By Zaldy Dandan
Lend me your ears
Saipan — The CNMI’s new Legislature will be sworn in this month, and, as usual, each of the lawmakers will deliver their inaugural speeches, all of which will be heartfelt. Not a lot of us remember previous inaugural speeches so it is likely that only a few will realize that many of the speeches, then and now, are practically one and the same in terms of “theme” and even content.
Because, come on! What else is there to say if you’re a newly elected or re-elected official? Happily, in politics, there are so many ways to say everything and nothing.
Here’s how Sir Humphrey, a fictional government official on the British TV comedy “Yes Minister, reply to a question about where a particular government committee stands regarding a controversial policy proposal:
“It’s clear that the committee has agreed that your new policy is a really excellent plan but in view of some of the doubts being expressed, may I propose that I recall that after careful consideration, the considered view of the committee was that while they considered that the proposal met with broad approval in principle, that some of the principles were sufficiently fundamental in principle and some of the considerations so complex and finely balanced in practice, that, in principle, it was proposed that the sensible and prudent practice would be to submit the proposal for more detailed consideration, laying stress on the essential continuity of the new proposal with existing principles, and the principle of the principal arguments which the proposal proposes and propounds for their approval in principle.”
As for the local lawmakers’ inaugural speeches, they will, of course, include expressions of profound gratitude and/or of grave concerns. Promises will be made and/or reiterated. We will hear paeans to family, community, local culture, resiliency, transparency, clean government, democratic ideals, “The People” and “The Children,” including and especially “The Children’s Children.” Everyone will vow to work for the betterment of the community and “The People.”
As I’ve said, we will, more or less, hear the same speeches again on future Inauguration Days, but, again, who’s keeping track?
Like second, third and fourth marriages, democratic elections are the triumph of hope over experience. They are a celebration of good intentions. And never mind if the consequences of good intentions are usually the opposite of our expectations. There’s always the next election.
To be sure, it is rare to hear a newly elected official publicly admitting that things may get worse under his watch, and that he’s not even sure whether he can do anything about it. Not a lot of people vote for truth-tellers.
But what if such an individual miraculously won an election? What will he say on Inauguration Day?
“Today I will promise to continue saying things that you, or most of you, want me to say, and I will try to do the things you, or many of you, expect me to do even if it can’t be done.
“I will not contradict any of your harebrained suggestions. I will not even call them harebrained, at least not in public. Instead, I will nod my head vigorously, sympathetically.
“You elected me as your representative, and as your representative I’m supposed to carefully evaluate an issue and consult with knowledgeable people before introducing, supporting or opposing any proposed law. But if I do that, I may end up proposing or saying something that will anger many of you who have neither the time nor the inclination to study these issues.
“Many of you want me to be your dancing puppet, Santa Claus and personal ATM. You want me to agree with you all the time, but there’s so many of you, and you yourselves seldom agree with one another. You also believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch, that tradeoffs are unnecessary, and perfection is possible.
“If I tell you the truth, as I am doing right now; if I say that, like many other voters all over the world, you’re confused and confusing — I would be kicked out of office even before the end of my term…or this speech.
“So why am I in politics? Why did I seek office? Because, like many other politicians, I didn’t realize what I was getting into. And once I finally did, I assumed that I could wing it.
“In any case, two years from now most of you won’t even recall what you’re complaining about today. Many of you will believe that the ‘new’ (but actually old) problems we face are the worst ever, and that we are living near the end of days.
“So you will vote for change, again. You will, again, demand change — from others, of course, and not from yourselves. And soon, you will be disappointed, again, that nothing ever changes.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety, and author of three books available on amazon.com