By Hema Senanayake –
Let me be honest; I borrowed some parts of the above heading. If you change the names of Mahinda and Ranil from the names of President George Bush and Senator Kerry respectively, the above heading is a subheading of an article written by Professor Stanly Fish at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ranil should learn a big lesson from seemingly a simple point made by Stanly Fish in this article.
Stanly wrote this article just prior to the presidential race between Bush and Kerry and expressed that he worried about the Kerry’s chances of winning even he himself would vote for Kerry. As Stanly suggested the well-known orator/debater Kerry lost at the election. Democrats and most of republicans believed that Kerry could have won.
I am not a political analyst; but to me Ranil is the best candidate the opposition has to be put forward to beat Mahinda in the next presidential election. My feeling is that the JVP, former president Chandrika and TNA could make Ranil the common candidate. But this does not guarantee that he could win. If he wants to win, Ranil must overcome an inherent weakness that he possesses; and if he can’t do it by himself then he must employ a common technique used by most world leaders. The point I am going to make in this regard was briefly discussed by a few friends gathered in the night after a funeral which was visited by Ranil in the morning. The funeral took place in Maharagama in the third week of the last month.
Most of the participants at the discussion have been convinced about the Ranil’s integrity, political acumen and sober and strong character. I quipped, “He is not an inspirational speaker but relatively Mahinda is.” My point was well accepted, almost unanimously. Yet, some guys argued that Ranil speaks well in English. Unfortunately, elections are held in Sri Lanka. As the discussion continued one guy brought forward statistics of an election where Ranil was beaten narrowly by Mahinda; his argument was that Ranil got more vote percentage than any other common candidates who tried to unseat Maahinda subsequently. True, but such augments go against in making a winning strategy.
I strongly believe that talk and words are not just talks and words. In the article mentioned above Stanly Fish explains and concludes:
“Words are not just the cosmetic clothing of some underlying integrity; they are the operational vehicles of that integrity, the visible manifestation of the character to which others respond. And if the words you use fall apart, ring hollow, trail off and sound as if they came from nowhere or anywhere, the suspicion will grow that what they lack is what you lack, and no one will follow you.”
Stanly had come to the above conclusion after his students of freshmen class in the University of Illinois presented their judgments over a speech made by Kerry on the previous day. Well, listen to the composite judgments of his students made on Kerry; they are interesting and relevant:
“confused,” “difficult to understand,” “can’t seem to make his point clearly,” “I’m not sure what he’s saying,” and “he’s kind of ‘skippy’, all over the place.”
This assessment is not about Ranil but it fits Ranil more than Kerry. During an election the presentation skills matter because as Stanly points out, “words and the way words are spoken are the visible manifestation of the character to which others respond.”
However, if Ranil has an inherent weakness in choosing Sinhala words and a weakness in presenting them, then what can we do? I would suggest him to hire a good speech writer. It has been reported that, when senator Obama elected to the office first, the first interview he made was to hire a personal “speech writer.” In American politics, the winning lines of many presidents were written by their speech writers. But that is not all, however, “if you can’t explain an idea or a policy plainly in one or two sentences, it’s not yours; and if it is not yours, no one you speak to will be persuaded of it, or even know what it is, or know what you are” (Stanly, in the same article).
A person does not need to be an orator but he must be able to inspire his vote base and a whole nation in order to win an election. Ranil has more homework to do than on the stage.