Thursday, September 14, 2006

Of glib talk and substance

There is a beautiful article by Jonathan Freedland of Guardian in todays Hindu - 'Lesson of Gore ecofilm — don't vote on personality' in which he talks about Al Gore's (Yes, the former Veep of US) and his film 'An Inconvenient Truth'.

Freedland says, "Yet the film somehow gets right to your gut. Methodically, using graphics, photographs and the odd bit of computer animation, the former U.S. Vice-President sets out the case that the climate is changing, with human activity the most obvious culprit."

This posting is not about Al Gore or the film. Or even ecology. But about our personality-centred life. Anyone who can talk well and is "charming and easy" is regarded as perfect. We see this everywhere. Someone like Al Gore, who is supposed to be "stiff, unnatural, oddly robotic, a creature of 24/7 politics, unable to speak fluent human" gets nowhere.

Freedland concludes: "The film leaves a more direct political thought. You watch and you curse the single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court that denied this man — passionate, well-informed and right — the Presidency of the U.S. in favour of George W. Bush. You realise what a different world we would live in now if just a few hundred votes had gone to Mr. Gore (rather than, say, Ralph Nader) that fateful day.

"But you also remember what that election turned on. The conventional wisdom held that Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush were so similar on policy — Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the pundits said — that the election was about personality. On that measure, Mr. Bush had the edge. Sure, he couldn't name any world leader, but the polls gave him a higher likeability rating. If you had to have a beer with one of them, who would you choose? Americans said Mr. Bush, every time.

"Even that was not enough to give Mr. Bush a greater number of votes: remember, Mr. Gore got more of those. But it got him closer than he should have been. And the world has been living with the consequences ever since.

"Perhaps Britons should bear that in mind at our next election. If the choice is between Tory leader David Cameron and likely Labour leader Gordon Brown — and, given the events of last week, that is now a serious if — then polls will show, as they have already, Mr. Cameron ahead on the affability index. Mr. Brown, like Mr. Gore before him, will seem stiff, unnatural, oddly robotic, a creature of 24/7 politics, unable to speak fluent human.

Mr. Cameron, like Mr. Bush, will be charming and easy. He won't make odd grimaces when he speaks.

But we should ask ourselves: is this any basis for choosing a leader? Surely we should choose the man of substance, no matter how he looks in a fleece or how breezily he can talk about his iPod. America made that mistake already and we are all paying the price. Let us not repeat it."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

The world would be a better place with less hot air and noise, if we start recognising the merits of a person by his actions, and not by his speech and mannerisms.