WHEN Bill Clinton campaigned against George HW Bush for the US presidency, three words spoken by one of his strategists struck home.
James Carville had a reputation for plain talking – he still has, and can regularly be seen popping up as a guest on US news shows. But when he was telling campaign workers what to focus on, “The economy, stupid” hit the mark. It rang true then in the US. It rings true now here in The Bahamas.
Moody’s has hit The Bahamas with a downgrade by two notches. Now, the ins and outs of international credit worthiness are detailed, but the short answer is that it makes it harder and more expensive to borrow money. Given we’re still borrowing money at a considerable rate and have the costs of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 hanging around our necks, that’s obviously a big deal.
So why have we been hit with the downgrade? Carville has the answer. It’s the economy.
We’ve now been downgraded to junk status – and while the government is absolutely right to point out that we’re far from alone in suffering from the effects of the pandemic, we can’t ignore that we’ve been dancing on the edge of this downgrade for a long time.
Moody’s forecast that our economy will shrink by up to a fifth this year – and while the government had previously been closing the gap on the deficit, that’s now been blown out of the water.
Finance Minister Peter Turnquest talked of tourism having taken an “extraordinary beating” but to get to the edge of junk status, our economy has been taking a beating for a long time.
So when we turn to the future, and what we need to focus on, the economy is number one priority and if we don’t get that right then priorities two through ten are hardly going to matter.
People need jobs. People need income. Income generates government funds. Government funds help build the nation. That helps to attract more jobs. And so the cycle goes on.
Right now, too many people are out of jobs. That’s of course in part down to the impact of the pandemic, but there were plenty out of work before that. So with an election on the horizon, the most important choice will be who will handle the economy best as we try to recover.
More than that, who will carry us to a point where we’re not teetering on the edge as we have been so long? What fundamental changes can we make to save ourselves from being back in the same position once COVID-19 is hopefully a thing of the past?
That other nations are having financial troubles because of the pandemic does not erase the challenges we face here at home – it merely exacerbates them.
It’s going to take some heavy lifting to get our country back above the waterline – and doing the same thing over again isn’t going to be enough. So when people come looking for your votes, remember the biggest thing that will help us all. Remember the economy.
When Peter Graham was elected to the Long Island constituency, he was 29 years old. He looked around at the state of the island – and determined to make a difference.
From 29 to 92, a lifetime of hard work, compassion and practising law has seen him make a difference indeed. Between his service as an MP to his championing of diversity and equality in his law firm, he exemplified the kind of contribution that Bahamians can make to their nation.
Mr Graham died on Wednesday. He had been planning a trip with friends to Hog Cay, just off Long Island. As he was preparing to leave, he started to have breathing difficulties.
Across the political spectrum, there have been tributes. A patriot. A man of decency and integrity. Most of all, a wonderful man.
Like others, we offer our condolences to his wife, Irene, and his children and grandchildren. He will be much missed. He truly was a man whose example we should all strive to live up to.