significant achievements or body of policies will Mr Manning be remembered 15 or 20 years from now? There is nothing. Absolutely nothing. It will not matter to history that he "flogged them in the east and flogged them in the west, flogged them in the north and flogged them in the south."

History will simply record that he led his party to several electoral victories and spent significant time handling the reins of power and ask what is there to show for it. And the answer is nothing, nothing at all. For those who spend so much time and so much power to achieve nothing the verdict of history is always just. It is just oblivion.

For a man of Mr Manning's colossal hubris, the realisation of this must be as bitter as gall. So he is now trying, desperately and urgently, to pursue initiatives which would force history to sit up and take notice.

His really big effort is Vision 2020 for which he fondly imagines history recording the verdict that "By force of his will he led his little nation to first world status". Contemplating that possibility must bring a self-satisfied smile to his face.

Indeed, Vision 2020 seems to consist of little more than spending money wildly building bigger and more ostentatious buildings. But do not believe that for him these are just buildings. They are his monuments. His evidence to present to history that during his long career he did something more than occupy political space.

That is why he continues to pursue the mad spending spree notwithstanding the clear indication and the dire warnings from the Central Bank that his course is leading directly to the disaster of spiralling inflation.

But just in case his Vision 2020 does run around on the rocks of economic reality he now has a back-up plan. "The Father of Caribbean Integration." The man who single-handedly reversed 50 years of Caribbean history and yoked the fractious countries together into a single, proud and prosperous nation.

Now that's a legacy!