Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bahamas: What makes Hubert Ingraham, Hubert Ingraham?

Portrait of Caesar

By Ian Strachan
Nassau, Bahamas

The 2012 election approaches. And Hubert Alexander Ingraham approaches what will in all likelihood be his last general election. Hopefully, win or lose, he will give the nation an opportunity to honor him for his contributions. He does not strike me as a man who cares much for ceremony, so I imagine it will be a struggle getting him to play along. (He has, thus far, refused the knighthood, for instance).

Ingraham appears more indispensable to the party than ever. I know he isn’t really indispensable, but many FNMs seem to think he is. The question is, who will lead the Free National Movement when Hubert Ingraham rides off into the sunset on his fishing boat? The contenders easily come to mind: Brent Symonette, Tommy Turnquest, Dion Foulkes, Carl Bethel, Zhivargo Laing, Hubert Minnis, Duane Sands.

What doesn’t come easily to mind is how any of them will win over the Bahamian voting public. The aforementioned gentlemen may not win in 2017 but, they won’t run the party into the ground either. However, can any of those aforementioned gentlemen re-fashion themselves in such a way that they can gain the confidence and more importantly, the affection of the public? Because say what you will, the people must not only trust your competence, they must identify with you, they must “feel” you.

What makes Ingraham, Ingraham? Well, let’s break it down.

Hubert Ingraham is either loved or hated. It’s hard for people to be lukewarm where he’s concerned. And though some may find it hard to believe, more people love him than hate him. And here’s the other thing about Ingraham: Most of the people who hate him, or think they hate him, respect the heck out of him. Ingraham did not come from Nassau middle class respectability; he did not attend “the old Government High”; he did not travel to the UK for law school and therefore doesn’t have that confusing pseudo-English accent so many barristers have been flaunting. What he does have is the confidence of a rhinoceros and the political instincts of a shark, a tiger or a jackal (take your pick).

Apparently he wasn’t Cecil Wallace Whitfield’s first choice to lead the FNM, but he was smart enough to take the job when Christie turned it down. It takes a special kind of man to stand up to Pindling and beat him twice. It takes a special combination of knowing where all the PLP bodies are buried (in a manner of speaking); speaking to the masses in a plain and unvarnished enough manner to gain their complete trust; and having the spine, the will, the toughness, the guts to face the thousands upon thousands who will rake your name in the muck forever for disrespecting and “betraying” the father of the nation.

Ingraham has maintained his spot atop the FNM because he has fashioned the party to his liking. He has dispatched his legitimate rivals (Dupuch, Turnquest, Allen, Bostwick) and surrounded himself with men ready and willing to kiss his ring. He has been able to keep the FNM’s diverse constituencies engaged, rewarded and fairly happy; he has managed to keep East Bay Street and East Street South satisfied. He has never lost his working class sensibility despite being the smartest man in almost any room he enters. He lacks humility, but he has simplicity, which is just as powerful in the world of fakes, opportunists, narcissists and thieves that politics can sometimes be. Most of all Ingraham knows what he has done for the FNM; he has made them winners. And he knows what every man sitting around his table wants. And once a man like Ingraham knows what you want, he knows what he needs to do and say to keep you motivated, keep you engaged and keep you in line.

I’ll tell you what Ingraham respects: Hard work and discipline. I’ll tell you what he cherishes: People who are prepared to work hard for this country, but have no desire for glory; no warping hunger for power. If you know anything about politics, you know it is a rare breed of man who is willing to serve and not be served. I believe Ingraham is searching diligently, tirelessly, for a successor. I believe he knows who he wants to succeed him. He wants someone who embodies what he thinks is best about himself: A capacity to think analytically and strategically, a capacity for hard work and discipline, a simple and unvarnished style, little interest in foolish pomp and puffery.

What plagues him, what haunts him, is perhaps the fact that those qualities, so vital and admirable in a man, are not enough to hold on to power. You see, Ingraham’s other traits: Obstinacy, pride, rage, misdirection, wit, and ruthlessness are also vital in this Machiavellian “game”. You cannot choose a successor and hope he learns ruthlessness; he reveals that quality naturally, and more than likely, is prepared to direct that ruthlessness at you at the very first opportunity. You cannot make a political leader; he reveals himself.

That means Ingraham’s real successor (not his handpicked head of the party), is not in his cabinet. And if he is, that man must be prepared to desecrate the very image of his mentor to carve out his space as leader of the FNM. The FNM today is Ingraham’s party. It cannot remain so and live.

Does that strike you as ingratitude? Don’t be na├»ve. What do you think Ingraham himself did? He watched, he learned, and when his moment came, he stuck a knife in Caesar’s back. Any man who would succeed him must do the same.

Ian Strachan is associate professor of English at The College of The Bahamas. You can write to him at strachantalk@gmail.com.