On Democracy and Politics

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on September 4, 2014.

I just found an old Tom Hanks inter­view, part of his pub­lic­ity work for ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’. It got me think­ing about polit­i­cal dramas in gen­eral. There’s been some good ones recently. ‘Broken City’; ‘Ides of March’; ‘Game Change’; ‘W’; ‘The Queen’ – the world has a morbid fas­ci­na­tion with the flaws in our sys­tems of gov­er­nance. But what’s the reac­tion when one comes out? ‘Stuart Little’ makes par­ents buy mice for their kids – I thought ‘Ides of March’ was really deep, but I can’t say it shifted my thinking.

Can democ­racy exist with­out pol­i­tics? It seems the most you can hope to do is ‘divide and con­quer’. If it’s truly one man, one vote, the mech­a­nisms make sense. But how do you elim­i­nate the human ten­dency to form blocs? That’s how we got here in the first place. Round tables are pow­er­ful tools, but water cool­ers – even more so.

One thing that con­fuses me, though: the phe­nom­e­non of the ‘gaffe’. Seems it’s designed to judge people on how well they can play the game, instead of making sure they’re not just play­ing. We want the person’s idea, but we need them in slicker writ­ing? How does that work? And then there’s affil­i­a­tions, and polit­i­cal con­ven­tion, and so on, eating away at the sub­stance until the No. 1 skill for a pres­i­dent is per­fect recall. I stand a good chance, there­fore; I learned to rehearse my lies when I was ten.

It’s a weird system, over­all. The baby-kiss­ing, the late-night shows, the auto­bi­ogra­phies. The nego­ti­a­tions with the all-pow­er­ful media. You sur­vive the tightrope walk for five whole years, then you wake up one morn­ing to dis­cover – they are offended by your suit colour. Bradley Manning and Julian Assange fall away, and one inju­di­cious selfie becomes the news.

Actually, this is stan­dard African funeral protocol. 

President Mahama made a couple of speeches ear­lier this year which went over very well. The State of the Union address was the bigger hit of the two, because he said very nice things about young entre­pre­neurs. Both that one and his Independence Day speech were shared and quoted for about a week. Suddenly, opin­ion seemed to shift, mere weeks since his last big ‘gaffe’. Then it all went limp again. What hap­pened during the speech. Now, I doubt he comes across as a hyp­notic speaker – his tone and rhythm remain non­com­mit­tal, and he keeps break­ing eye con­tact. So we’re left with the strong words, the rhetoric that cel­e­brated inno­va­tion. He has a way with words, I know; his books are crit­i­cally acclaimed. So would any good speech­writer do for president?

We might con­sider a more nat­ural solu­tion. The town-hall meet­ing con­cept is an approx­i­ma­tion of nat­ural per­sua­sion dynam­ics, but it still plays on the crowd men­tal­ity. Philosophy ends up trump­ing real­ity, and your stand-point becomes impor­tant. What might work though – we appoint com­mit­tees, after the fact, to inter­view experts on just why every­thing went phut. Why don’t we just get the experts to take a shot at keep­ing things upright? And you don’t elect an expert, you fund them. You don’t make a doctor head of health, you give him a team. Keep the prob­lem-solvers solv­ing prob­lems. Let pro­fes­sional audi­tors keep track of them. Leave nation-build­ing to the pros. Don’t ask me to vote for you because you have ‘vision’ and ‘integrity’. Sure, keep being inno­v­a­tive and honest at what­ever you do to help keep the nation run­ning. But as pres­i­den­tial qual­i­ties? How do they work in abstract? I’d respect some­body more if they said they’d man­aged a work­force of 100,000 before. But how do you do project that expe­ri­ence to the man­age­ment of a coun­try? A secu­rity guard and a stand­ing mil­i­tary are two very dif­fer­ent things.

I doubt it will happen. And vari­a­tions of this have been tried; they’ve failed to catch on even if results were promis­ing. But it makes so much more sense than any­thing we’ve got. Perhaps that should form the big ques­tion: is this the gov­ern­ment we deserve?