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Washington Politics Spell Caribbean Problems

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BAHAMAS - Let's be clear, the antics taking place in Washington, D.C. these days are pure politics. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party and some extremist conservatives decided that since they could not defeat President Barack Obama at the polls, they would defeat him in governance.

To them it seems unthinkable that a black man with a Muslim name became president, not once but twice in "their" America. So they orchestrated a so-called "government shutdown" over a law legitimately passed in Congress and threatened a default on U.S. debt by withholding an increase in the national debt ceiling.

How do we know that this is just politics? Well, first of all, if the most fundamental job of the branches of government is to run the government, only bad politics could lead those who run the government to shut it down. That's like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company choosing to shut the company down because he disagrees with a policy passed by the company's board.

Second, when it appeared that they might be getting some traction from their antics, some of them were huddling in corners whispering about how they might actually win the public relations war over their efforts.

However, as soon as national polls revealed that the public had reached an all-time unfavorable view of both the Tea Party and the Republican Party, they buckled and found a way out.

If the position they held was so fundamental to the future of America and President Obama's health care law is the "worst thing that happened in America since slavery," as one black Tea Party conservative said, why should the polls matter?

Why should how the majority feels change your opinion on an issue you believe in your heart is not good for them or you? Such a display shows that the issue is not principles, it is politics.

Third, the nasty words being hurled at President Obama go beyond opposition to his policies. The first black American president is being told to "sit down and shut up," "get out of town," and "show his birth certificate." Taunts such as "the American people did not elect a dictator" are meant to disparage his authority.

He is threatened with impeachment by some Republicans if the nation's debt goes into default while at the same time being threatened with impeachment if he does anything unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default.

That's like saying we will kill you if you don't save your life and we will kill you if you try anything to save your life. This is the way these particular Republicans have tried to play this president since he came to office. They cloak their opposition to him in riddles wrapped in mysteries placed inside enigmas and they go one-up by surrounding their efforts with conundrums.

The problem with all this bad politics in Washington is that it has real world economic consequences. The last fight over the debt ceiling caused America's credit rating to be downgraded by Standard & Poor's. This time around, virtually all experts agree that an American debt default would spell economic disaster, meaning that the US economy would likely go into recession and pull the rest of the world down with it.

The IMF has already downgraded its forecast for global economic performance and with it the forecast for almost all regional and national economies. The truth is that the world economy is not healthy, the US economy is not healthy, and Caribbean economies are definitely not healthy.

Things are fragile on the economic front and what we do not need is anything pushing against the glass. In the Caribbean, like many regions around the world, we are saddled with extraordinarily high unemployment, cost of living, fiscal deficits and debt servicing ratios.

The elixir for our woes is robust economic growth that expands business opportunities, produces jobs and improves incomes. Getting this growth is improbable in the current economic environment. It will be nearly impossible if the US economic fortunes deteriorate. And to be sure, all of that nonsensical hullabaloo in Washington could lead to that which we do not need. If it does next year, then expect more joblessness in the Caribbean, higher deficits and higher national indebtedness.

For many of our small island states already struggling with economic viability, this could be the final straw. Another severe recession is simply too much.

What can we do in the Caribbean?

As far as influencing the Washington antics, not much except urge the 20-plus million members of the Caribbean Diaspora in America to use their influence to discourage future folly.

Perhaps they were counted among the poll results that showed the displeasure of large numbers of Americans -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- with the political brinkmanship in Congress.

For us at home, let us adopt economic, fiscal and monetary policies that are aggressively pro-business and medium- to long-term in their outlook.

Caribbean business expansion is the most productive way forward for our region, and government policies that enhance this over the long-term ought to be adopted. In a land where giants fight, agility and alertness are our most useful assets.

Let us avoid the unenlightened leadership and politics which dragged us into the recent Washington dilemma; let us quash the egos and prejudices, think sincerely about our nations and do what is good for our people rather than for our parties.