EACH time I remember Aristotle’s “man is a political animal,” I think that we should just delete the word “statesman” in the dictionary. How can a slimy, scaly reptile with a tail that curls up like a phallus and has the coarsest of ways, be a “statesman?” The concepts are incompatible.
Some praying mantis outside my window says that “statesmanlike” suggests “civility” or “diplomacy.” A statesman, says this poor underweight fellow on my window, usually finds himself starting his sentence with “With due respect…” or “I understand what you’re saying…however…” But those lines are too flat for the “political animal.” With unprecedented skill and savvy, the “animal” will say “Grrrrrr…you’re autistic!”
Seriously, the phrase “political gentleman” sounds like an oxymoron today. In the boiling pot of politics, the first casualty is civility. US President Harry Truman was right.
“A politician,” he says, “is a man who understands government, and the statesman is a politician who’s been dead for 15 years.”
When the recent SWS survey came out, Manny Villar brings his fat heart into a presidential debate and hits Noynoy Aquino with a diatribe about his lack of experience. Aquino says Villar has never come up front to point a finger at President Arroyo. And so on and so forth. You don’t get surprised.
In the stretch towards May, the political narrative will go as inflammatory as your tummy.
I’ve been reading US President Barack Obama’s memoir “Audacity of Hope” lately, and stumble on one of the many lessons he learned about the dynamics of politics and the press. He says, “Indeed, part of what makes the juxtaposition of competing press releases so alluring to reporters is that it feeds that old journalistic standby—personal conflict. It’s hard to deny that political civility has declined in the past decade, and that the parties differ sharply on major policy issues. But at least some of the decline in civility arises from the fact that, from the press’s perspective, civility is boring.”
A polite statement from a lethargic news source will barely make it on paper. A mayor who would call a press conference to declare that he is leaving his fate to God will have all the reporters scrambling out before he could even finish his sentence. But if a source shifts into attack mode, hands down, he’ll get the press mobbing him. Reporters, says Obama, will go out of their way to “stir up the pot” and provoke the source into making a bloated response.
“The spin, the amplification of conflict, the indiscriminate search for scandal and miscues—the cumulative impact of all this is to erode any agreed-upon standards for judging the truth,” says Obama.
One of the more interesting exchanges in our political narrative was the saga involving Governor Garcia and Mayor Osmeña. The latter called the governor “Tandang Zora,” and the former went on to emerge in a press con in a Zorro costume to sic a chicken figurine supposedly to dramatize that the mayor “chickened out” when the Province offered to buy a piece of land at the SRP. The exchanges, reinforced with interesting photographs, simply fell as ideal staple for the press.
This is pretty tricky though. The conduct of governance, which is supposed to be where the real meat is, gets waylaid along the way in exchange for the rather cosmetic caterwauling of spin. The nature of deadlines and drive for revenue, says Obama, makes the press hospitable to spin. The “political animal” could hypnotize the press into forgetting its didactic role.