By W. Scott Thompson and Oliver Geronilla
We have always hated people giving advice. It usually stems from their own insecurities or their desire to look stronger and wiser than we are. But what if you ask for it? Sartre, on one occasion, said: “Once you choose your adviser, you’ve chosen your advice.” So much for the impartiality of advice.
Now when a bright new president comes on the scene, Dutch Uncles are just full of advice especially if that “advice” might give them an entrée to Malacanang. There are also the doubting Thomases-cum-analysts who sometimes play politics. The question is: Is it wrong for analysts or the general public to think about all the qualifications—and disqualifications—of a new leader—and how to play to these? We don’t think so. After all, no one is perfect.
There are five things that people say about the new president that might be negative but can be positive.
First, he isn’t an economist—though he, in fact, studied economics at Ateneo. Well, Barack Obama isn’t an economist either. Nor Winston Churchill. Nor Franklin Roosevelt. Nor is any major leader in the world to our knowledge. Oh, there was GMA—an economist. What a marvelous reason to be grateful that P-Noy isn’t an economist.
Second, P-Noy isn’t peripatetic, isn’t instant-energetic, likes to sleep late, and doesn’t get excited. That’s a disadvantage? Well, there are lots of things to be done when you are president, and we assume that P-Noy isn’t like Erap, sleeping late because he’s hung over and wants to start the new day (as we once saw him) with brandy and roast beef. All hail to saying ‘Chill’ when everyone else is running around. Remember Kipling’s poem ‘If’? ‘
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
…you’ll be a Man, my son!
Third, he is sometimes faulted for not having a wife. But he was overwhelmingly elected with that in full view. In these days, is this anybody’s business? Maybe it’s strength. Every eligible woman in the country will hope to become first lady. The position is not foreclosed though we presume that the new president is comfortable with his life as it is, and we shouldn’t expect any changes.
There is only one ‘weakness’ that might be scary—the fourth. P-Noy hasn’t been to Europe. In this he echoes ‘W’ Bush, who through his father’s headship of the CIA, ambassadorship to China, etc., never traveled beyond the Rio Grande. P-Noy could have accompanied his mother on her trips as head of state—and chose not to. We don’t however think his reasons are the bad ones that ‘W’ had (‘W’ was drugging and drinking in those years). And we recall our own shock that Ronald Reagan went to Venice for a G-8 summit, revealed he’d never been there, and even then avoided St. Marks Cathedral and the great plaza. But Reagan was a great president. In fact P-Noy’s tendency to stay at home might mean a lack of braggadocio, a contentedness with his huge responsibilities here in the archipelago. Let’s hope so.
Now the last weakness: P-Noy smokes. Maybe that’s his biggest strength, but it makes him an instant friend of Barack Obama. At the dreamy level of heads of state, the highest club of any, all you need is a connection to the king-of-kings. They have it; they’ve already had a long chat about it. Obama we think a bit hypocritically is reported as saying that he’s quit, but his annual physical contradicts that. So they’ve got plenty to joke about. And no doubt on his state visit, President Noy and Barack will find a room deep down in the nuclear-secure area of the White House to have some smoke and jokes.
A leader usually emerges because he ‘fits’ the needs of his electorate. In this case, President Noy fits the desperate need of the Filipino electorate for someone whom they can trust after nine years of scalawags; Benigno Aquino III was elected because he fits a huge requirement for the job—the nation’s desire for someone in the mold of his mother, more a saint than a devil.
Don’t worry about critics, and don’t worry about all the advice, P-Noy. Remember what Franklin Roosevelt said, when the carping got intense? “I welcome their hatred,” sublimely—and with his cigarette flashing from its iconic holder. //
Oliver Geronilla is a language instructor based in Dasmariñas City. W. Scott Thompson, Dr. Phil. served four presidents in the United States and is professor emeritus of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston.