There are ongoing elections around the world, most recently in one of the casualties of the Arab Spring Tunisia, Brazil, the US mid-term congressionals and my native Botswana where general elections were concluded and the president sworn in last week. Casting a vote in the ballot box is like throwing your pennies into a wishing well, in the hope that your dreams may become a reality.
With this came outright electioneering and a continuous blast of campaign rhetoric which, at the most basic, is a bunch of repetitive statements crafted to assure a candidate’s win –usually promising the electorate changes that won’t happen. The main function of the politician is to whisper words into your ear to assure you that you have made the right decision. There are essentially two types of politicians; the virtuous upstart and the incumbent who knows better.
The incumbent is so skilled at electioneering that they have an almost natural gift of selling you the most unfeasible dreams, all the while knowing the improbability of implementation. Of course after years of being in office, putting up a front and putting off fires is their main specialty, coupled with the blessing of oratory kitsch. I have never come across a politician who is not a professional at this — and if you have, you’ve have identified the biggest fish of them all.
The most impressive of the incumbent’s traits is the ability to respond “with the quickness,” as the youth say, to any crises that may arise. A rebuttal through a hastily and carefully worded press release could mean the difference between a mess and a win before the eyes of the public. The seriousness taken by the politician, a shrewd tactician, is proof of this.
The incumbent’s skill functions firstly in cases of public relations meltdowns mentioned above, and secondly, in the dirty game of slander which comes as frequently as Cialis spam mail. The ability to deliver a scathing attack on an opponent while remaining dignified and abiding by gentleman’s rules is as crucial to survival as their propensity for tailored suits.
Ironically, politics is not a gentleman’s game. And when it comes to underhanded tactics; it is the incumbent who comes out shining.
Any public figure will illicit the attention of the public and when this morphs into curiosity, the lengths at which many will go to satiate this craving for information is boundless. One such person who profits and services the people on this front is the investigative journalist. Their one job is to demystify this public figure’s persona and reveal who they are behind the polished brogues, pricey suits and manicured mane.
Some upstarts have the misguided idea that maintaining a strict separation of public and personal life and sweeping of dirt under the rug is a viable option. They too soon fall victim to the journalist’s tenacity and the truth’s tendency to come to light, ultimately learning that an open book approach is the only solution. The first scandal splashed on front pages is the mandatory baptism of fire; an engineered welcome to public life that toughens them to the ill reality of living under public scrutiny.
The young politician starts out, like many others, as a naïve idealist hell-bent on changing policy in one foul swoop. Nobody warns him that the system is set from the start to make sure that any amendments are not only difficult to alter but there are “fail safes” in the constitution to make sure the agreed laws remain intact. Nobody tells him that all the foes that growl and let their fangs hang in public are actually in bed with each other and that the winner is one that shows great showmanship.
His ambitious crusade for change is slowed down by members of his own party where he is reminded, in no fewer words, that the purpose of their presence is to provide a false veneer of opposition to the majority rule. The bills that manage to get party approval are turned down in the national assembly and inquiries into mismanagement are chaired by acquaintances of those that are being investigated. Hence the results either bring about little change in the system or remain closely guarded and kept under wraps through bureaucratic slight of hand.
As the months and years pass on, the upstart’s spirit is chipped at, his resolve weakened, and his character itself left unrecognizable — withered by weathered veterans. Members of the old guard whose main intention is to keep the status quo, encourage the newbies to enjoy the spoils of office instead of concerning themselves with delusions of righting moral wrongs. His efforts to bring the reforms purported in his campaign run are like kicks in quicksand sending him sinking faster into a political muck.
The transition within a single term in office can be a thrilling spectacle to watch yet bordering on sadism like a dog giving birth or as macabre as standing over an animal hit by a speeding vehicle staring as it takes its last breath. From lighting a fire under complacent politicians sleeping on the job to being a back-bencher just like them, defending the poor work ethic and lack of mobilisation of resources and implementation of policy, the change is drastic. Once a mouth piece of the people, he is now a shadow of himself, a Judas seduced by the comfort of chauffeured drives, subsidies, kickbacks and proceeds of back room deals that come with office.
Before he knows it he wakes up to find that he has turned into the incumbent, that same opponent he was fighting against, staring back him in the mirror. The men he jousted with are now cronies that send for him and his spirit is worn down. His people, the ones that sent him to office with a package of dreams and promises of the future, are disillusioned and call for his head. Instead of service delivery, all he has for them is rhetoric which can bring no restitution to his tattered reputation and integrity. That is how it comes full circle; from hopeful dreamer with a somewhat sunny disposition to a complacent screamer with an icy demeanor. Once a shining light but now a disgrace hounded by pundits, political analysts and muckrakers on a crusade to hang him out to dry.
The upstart and the incumbent, one cannot exist without the other. The existence of both as opposite poles on the morality index is akin and subject to the Causal Argument in the origin of the universe. At its basic, it posits that the universe is caused by God but by reduction, He himself is not exempt from the theory of cause and effect as He must have materialized from somewhere if He is to satisfy the criteria for “existence.” In comparison, the case of the incumbent and the upstart is set on the same plane; one begets the other. The ultimate loss however, is to the public that is left reeling from the despair of wasted votes and frozen hopes.