The Portia Standard

As Bruce Golding’s administration passes its first anniversary since inauguration, I have been meditating on a question: What indeed is the real difference between the respective administrations of Portia Simpson-Miller and Bruce Golding?

To listen to many in the media tell it, Golding is leaps and bounds ahead of Portia in competence and performance. Where Portia’s 18-month tenure as Prime Minister was almost universally panned, Golding’s failures have been met with charitable excuses and a semblance of fairness and balance which Portia was denied. Especially if you follow commentator Mark Wignall.

In the United States, due to the history of oppression of non-white people, institutions and professionals in certain financial services are taught that discrimination is illegal. Those institutions and professionals are further warned against “disparate standards.” Basically an insurance company willing to insure a 40-y.o. white, male, nonsmoker at $X premium a year for a death benefit of $1 million must be willing to provide similarly priced insurance for a 40-y.o. black, male, nonsmoker with the same profile. Thus American life insurance companies set premiums based on rated risk profiles which fail to take race into consideration. Also no auto insurance company in America can charge Asian drivers a higher premium for auto insurance regardless of popular stereotypes of Asians as poor drivers. Finally, mortgages are supposed to be granted based on consumer credit history and race-neutral ratios [like the DTV “debt to (property) value” ratio] but not based on race; or factors which are a proxy for race, like whether you live in a ‘white’ zip code or a ‘black’ zip code. Disparate standards are generally regarded as evidence of bias.

When I see the commentary in Jamaica evaluating Golding’s performance and I compare it to the harsh hysterical judgments and demagoguery which comprised the evaluations of Simpson-Miller’s performance, it seems to me we have a perfect example of disparate standards. I  have said it before.

If we use objective measures and not just the same subjective media lenses to examine their respective performances, we will see that inflation is greater under Golding; unemployment is greater under Golding despite his campaign promises; and murders (most amazingly) are increasing under Bruce Golding to record heights. According to No Author in the Sunday Herald:

“Data released by the central bank and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) indicated that the economy grew by a statistically insignificant 0.20 per cent during the first quarter, but declined by the same statistically insignificant 0.20 per cent during the second quarter, resulting in zero economic growth during the first half of the year.”

Source: No Author, Sunday Herald, August 30, 2008

So we see, thanks to No Author in particular, that the Jamaican economy is not growing even while “four-year-high” levels of inflation are gnawing viciously at the buying power of the family income. Yet Golding took office after promising jobs, jobs, jobs! To my understanding inflation is often a feature of economic growth as people making more money become more willing to spend greater amounts of that money (surplus demand for consumer goods). That Jamaica has both a high inflation rate, and an economy in decline (thus demand for consumer goods is contracting and not expanding,) is an indicator that state action is a crucial factor in this growth of inflation. Sure enough a Google search produces a discussion of the dynamics of this specific to Jamaica between Charles Ross in the Observer and the PSOJ’s James Robinson Jnr.; and I will leave the more technical aspects of the discussion to the professional economists. What I wish to emphasize is that Jamaican inflation is not driven by a growing economy and rising consumer incomes but by government fiscal policy and central bank monetary policy. So what has Golding’s government specially done to tackle inflation? How much more aggressive is his government on attacking inflation than Simpson-Miller’s government?

So ironically Portia did set a new high standard of governance for her successors to follow, it’s just that she didn’t set this new higher standard through stellar performance. What she did was liberate her enemies, many of whom have access to

Doing a mans job
Doing a man's job?

print and broadcast media, so they would  enunciate a new level of performance Jamaican governments have to meet, else these governments can be legitimately judged as failures. So on the economy, there is a clear and distinct Portia Standard for governance — which is that inflation and unemployment MUST come down. If the trend is the reverse, as it is under Golding, then Golding is a failure based on the Portia Standard enunciated previously by commentators in Jamaica.

