For students of American politics, there are at least three reasons to remember the late U.S. Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater.
First, as the Republican presidential nominee back in 1964 he posted one of the most catastrophic losses in modern American politics. Incumbent president Lyndon Johnson demolished him by the extraordinary margin of 22.58% of the popular vote and Goldwater only managed to win six states, five of them in the segregationist deep South.
Second, within just sixteen years of that loss, in 1980 a far smoother and more avuncular Republican candidate than the rough-hewn, straight shooting Goldwater, in the form of Ronald Reagan would also sweep the presidency by a landslide. And he, essentially, ran on the same libertarian, anti-communist platform as Goldwater.
The third aspect of the Goldwater campaign back then which relates somewhat to the swamp of our local politics right now was in the psychological realm. It commenced with his campaign slogan –“In your heart you know he’s right”. This led the Democrats searing counterpoint: “In your guts you know he’s nuts.”
His opponents’ cruel cut related to Goldwater’s erratic performance in the campaign, which included a proposal to detonate a nuclear bomb over North Vietnam and a ringing
defence in favour of ‘extremism’. This led many eminent authorities to question the mental hygiene of the Republican standard-bearer.
In fact, 1 000 psychiatrists penned a letter to a magazine declaring Goldwater to be ‘psychologically unfit’ to be president.
In a recent article Jane Meyer in The New Yorker noted that Goldwater went on to win a defamation action from the publication and also the American Psychiatric Association imposed the so-called’ Goldwater rule’. This forbade its members from commenting in public on the ‘psyches of living public figures whom they have not personally examined’.
But, as Meyer notes with a waspish sting, the presidency of Donald Trump is ‘testing the limits’ of this rule. In breach of it, a leading US psychiatrist declared, “It’s my view that Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder…he is deluded and compulsive and he has no conscience”.
Happily, there is no Goldwater rule in South Africa. But if there were, and even in the absence of any training as a shrink, you would be forced to conclude that our own dear president suffers from delusions on a grand scale.
Jacob Zuma’s performance in Parliament last Thursday seemed to provide further incontrovertible proof. Asked by opposition leader Mmusi Maimane about his ability to lead
the country, he declared, “I am fit and I am doing it very well.”
“Very well”? Let’s just recap some snapshot facts and not fake news : the country is in a recession (Zuma’s second in eight years) , unemployment has spiked at its highest rate ever (27.7%) and business confidence is at a nine year low. Social grants have, according to the Institute of Relations increased by a whopping 328% in fifteen years while real jobs have grown by less than one-tenth of that (24%). Every credit rating agency has downgraded our debt and we are just one notch removed from the credit junkyard. You have to wonder in which universe Zuma lives and which planet he orbits to conclude he is doing ‘very well’.
And that’s just on the economic front. Zuma has presided over the loss of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth in last year’s election and his party’s hitherto stalwart ally, COSATU, is about to impose a national shutdown to protest his continuance in office.
But, to be perfectly fair to Zuma and his declaration of high competence, he did precede his remarks with a chuckle and then later in the same question session, he mystifyingly contradicted himself. He said, “I never said I am a good leader, I was elected by the people.” The same ‘’people’’ who now rank him here, according to polls, as more unpopular in South Africa than Trump is in America and the world.
But when delusions fail our Number One there is always victimology to fall back on. The Oxford dictionary describes this state as ‘a mental attitude which tends to indulge and perpetuate the feelings of being a victim’. In the same question session in Parliament, the country’s most powerful citizen, the man at the centre of the state and its capture, decided that victimology was transferable to his favoured son.
“You can’t just single out one person just because he is the son of the president. It’s not fair , it is not correct.”
Actually when that son, Duduzane, is in league with the Guptas, and has accumulated millions from his proximity to power and features front and centre of the spewed e-mails and amidst claims that Zuma precisely said in private what he denied in Parliament then there is every right to raise the alarm.
But then again Zuma’s response to state capture is to appoint a commission. Readers will recall how long the Marikana Commission took to complete its work ( three years); or the Commission of Enquiry into Fees Must Fall ( more than one- and a half years and still waiting); or the Arms deal commission (reported but no result or culpability for wrongdoing). Not just kicking into the long grass, but more likely a forest which sprout long before results, if any, emerge. By then Zuma will be out of office. And if his
former wife is elected to the presidency, by all accounts, he will be out of harm’s way as well.
But Zuma hardly is the only occupant of the bubble of high office who seems at one remove from reality. Just last week the Kwa Zulu Natal government decided to maintain the Health MEC who has presided over the abuse of the human rights (if not the lives) of cancer patients at provincial hospitals (no oncologists and no working equipment).
Cynically or terrifyingly, you can imagine which is worse: to be a mental health patient in Gauteng or a cancer sufferer in KZN?
Then on the weekend, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa offered us a stunning insight: he told the Sunday Times “We can’t watch as the country sinks.”
The ripostes on social media were swift and brutal. As journalist Songezo Zibi tweeted, “But you’ve been watching for years already.” But in the echo chamber of denial and shrugging off of responsibility –which characterises the presidency these days – it is all of a piece. And Rampahosa has been in the presidential wheelhouse since 2009. And, come to think of it, he was also first elected ANC secretary in 1991, twenty-six years ago.
More than twenty years ago, then-as-now Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi coined a smart decoding for the initials A.N.C. He said it really meant
“Absolutely No Consequences.” In that respect at least, the 88-year old IFP Prince was way ahead of his time.
Perhaps not just in psychiatric terms, but electorally as well, Goldwater’s fate awaits the current abusers of local power.
- Featured in The Times