Go for Tonton

Letter to Uncle Sam


Dear Uncle

François Mitterrand, French writer, political artist and maestro, once said – you win or lose an election one year in advance. This quotation made a sudden eruption into my mind for one reason.

Early this week, Uncle, I came across this unbelievable reflection from US political pundits and based around few facts. The rarity of 2012 presidential hopefuls on the other side of the political fence is remarkable and the hesitation of hopefuls to take the risk of running against the White House is very much understandable. This is the dilemma that can be felt within the ranks of Reps and Tea Party and their associates at this time. But things will certainly evolve with time.

Like you, and the Dems hierarchy in the US, folks here are very eager to discover the White House hopeful who will run the race on behalf of the Reps. And it looks like common sense is gaining ground within their ranks. It’s better to run when chances of winning are greater and clearer than when they are thin and slim. So Reps political equation and calculation comes down to this approximately – by 2016 Uncle will be gone if he wins again in 2012; and Kamarad Joe will by then be too old to contest such a costly and time consuming election and it may also represent a health hazard for him. This leaves a level playing field for Reps to fight Dems and vice versa in 2016.

Their second argument rests on the assumption that Uncle is still too popular on the ground and contesting his leadership may prove difficult and a case of lost energy and bad investment. As regards investments, Wall Street will not bet on a losing horse and this may add to the difficulty of a Rep’s hopeful to raise funds. But for sure, Wall Street will fund congressional and senatorial elections to make sure that Capitol Hill does not fall in the wrong hands. As they did last year to make political breakthrough in the House where they got a substantial majority.

Their third argument sits on the assumption that the economy may keep improving though at a very slow pace.

Now the unmentioned argument. Reps know too well that your personal charisma, your power of making inspiring speeches with words that touch the minds and hearts of millions of Americans affect their lives and dreams, as well as the convictions of Dems on policies cutting across ideology, may all prove too powerful to shake and displace you in the 2012 campaign.

Back to Tonton Mitterrand. Uncle, you were too young in May 1981 when Tonton drove the PS, a French version of Dems, to Elysée, a French version of the White House where wines and chips and cheese are in abundance. Tonton got into the race one year before the 1981 campaign in his most celebrated fashion – absolute secrecy. A few trusted friends, plus French publicist Seguela, sat for hours to draw and rewrite the political map, including campaign slogans and party manifesto.

His 1988 campaign for re-election started in 1987. With the same tool – absolute secrecy. The funny thing came out when he travelled to China. Walking along ‘La Grande Muraille de Chine’, he was met by a French editor and writer. The latter questioned him about his intention to run for re-election in 1988. In Tonton’s mind the answer was yes; in his submission to his friend editor the answer was ‘no’ with this explanation – ‘Come on… I will be too old to stand again in 1988… there are so many other things I dream of doing… don’t you think I am right?’ Absolute secrecy! Despite his submission, Tonton was in fact getting ready to launch the ‘Generation Mitterrand’, ‘Tontonmania’ and ‘letter writing’ campaign France had never seen before.

Uncle, as in the case of Tonton, 2012 for you starts in 2011, except the change in rule – no secrecy at all. Tonton had no copyright in letter writing and it seems this can work wonders if tried in your re-election campaign. One billion dollars of campaign money can pay for the cost of an advert supplement in all US newspapers, apart from your sophisticated IT political machine. Your speech in LA and at other town hall meetings suggests the necessity for grassroots organization and genuine conversations with Americans to beat the propaganda machine of Reps and Tea Party followers. In this sense, Tonton’s letter writing strategy is relevant in the circumstances — a personal and direct appeal to voters.

Uncle, as an American you might not be too enthusiastic about France and French dressing of an American salad. In Mauritius, the leader of the local version of Dems won the July 2005 election not in 2005 but in 2003. And he displayed his political cards one by one before and during this period without even arousing any suspicion. Contrary to US politics, here the game stops at this unenviable exercise — pairing of partners. And each election brings its own political bedding arrangements. And here political bedrooms need no interior designers because folks-voters do not care about colours and scene settings. And if they see a small rain of confetti at a public political meeting and you won’t believe me Uncle, folks here, including media persons, start referring to the campaign as ‘le show à l’américaine’ (American Show).

The other thing is that folks here believe that there is too much of politics in our daily routine. And during this weekend they will have plenty of it. Labour Day here is ‘Political Day’. No street protests, mind you; but a field day for gatherings to celebrate not ideas but war words.

I will end on this amusing and unforgettable anecdote. On 31st December last year I enquired with my ‘Nani’ about a gentleman, a community organiser in a village, the size of a few blocks in Illinois or Chicago, and very much involved in local politics. He is gone, I was told. I met him decades ago while I was covering the campaign for local elections. And when I enquired with him then about his ongoing campaign and his chances for re-election, the gentleman told me – ‘Look I have no money to spend or to organise meetings and in any case folks attending meetings always expect to get something in return. So I prefer to attend meetings organised by my political foes. And once there I silently do my own canvassing to get my message through…’

You see, Uncle, how money is important in politics but money can’t kill the dream of a community organizer. Remember those who contributed 1 dollar, 5 dollars, and 10 dollars into your campaign to keep your dream alive.

* Published in print edition on 29 April 2011

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