Let’s look at crime. The spiraling murder-rate shows how ineffective the Golding administration has been in handling crime, the question that needs to be raised here is this: Could Portia have been as decidedly ineffective against crime and still have her failure meet such muted criticisms from the celebrity columnists? Let us remember the ways in which Golding has personally fumbled on the issue of crime; 1) Bruce insinuated an unsubstantiated allegation against the PNP (I too believe the PNP may be telling their criminal cohorts to ‘hot up the place,’ but when you’re PM you need proof when you suggest such things.); and 2) Bruce stated that he as PM is not responsible for a crime-plan, but rather the Police Commissioner. Now let us apply the Portia Standard to these two things. The first would have caused the celebrity columnists in our media to accuse her of “shameless demagoguery;” and “ignobly not offering any evidence.” After the second fumble, newspapers’ news sections would have published sensational headlines and detailed accounts of these horrific crimes; and the celebrity columnists would have begun braying for her “resignation.”But Bruce can say it, and they note it gingerly — yet they move on. Would they have had this charitable standard for Portia? Indeed a “year-in-review” assessment of Portia would have been considered incomplete without prominent and repeated references to such a ridiculous assertion, were Portia to have made the assertion. But we are implored to give Bruce a break, “gi’ ‘im a bly nuh. Yu nuh see how oil an’ global commodity price high.”

Please note the graph below and see the trend in all commodities, and especially agricultural commodities since the year 2000. It may surprise you to note that the trend in the graph for agricultural commodity prices is one of constant increase. Food prices quite clearly have been going up since the year 2000, and while the world has seen sharper increases since Golding has been in office, (as seen in the steeper slope of the lines since late 2007,) I simply wish to note here that few (if any) ever attributed high inflation in Jamaica to external factors when Portia was Prime Minister.The Portia Standard of governance in Jamaica is that the incumbent government is responsible for responding to the global price shocks; yet once Bruce was inaugurated a motley crew of commentators discovered “global macroeconomic factors.”

Graph of global commodity prices since 2000. Source IMF.

I cannot take the jaundiced view of Golding’s administration which the media in Jamaica took towards Portia’s administration. But I do find their discovery of ‘global macroeconomics’ and their new-found tolerance for misstatements since her departure highly entertaining.

For example, let’s look at Mark Wignall’s piece from Thursday.

If Portia Simpson Miller should call upon all the available spirits, duppies, rolling calves and a thousand Pastor Phinns, and should miraculously win, it will be a lose-lose scenario. She has been a failure in her constituency, miserably so, and to the extent that her robotic constituents have seen it fit to reward her with numerous wins while South West St Andrew remains in a pit of underdevelopment, it speaks volumes about the true nature of garrison brainwashing. More important, it tells us about the quality of the political representative.

As a leader she has not availed herself of the time given to her to mend fences. Her schoolgirl response has been that she has tried, and therefore it is not her fault. Poor woman. A win for her will bring out more of the dictatorial side which we saw in her as she attempted to “plant” Lisa Hanna in South East St Ann a la Bustamante-style.”

Source: Mark Wignall, Jamaica Observer; Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008

Now here is Mark Wignall, drawing comparisons between Portia Simpson-Miller, Peter Phillips and Bruce Golding. All of them represent garrison communities — zones of exclusion where shocking tragedies and injustices take place daily — but only Portia is called out and indicted for the “underdevelopment” of her constituency. It is entirely laughable. Wignall fails to even acknowledge that all of them represent garrison communities. Wignall states that as a leader Portia has not availed her time to mend fences. Presumably Wignall believes that Phillips has used his time to mend fences or that Phillips is not a leader. I’ve seen people in Phillips’ faction imply strongly that they would rather stay in Opposition than form a government under Portia. Yet “poor woman;” she has failed to bring these reasonable and rational kamikazes to her side. Sadly Mark Wignall may be one of the most outspoken in his criticism of Portia but he is not the only one; and to be fair to him, he also seemed very supportive of Portia at the outset of her administration.

