The above title comes after much thought. It is not easy to say what has become of our nation’s politics. But it seems to have become an exercise no longer in how to fool all the people some of the time, nor some of the people all the time, but how to fool all the people all the time. It seems to have become the affair of idiots, by idiots, and for idiots. Faced with the most serious problems in the world, beginning with the utter lackof competent and honest men and women to provide solutions to those problems, we look not for the wisest and most virtuous of men and women to address those problems, but rather for the allegedly “most popular,” according to the paid propaganda surveys.
By “popular,” we do not mean those who are known to have done something good and noble for God, people, and country. Or those who still fight for truth, peace, and justice, regardless of cost or consequence; or those who still care about morality in private life and in the public square, about the complementarity of man and woman and the difference between the sexes etc. Or those who insist that the young should still be taught what is good and bad, what’s right and wrong.
By “popular,” we simply mean those who are known or seen to entertain the masses, those we encounter in TV commercials, outdoor billboards, and live shows. We also mean those who have invested a lot in surveys to project their so-called “winnability” in an election. You will recognize the term as an assault on the English language, but it has become the most widely used word in the lexicon of survey promoters and procurers.
“Winnable” simply means “capable of being won,” as a race is capable of being won. But the horse or the jockey is capable of winning the race rather than of being won; neither the horse nor the jockey is winnable. In an election, it is the race, not the candidate, that is winnable: when you say the candidate is winnable, it means he could be won over, probably paid to change sides. That this happens to a number of candidates is part of the idiotization of our politics.
Back to where we started. There are those who, in Walter Bagehot’s famous line, are popular for no other reason than that they are popular. This phenomenon is not easy to fathom, but it exists. People do not always adore the adorable. Thus, a polyamorous presidential kin, who makes a media event of every adultery, is celebrated as “very popular” just because she is on every conceivable TV commercial. But she has no known virtues to support her “popularity.”
Now, far from remaining a noun that denotes a mere personal quality, “popularity” now signifies a huge political industry. Four major players support this industry. First, the politician who wants people to know how “popular” he is rather than how capable and qualified he is for any serious political task. Second, the propaganda pollster (fraudster) who manufactures, rather than measures, every paying politician’s “popularity.” Third, the conscript media that spread the fraudster’s lies without any compunction or guilt. And fourth, the gullible public that swallows everything as gospel truth.
As early as a year ago, we already saw this industry at work. Entirely on their own, the propaganda fraudsters started putting out “surveys” on the alleged popularity of individuals who may be interested in running for president in 2016. In the US and other countries, such surveys are normally conducted by interested parties after the candidates have been officially announced, and the campaign period is in progress.
In our case, there are as yet no official presidential candidates, and the campaign period has not yet started, but the surveys have been the most audacious in suggesting who should be and who should not be candidates. In that respect, the surveys have taken the place of nominating conventions of political parties. I am not sure this is something even the Africans, who have started imitating certain of our political malpractices, would like to copy this outrageous practice.
Perhaps if one could guarantee the accuracy and impartiality of these surveys, there might be some merit in assigning some value to their results. But my own personal experience, which I have discussed in previous columns, has shown me beyond all doubt that they are instruments of political manipulation and should never be trusted.
No survey is ever cost-free. So every survey is paid for by a particular sponsor. But in the case of the recent propaganda surveys, there was never any disclosure of anything. Not the name of the sponsor of the survey; not the reason why it was taken; not the manner the “samples” (interviewees) were chosen; not the questions asked or in what manner or sequence they were asked; not the margin of error used; nothing which professional pollsters elsewhere normally disclose.
In reporting the “results” of the survey, both the fraudsters and the media had no compunction in saying that 30 percent of all Filipinos, (if it was indeed 30 percent,) approved of Politician X, instead of simply saying “30 percent of 800 to 1,200 individuals interviewed Filipinos approved of Politician X. An entire planet separates 30 percent of 800 to 1,200 people from 30 percent of 100 million people. But the fraudsters and the complicit media have succeeded in wiping out that distinction. And the gullible public has swallowed the deception whole.
Because of this, even otherwise sensible men and women have started talking of “frontrunners” in a race that does not yet exist. Instead of asking whether they stand any chance of holding a clean and honest election, they are debating who among the non-candidates should get the people’s vote. Instead of discussing what kind of leader should replace the incumbent incompetent, they are quarreling about who is the “most winnable,” according to the 800 to 1,200 survey “samples” who may not even know the guys they are talking about. But they never ask the proper questions that should be asked.
Is Vice President Jejomar Binay guilty or not guilty of all the charges that have been hurled at him by his political enemies? Is Secretary Mar Roxas capable of overcoming his namby pamby do-nothing image? Can Grace Poe deny that she is not a natural-born Filipino, and that she has no right to sit in the Senate, much less aspire to become the president or vice-president?
I deeply regret that a colleague on this page has called Grace Poe “a disease of our politics.” I find that’s most unfortunate. But whatever our regrets, we have a Grace Poe with us because of the idiotization of our politics.