The podium as confessional

This election campaign, it seems, will be conducted from the confession booth rather than the public space we were once accustomed to. It’s particularly safe, closed spaces that inspire a softer tone, where orators turn emotional, making their self-critical confessions into sensationalist spectacle. Party leaders seem animated by some sort of repent message, as they seek to convince voters that they have learned from past mistakes. All of a sudden, political language has been overwhelmed by confessional stereotypes: «Have we made mistakes? Yes, we have. Have we hurt our people? Yes, we have. Have we angered our voters? Yes, we have.» The aim is to support the underlying assertion that they have learned from their mistakes and that they will not repeat them in the future. However, the only way to learn from one’s mistakes is to clearly identify these mistakes, to examine their causes so as to provide final remedy and not a temporary fix. On the other hand, when one expounds in vague generalities, the speaker can neither be proud of his honesty nor offer guarantees that he has himself changed and will rid the party of its greedy mentality. But that is exactly what the two candidates have done as they employ near-identical vocabulary to acknowledge their parties’ past blunders or to again pledge to eliminate graft and corruption. They make a big to-do about pretending to admit their mistakes but this is not coming from the recesses of their hearts. More importantly, the purpose is to remove themselves from the picture by using generalizations to deflect attention onto others. When they say, «We made mistakes,» they mean, «They made mistakes.» «They» being their political staff, of course. The electorate is not a court and thus it cannot vote corruption suspects out of guilt. In the same way, a voter is no priest to grant the absolution of sins. Citizens are neither jury nor confessor. And the ballot is not an indulgence but a decree of responsibility. Perhaps that’s why parties insist on turning a blind eye.