Orwell didn’t invent doublespeak! He just gave it a name!
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
What I’m saying is that when you’re covering politics, you know that you can predict some things, but you cannot predict what your predictions will be. You’re not surprised when the surprise springs out. (Not to mention, running the risk of sounding like politicians.)
Here’s an example. You can predict that when an incumbent governor (or president, for that matter) delivers his state of the island (or the state of the union) address, supporters and party-mates will applaud on cue (that’s predictable); but you can’t tell how many rounds of applause he will get (that’s unpredictable).
You know that the opposition party will heckle (predictable), but you can’t predict what they will say about the speech (unpredictable). They sit there listening intently taking mental notes and trying to catch numerical flaws and logical inconsistencies. Chances are, they’ll find a couple of these.
Last Monday, the Democrats found a couple of flaws in Gov. Felix P. Camacho’s state of the island address. If the island was in such a good shape as the governor claimed, they asked, why then did the Camacho administration project a revenue level that is lower than the current one.
Again, the boos from the other side are predictable. In any government, the sitting party is always at a disadvantage because they are on the defense side. The sitting party represents the government. To feel good about the government, to quote the Rolling Stones’ P.J. O’Rourke, is like “looking at the bright side of any catastrophe. When you quit looking at the bright side, the catastrophe is still there.”
One just has to review Gov. Camacho’s address to prove this. He started with upbeat declarations that “hope has been restored!” and “the decade of recession is finally over!”
These were followed by a dozen more exclamatory declarations. To wit: “Guam’s economy has been stabilized ... and is expanding for the first time in 10 years!”
“We’ve taken it a step further — we’re building new schools!”
“The last publicly owned telephone company in the nation has finally been sold!” “Our gross island product in 2002 was 20 percent higher than in 2003 at more than $3.1 million!” (What? Guam doesn’t have a gross island product figure yet? Ooops. Actually, it’s a gross business activity, the governor’s office clarified a day later.
Toward the end of the speech, the governor broke the bad news: the side of catastrophe. We need $11 million for GMH; GWA needs to borrow $200 million. The government does not have money to pay the $143 million in tax refunds that it owes the taxpayers. In short, don’t hope too much that hope has been restored.
Perhaps the audience predicted that the bad news was coming. That’s why the applause wasn’t as loud as expected, not a standing ovation. Did they sense a lack of conviction in what he was saying? As for the Democrats, they promptly figured out the incredibility of the data presented.
But hey, no government can fail, simply because no government ever succeeds. And you wonder for what reason government people work so hard when their output cannot be measured.
Again to quote O’Rourke, “There are plenty of ways to determine bad government but good government is hard to quantify. How can streets be too clean and crimes rates too low? A poverty threshold is easy to establish but nobody is ever too rich. Government can do nothing, at least nothing right.”
The media have their own role to play. They speculate. They analyze. They silently criticize in the little media cubicle at the corner of the session hall. Journalists do these things because they actually think of themselves as important participants in the political process instead of glorified stenographers.
But the thing that I really love about covering big speeches of chief
executives is that it is an opportunity for everybody to dress up. Being
a serious political analyst, I am there to check out if the ladies are
wearing the right shoes to match their dresses, and to see who looks best
in a formal suit (Last Monday, the award went to Sen. Bob Klitzkie!)
More Articles in February 2005