Wignall also goes on to castigate Simpson-Miller for “attempting to ‘plant ‘ Lisa Hanna in South East St Ann.” First of all, let’s keep in mind that Portia didn’t merely attempt, but very successfully ‘planted’ Lisa Hanna in that constituency. And frankly, since Hanna’s margin of victory numbered in the 1,000s compared to several other margins from the same election which numbered in the 10’s, perhaps had Portia planted a few more candidates she would have maintained power. Even when she has faced all her detractors’ skepticism and won, Portia is castigated for things which prove the success of her political instincts. Has Wignall chided Golding yet for his “dictatorial side”? Have we fully examined Golding’s motives behind the unilateral dismissal of the PSC? Have we fully examined why Golding has a breakfront, a cabinet larger than many of his predecessors, yet simultaneously has usurped so many portfolios for himself? If Portia had done that we’d still be reading analysis of her failure to delegate these portfolios being an outgrow of her ‘intellectual insecurity.’

Never send a woman?
Never send a woman?

But as I said, Wignall is not alone. And when I see all the different commentators with a harsher view of Portia than any other political leader prior, viewing Jamdung from Up So as I do, it is perplexing. I cannot believe that all the criticisms of Portia were/are due to her performance in office, because Bruce is getting worse results without the same criticism. There is something else at work here, another reason for the disparate standard which Portia is called upon to meet and vilified when she fails to do so. I believe that the difference between Portia and Bruce, the reason she is so chastised by those who greet his failures with such charity is due to two things:

1) Her skin is black and his is brown; and,

2) She doesn’t have a penis.

Now if I was disgusted when I saw these kind of backward racist-sexist double-standards applied by semi-literate rural Jamaican grandmothers shackled by chains of a colonial past; you can imagine my revulsion at this behavior from those who think so highly of their literacy. So it took me awhile to figure out why the standard is soooo very different for Portia. Everything I like about Portia Simpson-Miller is wrapped up in her personal narrative, the fact that she comes from those rungs in society where there is traditionally a compromised longevity much less true upward mobility. Yet despite having no daddy or husband prominent in politics, Portia has come into a boys’ club and made her mark. Male domination in Jamaica often takes the form of boorish behavior, and my sad conclusion is many male and female commentators hate Portia for the same things I choose to like about her. I think they hate her for the ambition her personal narrative represents, many men don’t want the washerwomen they’re sexually harassing to dare dream higher for themselves or their daughters. Many of these women would rather Portia was the helper they called for in the morning to ask her to iron their skirt than to call her Madame Prime Minister at a meeting they have to attend. When I heard all the nonsense about “will she be able to meet Kings,” the message was pretty clear.

I want to make clear though I don’t think everyone who supported Bruce and the JLP in the general election or every delegate (living or dead) who is supporting Phillips in the internal election is sexist, classist, and racist. I’ll even disclose that I would not have voted for Portia and the PNP last year, and clearly I wasn’t going to vote NDM.  But seeing Bruce Golding and the JLP govern, there is no way we can pretend they are some incredible improvement as I have covered here before. If you wish to contend they are, tell me, after 18 months will their results be significantly better than Portia’s were?

So what bothers me is not the criticism of Portia, as I have been applying the Portia Standard to P.J., Portia, and Bruce after her. But this pretense that Portia is comparatively worse than all the people who came before her is absurd. Let us apply the new-found standard to all Jamaican leaders, we shouldn’t only expect our government to work when a black woman of modest beginnings is running it.

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3 thoughts on “The Portia Standard

  1. is true…i remember the other day we were discussing the politics and after five minutes of commenting on Portia someone pointed out that all our comments had been about her physical appearance: Does she bleach or doesn’t she? Is her hair real? Did she have a nose job? What designer’s suit had she sported the other day etc etc. so you’re right women are held to different standards.

    but the crucial one here is definitely class. most Jamaican commentators refuse to acknowledge the sheer class prejudice that is driving their definitive dismissals of Portia’s leadership qualities after 18 whole months in power. it’s not so much that she’s black as that she represents a class of people whom the elites have successfully managed to sideline and control since they took over from the Brits dem…

    However increasingly that class has demonstrated its independence and ungovernability–witness their international success in athletics and music–and with Portia in power it is all too threatening to the middle and upper classes here.

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