Once there was a Politician who wanted to help people and make a better world. (This is after all a work of fiction.)
He had been voted into High Office by the people in his electorate to represent their interests and help ensure a safe and happy world for their children and their children’s children, and their children’s children's children.
So to speak. Moving forward. At the end of the day. As it were.
At the outset of his career, the Politician was positively aglow with enthusiasm and energy and determination to make a better world. As time went by, however, he came up against more and more difficulties, obstacles, temporary setbacks and compromises that stood in the way of his plans. And he was forced reluctantly to put his higher goals and strategic objectives temporarily on hold while he dealt with the realities and practicalities of the media cycle and the plethora of pundits and pollsters and reporters who pestered him from dawn to dusk and frequently from dusk to dawn as well.
At first he felt a little uneasy about postponing the creation of a better world, but he found a way to live with himself.
I want to help people, he told himself. But I can’t help people if I’m not in office. So while my top priority for the long term is to make the world a better place, my immediate day-to-day priority must be to stay in office.
Once he had clarified his priorities, there was no stopping him. He kissed thousands of babies, cut thousands of ribbons, wrote thousands of media releases and twittered tens of thousands of tweets. He became a master of spin and hype and sound-byte. He built his public image until he had a higher profile and more FaceBook friends and twits following him than any other politician or celebrity in the Land.
Day and night his life was an endless round of meetings, speeches and interviews from journalists, talk-show hosts, constituents and many others. And then of course there were the questions — a constant stream of whats, whys, hows, wheres, whens, woulds, coulds and shoulds that he found immensely irritating.
There were questions about why he had supported (or failed to support) this or that cause, questions about how he had helped (or failed to help) this or that group, questions about what had been his reasons for voting (or failing to vote) this way or that, and even questions about what kind of questions he was willing to answer at this or that time on this or that day in this or that forum.
The Politician was great at fielding questions but not so great at bowling up meaningful answers, a deficiency that he quickly came to realise need not stand in the way of his career progression. As an accomplished spinmeister, he was adept in the tactics of rhetoric and misdirection. One particular tactic he found to be a real winner. He called it the art of the Real Question, and he resorted to it often.
He used it, for example, when as Minister of Transport he took a question from a journalist wanting to know why the Government was failing to provide sufficient funds to maintain the public transport network in good running order, and what he proposed to do to ensure people could get to work on time.
“That’s not the question,” responded the Politician to the journalist, “the Real Question is about why the opposition’s transport policy fails to leverage the Government’s proposed new multi-billion dollar investment in new roads, tollways and motorways, slated to come on stream in as little as eight to twelve years.”
Another journalist asked, “Why are you putting thousands of sole-trader taxi-drivers out of work with a new licensing regime that unfairly favours the taxi industry’s dominant player, which just happens to be owned by a friend of yours?”
“That’s not the question,” was the Politician’s response to the journalist, “the Real Question is about how this Government is committed to continuing to focus on investigating ways to ensure a modernised, efficient and fully integrated world best practice taxi service for this great city of ours, moving forward.”
One day, close to an impending election, the Politician went to visit a local school. He was Minister for Education at the time. It was a great photo-opportunity, and he was expecting to get a lot of political mileage out of the visit. In one of the classrooms, the Politician gave a short, informal speech to the kids and their nervous teacher and the assemblage of journalists and camera-persons in the background.
“Children are our future,” said the Politician, “and the Government is committed to continuing to focus on providing the very best facilities as part of creating a leading-edge learning environment for our children, and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children. At the end of the day. As it were.”
A little girl with her ginger hair in a ponytail and braces on her teeth shyly put her hand up and waited for permission to speak. The Politician nodded encouragement to her. Taking a deep breath she looked down quickly at a piece of paper in her hand, and then asked in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, “Can we have some money to fix the toilets and the change-rooms? It gets very cold and dark and some kids are scared to go there.”
The Politician was momentarily at a loss. He was about to try the art of the real question, but realised it would be inappropriate under the circumstances. Then a journalist gave him an opening by asking, “Out of the mouths of babes, Minister: when will you reinstate the public school maintenance and upgrade program you axed last year?”
“That’s not the real question,” replied the Politician, “the Real Question is how this Government is committed to continuing to focus on aiming to achieve consistently high standards of numeracy and literacy, moving forward, so to speak.”
A few days before the election, the Nation was startled to read in the media that the Politician had been kidnapped “…in a brazen and daring raid by a masked gang of terrorists, according to reliable sources.”
Inside the Safe House, the terrorists put handcuffs on the Politician and ...
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