I read somewhere that the word “politics” is really two words and not one, something like “harass”. The writer explained that the first syllable “poli” or “poly” means “many” and “tics” or “ticks” are “blood-sucking creatures”. This was the idea behind the song by calypsonian, Black Stalin, about “Vampire Passing.”
With election-time approaching in several countries of the Caribbean region, we are already hearingthe poli-ticking of the election clock, the poli-tricking of the parties and the poli-nitpicking of the candidates as they tear into one another’s plans, policies, projects and characters. Despite the fact that no candidate in any election in the Caribbean ever lost because of corruption, either proven or alleged, everywhere the allegations are swarming like the locusts that wiped out Egypt in Biblical times and more recently in 2013.
I was going through my humour library when I found a book of “Great American Anecdotes” with a section on “The Rules Of The Game” of politics. The chapter starts with a quote by former US Senator, Eugene McCarthy, “Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game – and dumb enough to think it is important.”
The first rule is, “Master the art of handling large, adoring crowds.” It quotes Dwight Eisenhower, a former US president, “Now here’s what you do. Get out there. Don’t look so serious. Smile. When the people are waving at you, wave your arms and move your lips, so you look like you’re talking to them. It doesn’t matter what you say; let them see you’re reacting to them.” However, comedian Jimmy Fallon points out you have to be careful, “During a speech on Sunday, President Obama said to the crowd, ‘We’ve got to vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote.’ This went on for an hour until someone finally fixed his teleprompter.”
Rule 2 of the Game is “Learn to wave.” Eisenhower, a hero of World War Two, used to raise his hands above his head in a “V” for victory sign. Adlai Stevenson, Eisenhower’s opponent used to raise one hand to his ear and New York Times reporter, James Reston, told him, “This sissy wave would cost you a million votes.” Stevenson replied, ‘I know but I’ve got bursitis and can’t get my arms any higher.” Stevenson was defeated in a landslide in 1952 and when he ran against Eisenhower again in 1956 lost by an even bigger margin.
The third rule is to get your picture taken whenever possible. This has led to the term “photo op” which is short for photograph opportunity and describes an arranged occasion to take a picture of a politician, celebrity, or notable event. The term was coined by the administration of US President Richard Nixon. It is said that Donald Trump subscribes to the theory of the power of the picture. He is quoted as saying, “I don’t care what you say about me – just make sure you print my picture.”
The fourth rule is to mind your manners. Former speaker of the US Congress, Tip O’Neill used to tell this story. He was a candidate for a city council election and the only area where he did not get the number of votes he expected was in his own neighbourhood. One of O’Neill’s neighbours, Mrs O’Brien, met him the day after the election and assured him, “My husband and I voted for you even though you didn’t ask us.” O’Neill replied, “Mrs O’Brien, you live across the street. I shoveled your walk. I did errands. And not only that, you taught me in High School. I didn’t think I had to ask you.” She said, “People like to be asked and people like to be thanked.”
O’Neill said it was a lesson he never forgot – people like to be asked, whether it is for their vote, their time, their services or their money. And when they’ve given you something, they like to be thanked.”
The rule I like best is “Don’t be afraid to create your own myths.” Jesse Jackson boasted, “I used to run bootleg (illegal) liquour, bought “hot” clothes. I had to steal to survive.” It turned out to be pure moonshine. His father, a postal worker who married Jackson’s mother, a beautician and adopted the two-year old Jackson responded, “We were never poor…and my family never went hungry a day in their lives.”
The second most important rule is “Never have pigeons in your party convention.” When US President Harry Truman was about to give his acceptance speech, fifty pigeons were released as “doves of peace”. Some of them, cooped up too long without water, fell straight to the floor dead or dying. A few saw the bald head of the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, as a target of opportunity. He tried to get quietly rid of them until he lost his temper and shouted, “Get those goddamned pigeons out of here.” The event was not a feather in his cap or the President’s.
The most important rule is never over-estimate the intelligence of your audience. George Smathers won a Florida senatorial election by supposedly “bad-mouthing” his opponent as “known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert.” Smathers also claimed that his opponent was “reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law and has a sister who was once a thespian in Greenwich Village. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy.”
* Tony Deyal was last seen saying he agreed with the American presidential candidate who said wisely, “Our future lies before us.”