/ 25 March 2009

Honesty could be the best policy

In his acclaimed (and very expensive) book Alpha Dogs, James Harding, editor of The Times newspaper, captures a very interesting story of one Kevin White running for mayoral office in the city of Boston in the United States in 1978.

White, who had been mayor of the big city for three terms and was campaigning for re-election, had enlisted the services of renowned spin doctors to help him. Apparently, on the first day of meeting the men who would help him back to office, one of the men, Ned Kennan, looked White in the face and said to him: “The people of Boston really do not like you. In fact they hate you. They view you as an aloof, arrogant, son-of-a-bitch bastard. You do not give a damn about people. You are seen as the boss of a huge political machine. You are … not liked.”

Obviously White was both shocked and unimpressed by such candour from someone who claimed to be on his side and who expected to be, and was, paid lots of money for such “advice”.

After a long explanation of why people viewed him this badly White asked if it meant he was going to lose the election and Kennan responded, to more of White’s shock: “No, I believe you are going to win the election. Tell the truth. Say ‘I’m Kevin White. I am a selfish, aloof, son-of-a-bitch bastard. I run a big political machine. But I love this city, Boston, and I’m using all of that machine politics and power to make the city prosper’.” Much more happened between that day and election day, but the long and short of it is that White was re-elected with a big majority.

While I was recently stuck in traffic a thought visited me about who I will or must vote for. The truth is I am undecided about who I should give my vote to. So, after reading Alpha Dogs, I have decided the only party that will win my vote is the one that is willing to stand up in public and tell me the truth about itself. Maybe, just maybe, I might catapult it into office. So I thought about what kinds of truth I would be excited to hear from some of the key political parties in this country. Something like:

  • From the ANC: “Revolutionary greetings. We are the African National Congress. We are the arrogant ruling party that has harboured some undesirable people in the party, in Parliament and in government. Some of our members have stolen from the taxpayers and others have been proved to be less than straight and undeserving of high office. But we are a party of reconciliation and do not believe that people should be thrown out, but rather that they can change with a little help from the party.”
  • From the DA: “Listen here, we are the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition in Parliament. We are obnoxious, sometimes insensitive to the sufferings of the majority of the people of South Africa and prone to being pompous and self-important. But, we are actually concerned about the welfare of all South Africans, we just do not know how to articulate it in such a way that we are not seen as racist pigs.”
  • From Cope: “Chiefs, we the Congress of the People realise that we are a house divided, born out of a fallout with the ANC and have nothing that unites us other than the hatred for the current leadership of the ANC. But we love this country so much that we did the only thing that could save it, divide the ANC and for that we ask for your vote.”
  • From the IFP: “Bayete. In fact we are just a dying regional party that has failed to rebrand itself from a tribal party with links to apartheid South Africa. But we are prepared to change this balderdash and make up for our mistakes, if only you vote for us.”
  • From the ID: “Yello, I am Patricia de Lille. I lead a one-woman party that can never be a political party because I tend to think that this is my party and only I have a say. I do not intend to change because I know, unlike other politicians in this country, I have the balls to stand up to any party that I think is messing up this country.”

I could go on and on about the other parties, but what’s the point? The sad truth is that for the next three-and-a-half weeks we are going to continue to be bombarded by political campaigns of lies, promises and denials. And for some strange reason all the parties are going to expect me to wake up on April 22 and stand in the sun, in a long queue, eager to give them my vote. You must be kidding me.