Tuesday, July 01, 2008

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The more I pay attention to politics, the more I feel that we keep getting run over. There's a certain part of politics which is always a lose-lose situation. And the real problem is that that part is the main crux of it all: it's a popularity contest, and everyone wants to win.

Barack Obama gets a cheap shot from people saying that you can't trust him because he's a Muslim. An adamant Obama and an enthusiastic following push forward the clarification that he's a Christian. Which works for a while. Then Reverend Wright comes along.

Ten years ago, Anwar Ibrahim gets accused of sodomy. He denies the charge, and says he does not participate in what he characterized as immoral activities. He is arrested, jailed, and later his conviction is overturned. This week, new allegations arise.

What's wrong with this picture? Both Obama and Anwar - the former who is labeled liberal and the latter who self-identifies as being liberal - have missed the point. The cheap shot is not if someone calls you not black enough, not Malay enough, not Christian enough, or not Muslim enough. It's not a cheap shot because that is the real test of whether we have produced real leaders who stand up to say that hey, that question has nothing to do with what makes me a good leader. The cheap shot is when you descend to that level and defend your Christianity or your heterosexuality, and give that kind of politics the legitimacy it ill deserves.

After all, it's not as if they're saying that you're a suicide bomber or a rapist - if that's the case, then it's a different matter [and yes, in Anwar's case it may end as that this time] and by all means go out and return fire. But so far, what our champions have done is to legitimize the idea that you need Christian qualifications to the President of the United States, and that sexuality should be yet another divisive element in a country already torn by artificial class distinctions. It's not to the extent of the destruction of church and state in America, or the kind of discrimination of the Nazis, but it's certainly a step in the wrong direction. That's the risk - it's easier to see the robber of bank than a bad banker who slowly steals from your account. In that sense, it's more like one step forward, two steps back. Governments based on a twisted form of the cha-cha. How so very reassuring.

Whatever good Obama or Anwar may bring in terms of a cleaner government, had better be more than the impact they have indirectly done to civil liberties and the failure of producing a society more thinking and more mature than the one we had ten months ago, or ten years ago.

And I suspect it's not about of a lack of awareness of the big picture, but all of this because it's the only way people will let you win an election. I also suspect that they say to themselves, well, it's better for the people than letting the other guy win. That in turn is just because we the people - the vaulted voice of democracy, the foundation of freedom - no longer have the rules such that good people who stand up for the right things in tough moments may lose an election with honor and but be honored in history as a winner for sticking to principle. We the people prefer to forget them because they said something unpopular even though it may have been right. And if we applied the same principle to schools, the biggest kid gangster would run the Principal's office.

Today we have the heroes of what's left, instead of the heroes of what could, and should, be.
We shouldn't elect someone just because he has exactly the same ideas as us. We had better elect someone because his or her ideas are better than ours, because that's the prerequisite of leadership. A good leader standing for elections should show the electorate the path forward, especially if that path is difficult. Instead what we get are leaders who make you sit down on the road and have a picnic, and subconsciously tell us how beautiful we are because we act just like them.

Which is fine, until the SUV comes round the bend and rolls over us both.

We weren't always like this. We had Onn Jafaar. And Tunku Abdul Rahman. They were great in achievements, but man, history showed how they absolutely magnificent they were in defeat.

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