11 September 2012

Good-prose governance badly needed

Mario Cuomo the former Governor of New York once said that election campaigns are like poetry and that governance was akin to prose.  It’s the classic split between rhetoric and reality, the mismatch between promise and delivery, the easy of solicitation and the hard of reward.  It’s not a phenomenon that’s limited to New York politics or US politics for that matter.   

Democracies all over the world are made of voter and candidate, elector and elected.  Elections constitute an important moment that separates before and after.  And the two spaces on either side are almost like two different countries, two different time-zones, two different species and two different languages.  And so, as we sit in the hard-truth sunlight of yet another post-election territory, we lose nothing by reflecting on Cuomo’s pithy observation. 

There is good poetry and bad, and we’ve seen both types during election campaigns.  There is effective understatement as well as overkill.  Good campaigns and poor ones.  There is the poetry of argument and there is the prose of thuggery, there is good-word and bad-poster and so on.  Similarly there can be good after-prose and bad after-prose in governance. 

Good prose is made by a good work ethic.  It is inextricably linked to good behavior.  Honesty is the foundation of good prose or for good anything, for that matter.  The elected have innumerable opportunities to write bad prose.  The secret to writing good governance prose is to develop resistance to do wrong. For this, one has to know what’s good and what’s bad. 

Good prose writing must begin with humility and penitence.  Part of bad-poem campaigning is vandalism.  Countless trees are felled to make the millions of posters that are then plastered on every available square inch of space by hundreds of candidates.  Good-prose begins with clean up.  With ‘sorry’.  If you want to write good-prose politics then you have to get out of the collective face of the voter. 

Sloth is bad prose. Worse prose is theft.  We know that the unwritten verse of campaigns is made of poorly crafted lines called ‘donations’.  The true name of campaign contributions is ‘investment’.  When people invest, they expect returns.  Give and take does not make good poetry.  They don’t make for good prose either.  A politician who can rise above that give-take literature is a rarity.  It comes with a price: admonishment from donor and support withdrawal at the next election.  Pay the price and you’ve written good prose. 

Politicians make bucks in many ways, all ‘jottable’ in the ‘Bad Prose’ column.  Commissions for contracts is bad, bad, bad prose.  Abusing office for personal gain or to favor the near and dear is unacceptable.  Once elected, a politician must serve all equality.  He or she cannot think ‘party’ when discharging duty. 

Are we looking for idealist prose-writers?  Sadly, we could be.  On the other hand human beings, just as they are quite capable of doing despicable things also have the potential to surprise themselves and others too.  Not all politicians are bad. Some do get elected consequent to running good-poetry campaigns.  Some write good prose after getting elected.  They happen to be a minority but their existence shows that it is not impossible to produce good literature. 

There will be prose, of this there can be no doubt.  There will be some poetry, when marketing ‘duty’ as ‘favor’, or when covering up bad-prose as good.  But there will be prose.  We are not expecting that the elected will turn out to be a veritable army of good essayists, but if even a handful write some delightful short-stories, we will take it in these consolation-less days of literary barrenness.