Mon | Nov 12, 2018

Pro or con?

Published:Tuesday | February 16, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Recently, I've been thinking about pros and cons of political campaigning.

Of course, both these words, like much of English language, are capable of CON-fusing the casual user. For example, political debate, where issues are sifted by professional journalists and put to combatants in a concise and precise way that discourages obfuscation, is a campaign 'pro'. But, this time, it appears Theophilus Thistle (the successful thistle sifter) won't be doing any sifting, as PNP appears reluctant to submit to two-way engagement.

Political debates have long been democratic election staples but, as I've been telling you for years, we live in a sham democracy. In real democracies, if you have legal disputes, they're resolved in court; if you have political code of conduct disputes, they're resolved by political ombudsmen; if you have national disputes, they're resolved in national debates. In Jamaica, governments operate by whim.

Jamaica's totalitarian-style government can treat the electorate with contempt and, if it believes polls showing it ahead make debates unnecessary for them, effectively bar debates. This only exposes the ballyhooed 'right to vote' (apparently subject to government's caprice which can restrict needed information from voters by frustrating debates) as the three-card trick it really is. Perhaps the PNP believes shouting at mass rallies and waving to crowds from open-top buses is a campaign 'pro' and debating a 'con'. Or maybe it's the entire voting illusion that's a 'con'.

This recent political campaign also features examples of another meaning of 'pro' as experienced heads like Portia Simpson Miller, Mike Henry, Omar Davies, Pearnel Charles, Bobby 'Chicken Feed' Pickersgill and Olivia 'Babsy' Grange are key campaign team members.

We've already seen more than enough of one of political campaigning's worst 'cons', as violence has reared its ugly head and threatened to destroy hard-won gains made over 35 years of struggle against that particular demon. The police keep maintaining that the violence is unrelated to politics, while advising parties not to arrange motorcades in some areas.

Another meaning of 'con' is slang for 'trick'. The 'con' in 'conman' stands for 'confidence'. A 'conman' is a confidence trickster who sets out to gain the confidence of a targeted victim (known as a mark) and, when the mark has proven in a tangible way (usually by delivery to the con man of cash or kind) that his confidence has been won, the conman disappears with the delivery.


Conmen don't hang around to gloat. They don't say 'trick you' to marks. A truly professional conman ('pro con'?) ensures he AND his victim's contribution are beyond reach before his con is uncovered. The scam ('con') is usually carefully planned and execution takes time, skills (including marketing) and patience.

So, if somebody calls a perceived attempt to gain a mark's confidence which hasn't yet succeeded a 'con', he/she would be at best guilty of premature adjudication. To be a 'con' properly so called, the mark's confidence would've been secured; he would've delivered what the conman needed; and the conman would've reneged on the expected quid pro quo.

Also, if you believe you've spotted a 'con', you'd better be able to prove the conman deliberately set out to entrap the mark with illusory inducements. Misunderstandings aren't enough. Most conmen are too skilful to leave documentary or recorded proof of inducements lying around.

So, be careful rushing to call a 'pro' a 'con'. You might be told you doth protest too much. With apologies to Slinger Francisco for taking liberties with his lyrics:

Melda, oh, you making wedding plans

carrying me name to lawyer man

All you do can't get through

I still ain't goin' marry to you ...

Public officials should grow thick skin; take bitter with sweet; praise with critique; ups with downs while reacting identically.

You making yourself a poppy show Melda.

You making yourself a bloody clown.

Up and down the country looking for lawyer

and you have no case to put down.

Girl, you only wasting time

Lawyer, won't get me to lie

and you can't trap me

with no legalese ... .

Recently, I told a pal my top three Jamaican songwriters didn't include Bob Marley. He insisted the first verse of Fire Burning by Keith (Bob Andy) Anderson was the best written by a Jamaican. My top three are: (3) Wayne Armond, (2) Bob Andy, (1) Ernie Smith.

But, for me, Sparrow is their Daddy. His wit, biting commentary and brilliant use of language are unsurpassed in the region, and his 1966 Road March-winning song Melda features the very best of those attributes.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to