ADELAIDE - Periodically, all political leaders feel the need to play the role of statesman. This is when they seek to rise above the noise, dysfunction and mundane squalor of ordinary politics and articulate a noble and worthy vision for the future of the nation.
These speeches usually are carefully crafted pieces of work, where the language chosen and the sentiments expressed are calculated to inspire the hearer to believe that the nation can and will, by harnessing the collective talents, energy and commitment of the people, become wealthier, greater and nobler.
This is often accompanied by reference to elements of national mythology, drawing upon shared ideas of nationhood, as well as notions that qualities like resilience, creativity and industry, supposedly at least, are possessed in abnormal abundance by the nation.
Such speeches are often carefully rehearsed, so that the tone, cadence and rhythm can be choreographed to achieve maximum impact upon the hearer and, especially, to appeal to their emotions.
They are full of rhetorical flourishes intended to arouse feelings, not encourage the hearer to think critically about what is being said.
History has produced many political orators capable of giving this sort of speech. Some examples from the 20th century include Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler, Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy and Barrack Obama.
Some politicians, knowing that they are not well suited to highly emotive declarative speech making, use other tactics to achieve the same effect.
President Franklin D Roosevelt used the device of a so-called “fireside chat” over the radio to establish a sense of connection and even intimacy with the American people, especially during the darkest days of World War II. In this way Roosevelt contrived to convey and explain to people the intentions and decisions of the government in a very personal way.
All modern politicians know that they have to learn to be at least basically competent in the various forms of media they encounter. The techniques used for a radio interview will not work perfectly on television simply because one is an aural media and the other primarily visual.
Anyway, Peter O’Neill’s most recent speech published in PNG Attitude appears to be an attempt to use the time honoured oratorical techniques I have mentioned to rally the people of PNG to meet the challenges of the future.
The problem with it is that it is essentially empty of meaningful content, notably anything that appeals to the emotions of the reader. There is nothing in it that might serve to engage peoples’ hearts.
In many respects it is simply a tick list of PNG’s many natural advantages and an empty promise to “not let you down” whilst studiously ignoring that this is exactly what his government has actually done in many respects.
I am reminded of the Monty Python skit in which a politician (played by John Cleese I think) gives a rousing speech, full of rhetorical flourishes, in which no sentence is ever completed, so rendering the overall speech devoid of meaning.
Consequently, Mr O’Neill’s statement can be safely dismissed as mere empty rhetoric, incapable of engaging Papua New Guineans on either an intellectual or emotional level.
In the case of his government, the proof of the pudding has been in the tasting and no grand speeches can disguise that fact.