The most important role of any democratic citizenry is deciding who you trust to govern your country. This is the ultimate delegation of responsibility. But the process involves an intricate system of evaluating the ability, performance, policy and integrity of the person or party asking for your support. In order to do this vital job properly I think citizens ought to at least be aware of the "weapons of mass deception" that politicians employ to fool us into making uninformed decisions. An inquisitive electorate that asks poignant questions and holds people of authority to account is essential for a thriving democracy. Never blindly hand over the keys to our democracy without close examination, because all that glitters is not gold. As the great communicator Ronald Reagan once said: "Trust but verify."
One of the most effective weapons politicians use to deceive us is character assassination. It is a sinister and very destructive political tactic because it puts your opponent on the defensive by labelling and hurling out words like communist, chauvinist, elitist or racist in the hope that something sticks. Character assassination was abound during the last two US presidential elections. In 2008 the Republican Party attempted to link presidential candidate Obama to racially divisive statements made by the African American Reverend Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ, a church Mr Obama belonged to at the time. The tactic was so successful that Mr Obama had to quickly resign his membership from the church and publicly denounce his former pastor's venomous statements. In the 2012 elections President Obama was again subjected to the ultimate insult for any citizen let alone an incumbent president, namely questions over his birth certificate and rightful citizenship of the US by fringe theorists popularly known as "birthers".
On the subject of fringe theories, Thailand can boast a few of our very own. Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is probably getting used to the label "draft dodger" by now; a nefarious smear campaign that I, for the record, utterly condemn because it avoids the pressing issues we face but, fuelled by factions of the Defence Ministry and successfully peddled by the red-shirt propaganda machine, the label may have stuck. But lest we forget, before Mr Abhisit starts crying wolf, it was the Democrat Party that he represented while in opposition during the Banharn Silpa-archa administration that takes the biscuit for dragging other people's name through the mud for holding a censure debate around the idea that then prime minister Banharn lacked the required qualifications to hold office in accordance with Thai law because his father was an immigrant from mainland China. This smear campaign worked its black magic so well Mr Banharn was forced to dissolve parliament on Sept 27, 1996. As they say, "what goes around comes around".
The cult of personality is also a potent weapon when used by master manipulators. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, "the Great Leader" Kim Il-Sung and Juan and Evita Peron of Argentina are some that spring to mind as having used this tactic successfully, reaping huge political returns. Creating a cult of personality can win you elections but more importantly it can sometimes win you the hearts and minds of disciples in their droves to do your unquestionable bidding. Personality cults, therefore, are a bit like putting on make-up; they accentuate the desired features while covering up unflattering flaws. For example, from upper-class, elitist, out-of-touch, awkward, Etonian toff to his opponents, to his ardent followers Mr Abhisit becomes well groomed, conservative, clean living, beyond reproach, eloquent, and principled statesman for the future. While Thaksin Shinawatra, from dodgy, self serving, nest feathering, tax evading, pariah, persona non grata to his detractors, becomes the self-made, solutions-orientated, economic miracle worker and patron saint of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. So which version of the "truth" tickles your fancy is entirely discretionary but in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "Truth is by nature self evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear."
Passing the buck is an art mastered by only the very best. Ironically, the last time a politician actually took ownership of failure was a political maestro by the name of John F Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs in 1961, when his half hearted attempt at overthrowing Castro's Communist regime ended in abject failure. In a stirring televised speech, he showed tremendous courage and apologised to the American people reminding them that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan". But in defeat President Kennedy found his voice and demonstrated true character and, as a direct consequence, earned the deserved trust and admiration of the American public.
Having said that, this art of deception is still common practice. President George W Bush on Feb 5, 2003 sent his much heralded and decorated war hero, Secretary of State General Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council to fervently make the case for Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. Evidently, the buck for that fiasco was passed to Gen Powell and Director of the CIA George Tenet, who both subsequently resigned with their reputations tarnished and their place in history lying in tatters.
Allow me to be perfectly clear because I'm often misunderstood. I have only benevolent intentions for the Democrat Party and indeed Mr Abhisit should be commended for his many years of public service, but he has been tried, tested and failed; losing two elections on the trot as party leader to be exact. Thailand desperately needs the Democrats to compete effectively but fairly against the Pheu Thai Party because electoral choice is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
But the key to a Democrat Party revival has to begin with the Democrats accepting election results and stopping passing the buck for attaining office to covert groups like Pitak Siam, praying like Franciscan monks for a protest to overthrow a democratically elected government in the hopes that divine intervention by the army and backroom deals will again lead Mr Abhisit back to the seat of the premiership.
Lastly, the ultimate buck passers in Thailand are those who have delegated the job of thinking to our leaders. Differing points of views are normal in a democracy but trusting someone else to do your thinking for you is the very definition of irresponsibility. I therefore, appeal to all free thinkers and free minds of Thailand _ let your voices be heard!
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University. He can be reached at Twitter: @SongkranTalk
About the author
- Writer: Songkran Grachangnetara