Our elected statesmen would do well to draw inspiration from the sounds of Christmas, and utilize the feelings of goodwill and politeness to temper their political discourse when the business of the Legislative Assembly picks up again in January.
Too often in recent months have divisive oratory and inflammatory rhetoric prevailed in the House, as our lawmakers have allowed themselves to become carried away on the ugliest of diatribes.
The defining instance of this, perhaps, was Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden’s unfortunate remarks in August on the “satanic confusion” of homosexuality. During his intemperate outburst on the House floor, Mr. Eden described gay rights as “a social and moral evil [that] is being promoted as normal behavior,” amid allusions to pedophilia, bestiality and abortion.
After his statements were criticized by Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith, Mr. Eden again stood up in parliament, this time declaring, “We do not need an atheist chairing our Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission.”
Later, Mr. Eden publicly broke from the Progressives government over the issue of the legal recognition of same-sex couples, and stated that when the House reconvenes, he would be an independent member of the Legislative Assembly.
In a speech in April on the House floor, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller referenced “revolution” and “bloodshed,” saying, “[R]evolutions are not caused in countries by poor disadvantaged people.
“They are the people that are used. It is them kind of unemployed, education people that are going to cause the revolution in this country. … I going to probably be in front with them in leading the revolution. They’re not going to be leading it against me, I going to be with them. Because it has to come. … We don’t have too many moons here to make the adjustment locally and put Caymanians back in charge. … If we don’t do it soon, we not going to do it without bloodshed. Because people are getting fed up.”
Meanwhile, East End MLA Arden McLean recently commented on the relationship between expatriates and Caymanians, saying, “When these people come here, they accept our generosity and then they take it for stupidity. Because we’re stupid. We allow them take advantage of us.”
Mr. McLean was seizing an opportunity presented by freshman George Town MLA Winston Connolly, who had made a motion in regard to the training and promotion of Caymanian employees, and, we felt, imprudently differentiated between “real” Caymanians and legitimate Caymanian status holders. He later denied that was his intent.
Our point is this: Our country’s statesmen should keep in mind that, in the age of the Internet, what they say in the House no longer stays within the House, or Cayman’s borders. The “parliamentary privilege” that they enjoy does not grant them immunity from international bad publicity.
For example, the editorials the Compass published in August and November on Mr. Eden’s invective reached readers in 35 different countries. (And that’s just Cayman’s “hometown newspaper.” Imagine the magnitude of reputational damage when unflattering stories are picked up by the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters and the Associated Press.)
When elected members speak on the floor of the House, they need to remind themselves that their audience is no longer just their colleagues or their constituencies. It is the world. Self-discipline and restraint need to govern their oratory.
One more thought, and please trust us on this: Words, when reduced to print, often look much worse than they sound when uttered verbally. It is a principle every public speaker should keep in mind.
Accordingly, our leaders would be well-advised to conduct themselves with a bit more “CaymanKindness” this holiday season and in the New Year. Those who persist in incivility need to be called out, forcefully but respectfully, by their colleagues in parliament — and the people of these islands.