by Jennie S. Bev
If life were show business, then politics must have been a soap opera with twists and turns as well as climaxes and anti-climaxes found in Greek tragedies. The only difference is all scenes and chapters are reality and directly affect our well-being. And those politicians are not actors or actresses, but our representatives whose interests should represent ours.
In the United States, Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin bring their life stories to voters through media coverage, online media and biographies. American voters have been exposed to their lives 24/7 and we all seem to be interested to find out who has done what, why they made certain decisions, and how their professional, personal choices and character will affect their tenure if they are elected. Above all, voters are inclined to take such information seriously, if not to heart, as reassurance.
In Indonesia, voters have started to see appearances of presidential candidates. A while ago, former governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso "Bang Yos" visited San Francisco and shared his decision to run for presidential candidacy in 2009.
The audience, the San Francisco-based Indonesian community, asked numerous questions, hoping to find out more about "the man who rarely smiles.” They wanted to know as much as they could to be better informed prior to making the decision to vote for him or not.
After all, a public individual is a legend until he or she breaks the ice.
Indonesian politicians, however, seem to see voters within a particular collective cohort. This means they do not aim to impress individuals, rather groups of individuals, or a specific demography. It also seems that Indonesian voters are not aware of the different hues of possible implementations of a particular issue.
Those with strong public presences and public relations within the customary culture are likely to attract more attention and more votes. Some political parties aiming for the majority of voters, which typically possess mediocre intellectual exposure, are religious and financially restricted, use grass root activities as a way to spread their messages and crystallizing their political maneuvers without looking like doing so.
In Indonesia, voters who belong to the lower part of the population pyramid, the majority, are likely to be influenced by sympathetic and charitable deeds, thanks to a patriarchal society. Those who belong to the top part of the pyramid are likely to be more critical and demanding in a much more intelligent way. Thus, well-delivered thoughts and arguments are likely to be used more generously, while grass root deeds are likely to be husbanded.
In Indonesia, politicians try to win voters' hearts. In the United States, politicians try to win voters' minds and hearts.
In the United States, influences to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate primarily come from the media. Perceptions are twisted and attenuated depending on campaign objectives, which are intended to bring an augury for a particular candidate.
Barack Obama is the rock star inspirator, John McCain is the original maverick, Joe Biden is the promise keeper, and Sarah Palin is the hockey mom and a pitbull in lipstick. All sound original and such identification is both a tagline and a positioning statement to bring voters closer.
Many people are touched by Obama's charismatic change-oriented rhetorics that comes from his international and multicultural upbringing and exposure to Ivy League education. Others might be more inclined to listen to McCain's strong patriotic messages, which come from his experience as a prisoner of war.
Those whose life philosophy revolves around world justice and poverty eradication are likely to be mesmerized by the dedications of former Mrs. Obama, Barack's mother. On the contrary, those who believe in the power of wealth in amassing political influences are likely to be impressed by McCain's marriage to a super rich woman as his second and current wife.
Many others might be touched by Biden's past life in which he lost his first wife and daughter in a fatal car accident, causing him to decide to stay at home with his two surviving small sons. When he finally remarried a smart and caring lady, who is both a teacher with a doctorate in education and an activist, the viewers of his short TV biography finally felt relieved.
Certain feelings were also invoked when voters found out that Palin, the small town beauty pageant winner, got elected as Wasilla mayor by age 32, gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome and has a teenage daughter who is pregnant out of wedlock.
The world is a gigantic web of stories so intertwined with one another that it is often hard to sort out which one comes with useful information that is likely to be ingrained in our perception, which eventually trigger that decision to vote or not to vote.
The Jakarta Post, October 9, 2008