Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Commentary: Hello! Is someone there to wake up the President?

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Opinion News - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to know -- or his spokesmen Dino Patti Djalal and Andi Mallarangeng and his speechwriters need to wake up and tell their boss -- that there are only two kinds of speakers or preachers most ordinary people such as myself like to listen to.

Other categories are just damned. Poor people like us are too tired to be forced to listen to other people and pretend we are exited and inspired by their words.

First, we love to listen to speakers who can make us laugh; our intellectual capacity is too limited to listen to insightful speeches. This helps explain why many comedians can attract such huge audiences -- and income -- when they suddenly proclaim themselves religious preachers. Whatever they say we will be happy as long as we can laugh.

Second, we love to listen to speakers who can make lengthy -- boring or attractive is not an issue here -- speeches, because they help us sleep as long as they keep their mouths open. Religious sermons are often regarded by many of the unfaithful as a golden opportunity to take a nap.

They only wake up when the preachers shout, "Amen!" Then the preachers have a chance to take a nap.

I have a friend who tried to get his staff to be more productive and creative.

"Let's work hard and smart in building our company," he said and immediately started snoring. His staff had to wake him!

I say this not because I want to defend Lima Puluh Kota Regent Amri Darwis, who angered the President last Tuesday by snoozing while the President boasted about the successes of his three years in office during an address to participants of a National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas) forum.

Despite TV footage to the contrary, the regent insists he was fully conscious and enjoying Yudhoyono's speech.

This tip is important for the President, who likes to speak like an academic. As the President loves to use English words in his addresses, Dino and Andi needs to whisper to their boss: "Do we need to translate the English words, Pak?"

Can we include the President in the first category of speakers? To be honest, he is not a smiling general like the late Soeharto. He is a crying general, as he proved when he watched the movie Ayat Ayat Cinta (Love Verses) recently. He cried several times while watching the movie, while Vice President Jusuf Kalla laughed several times.

But his audience can laugh when he confidently boasts how well our economy is growing, how cheap rice and other basics are. Who would not laugh when he blames global climate change for the government's failure to develop our agriculture sector? People will find it very difficult to stop laughing when the President says, "People are much more prosperous under my leadership."

The President should not get mad when his guests fall asleep during his addresses. He should be happy because he is exercising a religious duty, which brings pahala (merit) to him.

President Yudhoyono needs to ask himself, "Why do people fall asleep when I talk to them?"

Personally, I would guess, "They are sleeping because the President's speeches are very boring."

Many academics think the longer and the stuffier their speeches, the smarter they are. They also feel they have a moral obligation to express their views in such a complicated manner no one can understand them, not even the speaker him/herself.

But former vice president and president B.J. Habibie was an exception. During a visit to Tokyo in 1998 his Japanese guests had to stay awake when Habibie asked them to toast for their health. With glasses raised they have to stay awake as Habibie reportedly spoke for more than 10 minutes.

President Yudhoyono is a decent man. He works very hard -- I don't know whether very smart as well -- for the nation. It is true we should be fair in judging him. There has been significant progress since he came to power in October 2004.

But are we better off than three years ago? I am afraid the President needs to wake up! The country's economy is worsening. That he still does not realize that ordinary people find life more difficult by the day, means he has not been fully conscious for the last three years. Is there somebody who can wake up the President?

The writer can be reached at purba@thejakartapost.com

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