The cruelest month
Saipan — In the CNMI and other U.S. jurisdictions, November, not April, as T.E. Eliot once declared, is the cruelest month. Eliot says April mixes memory and desire. Well, elections are held in November which stirs our desires into our delusions until we can no longer tell which is which.
“If I vote for Candidate X I am truly giving ourselves a blank slate, a fresh start and an opportunity to repair and save our reputation on the global stage.”
In this election year, that’s a typical comment from one of our concerned citizens. But not many of us know that the blank-slate notion is a very old one. In the 18th century, the French revolutionists called it “Year One.” Their 20th century descendants, the Khmer Rouge, went one better and proclaimed the first year of their rule as “Year Zero.” The Khmer Rouge’s intellectual godfather, Mao Zedong, idealized a society that is like a “clean sheet of paper” which “has no blotches, and so the newest and most beautiful words can be written on it.”
This is the do-gooders’ ultimate dream: a do-over so our intellectual and moral betters (who happen to be the same do-gooders) can govern the rest of us, and lead us to what they call “a better tomorrow.” We are blank sheets of paper on which our enlightened leaders will spell out their noble thoughts and lofty ideas.
We are, in short, all reasonable people who will listen to reasonable leaders.
And if we don’t?
The do-gooders seem to believe that we’re electing a ruler whose word is law, and not a chief executive of one of three separate and co-equal branches of government that check and balance each other.
In the CNMI’s case, its main problem is financial: it doesn’t have enough money to pay all its pressing obligations. Why? Because the local economy is down, and the only reason it’s still functioning is because of federal funds which will soon run out.
Most voters don’t want a “fresh start,” whatever that means. What many of them want is a fresh source of public funds. To begin with, many voters are government employees or are related to government employees, and what they want is good-paying government jobs with annual pay increases and more benefits, and job security.
Government retirees are another big voting bloc, and what they want is 100 percent of their retirement benefits even though the CNMI government, under a settlement agreement approved by the federal court, is obligated to pay only 75 percent of their benefits.
Many voters also want free or affordable health care which includes medical referrals to off-island hospitals. They want free education and college scholarship programs. They want good roads. Affordable and reliable utility services. Homestead lots. Affordable housing loans. Public safety. And they don’t like tax or fee hikes.
Their ideal candidate is someone who can donate at least $200 million a year to the CNMI government. And how quaint it is to believe that the CNMI has a “global reputation” to burnish.
Every day there are never-ending conflicts, natural disasters, political and economic crises and other horrific news from all over the world, but many people in many countries are “dismayed” if not “shocked” by what’s happening in the CNMI!
Somewhere in the states or maybe even in Europe, an avid reader of CNMI online news is wringing his hands and shaking his head while saying out loud: “What’s that? There could be a partial government shutdown in the CNMI because lawmakers from opposing political parties can’t agree on a new budget in an election year? Good God no! No! What’s the world coming to! What’s wrong with the CNMI? Why are their politics and politicians so, so…political!”
There was a time when I believed that elections matter, even to, if not especially to, ordinary citizens. That all we need to do as citizens is to vote for the “right candidate” who has the “right platform.” Once they’re elected into office, to quote the Jamaican sage Bob Marley, then “every little thing gonna be all right.”
Today, the voters I respect the most are those who say they’re voting for Candidate Y because said candidate is good-looking or likeable or someone who, once s/he wins, will hire the voter or a relative of the voter.
I respect, in other words, voters who have no delusions. And I now know that many concerned citizens who are delusional are also known as “intelligent people.”
Recently, a young politically inclined man asked me to recommend a political book that he ought to read. I said, P.J. O’Rourke’s “Don't Vote! — It Just Encourages the Bastards.”
The kid thought I was kidding.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, “If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan,” is available on amazon.com/.