MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



10 APRIL 2024

Monday, February 27, 2023

Anwar should invoke the ‘bully pulpit’


We are into the fourth month of Anwar Ibrahim’s premiership and as the calendar flattens against the wall, we feel the distance growing between Anwar as a campaigner and as premier.

Of course, the pursuit of power and the actual wielding of power are quite different things, particularly so when the head honcho is dependent on the support of parties he had attacked many times.

But the rhetorical negotiation of tight corners is not something that should daunt a virtuoso campaigner.

Perhaps what Anwar needs is to invoke the concept of the premiership as a “bully pulpit”, the term former US president Theodore Roosevelt Jr conjured to convey his presidency’s enormous powers of suasion that the office allows the incumbent to shift the populace to his point of view.

Like Roosevelt, Anwar is a dab hand at rhetoric but that feature of his equipment has been in abeyance since he began serving in office on Nov 24.

To be sure, the minutiae of governance of the multi-party coalition (the devil is in the details) that he leads may be taking a lot of time to master and the effort must be enervating the impulse to rhetorical flights.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim

But rhetorics are the wings that enable a leader’s vision to get airborne. That has been missing from Anwar’s arsenal to the extent that it is very hard to recall a single line thus far that is resonant.

He has spoken and warned against the cancer of corruption eating at the innards of the nation, but there is nothing that has made the pulses race.

Anwar has said he has long known that the way Islamic education is conveyed through the education system is not the right way, but there has been no suggestion or outline of how that supposed defect can be rectified.

He has visited Indonesia to thank the intelligentsia there for their long support and empathy for his past struggles in Malaysia - and paid tribute to Islamic intellectuals in that country who share his progressive vision of Islam.

But there has been no intimation, even a fleeting one, about how the substance of that vision and how it might pan out in reality.

Could it be that Anwar may turn out to be another Barack Obama, who as a campaigner for the US presidency, was lauded for his eloquence?

But now, six years after leaving office in January 2017, hardly any flights of Obama’s eloquence remain pungent to the memory, evocative of his supposed flair.

Former US president Barack Obama

The only line that recalls Obama’s eloquence is something he had borrowed from murdered civil rights leader Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

There may be a reason for the evanescence of Obama’s rhetoric. He was a figment of the American liberal establishment’s desire for expiatory solace from what they found repellent in George W. Bush’s presidency and its costly misadventure in Iraq.

Eloquence is what a leader needs to move a people to support the deep reforms he is trying to make to a fossilised polity, as Anwar is doubtless attempting to do. Roosevelt had it.

It entails the crafting of memorable phrases that resonate in the mind long after they have been uttered.

Roosevelt’s exhortation to Americans to ‘talk softly, but carry a big stick” was quoted decades later by his successors desiring a muscular foreign policy premised on adequate defence expenditure.

His inveighing against robber barons – “those malefactors of great wealth” – lit the path to fighting business trusts and combines.

Roosevelt’s espousal of the hard life – “I preach the doctrine of the strenuous life, not that of ignoble ease” – urged the young in a growingly affluent nation to fight the temptation to take life easy.

Anwar had an unmatched ability to render high-flown speculation in the accents of the street in his days as quester after the premiership.

There is little evidence of that ability in the past three months of his premiership.

Whatever explains this reticence, it should not last long because the deep changes he has to make to the polity cannot be carried through without flights of eloquence.

For Anwar, the “bully pulpit’ beckons. - Mkini

TERENCE NETTO is a journalist with half a century’s experience.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.