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  • By Zaldy Dandan

How to be a popular social commentator

Saipan — Say something obvious. Say it because no one in his or her right mind will dispute it. “We should always think about the children, the youth and their future.” Who will say no to that?

You should also sing paeans to “democracy,” “democratic elections” and the “government of the people”— unless your candidates lost the election and will not run the government. In that case you should be for “transparency” and “clean government.”

You should likewise be for “change,” for “balanced development,” for “people not profit,” for the “ordinary working folks,” for “education,” for the “environment.” If you are for all that, then those who disagree with you (even if it’s about a different topic) are for the status-quo, for overdevelopment, for profit over people, for the rich, for miseducation, for pollution.

It will also help if you invoke the “youth” a lot, especially their “wisdom.” Now and then, you should share the timeless tale about the emperor’s new clothes. Because that’s exactly what all of society’s problems are all about: a monarch wearing no clothes in public and expecting everyone to praise his fashion sense. Just imagine how that story applies to drafting legislation and implementing public policies. You can’t? Me neither.

And this was why Jimmy Carter, in the 1980 presidential debate, mentioned what his 13-year-old daughter said was the day’s most important issue: nukes. This was during the Cold War, and apparently not many American voters were thrilled to learn that among their president’s advisers was a middle-school student.

Of course, for most everything that is truly important (unlike running a government), we must consult experts or people who know what they’re talking about such as licensed medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc.

But, as I’ve said, when it’s about public policy and issues that, you know, affect everyone else including our future, we say, “Let’s hear it from the youth!” They are inexperienced, usually bad spellers, still living with their parents, and overflowing with hormones, but heck! They may know a thing or two about how to improve society — an endeavor that has bedeviled humanity’s greatest minds since we got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

Now I’m not exactly a public commentator. I’m a mere writer in the Johnsonian sense of the word. (“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”) So whenever I ask a teenager it is usually about things involving a laptop and/or smartphones, including websites with free music or free movies.

But I will never ask a teenager how to, say, improve the economy because I was a teenager myself and whenever I recall the “thoughts” and “ideas” I had back in the day, I shudder.

I wanted government to raise wages and reduce prices. The law of supply and demand? Repeal it! And ban typhoons and earthquakes! To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, I believed that government should make us smarter, taller, richer and then mow our lawn. I wanted free healthcare, free college education, free transportation, free house, free utilities. I wanted, in short, to remain a teenager who lived with his parents.

Today, in middle-age, I finally (and sadly) understand what Mark Twain meant when he said:

“When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21 I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.”

Here, in any case, are two more tips for all the aspiring social commentators out there:

1) “Everything has already been said — but not yet by everyone,” which is attributed to Karl Valentin, a German clown, and;

2) “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again,” said André Gide, a French pederast.

Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety, and author of three books available on

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