12:00 AM, November 09, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 09, 2012

Cross Talk

Looking through the American lens

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Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

The US presidential election came to an end when the Republican Party contender conceded defeat. The six billion dollar race lasted eighteen months and required countless rallies, political stumps, fundraising events, strategy meetings, interviews and debates, not to speak of rollercoaster emotions of losing and winning as candidates slogged through the landmines of swing and battleground states. Yet, as soon as it became obvious, the Republican candidate walked to the podium and accepted defeat. Others may have celebrated Barack Obama's victory that night, but my hero was Mitt Romney.
If we consider his share in the presidential race, it should be half of the money and full scope all the hard work mentioned above. But Romney looked calm and confident as he arrived to tell his supporters that "the nation has chosen another leader." His face looked like a mask, and the man was hiding behind it. Not a twitch, not a grin or the slightest sign of anger, disgust or discomfort. He thanked everybody and bowed to voters' verdict.
We have seen many victories in our own country, and we have also seen many defeats. What we haven't seen yet is someone who can handle both with equanimity. Romney didn't scream, shout or blame anybody. He didn't ask his people to boycott the election or write to foreign embassies asking them not to recognise Obama as the new president of the United States.
And all that time I was having the experience of Pygmalion, the legendary sculptor who fell in love with the statue he had carved. In my imagination I was carving out statues, wishing that our politicians were a lot like Mitt Romney. I placed their heads on his shoulder one by one, and then shuddered at their dissimilarities.
I also observed Obama, the man who made history as naturally as history made him. He became the first African-American president of the United States in 2008. Two days ago he recreated that success for a second time, another historical record, even by a wider margin than before.
But I mostly listened to the man, whose victory speech mesmerised me. His tone, diction, choice of words and nobility in thought deeply impressed me. He talked about people, country and the future, no bitterness of the past, no rancour for the enemy and no vocal inflections for signs of insincerity.
In George du Maurier's novel Trilby, the eponymous character is a tone-deaf woman, who is hypnotised by a masterful musician named Svengali and turned into a diva. I was again slipped into fanciful thinking and transformed our leaders, one at a time, into a gifted speaker like Obama. I let his words ring out in their voices and was scared by the cacophony.
So I was watching the American election and my mind was busy doing comparisons. What would our leaders have said and done if they were in Romney's shoes? Romney was more on my mind frankly, because a winner doesn't need sympathy. No, this was not the first time I have watched an American presidential election on television.
But this time I watched it for a purpose other than infotainment. I tried to compare the American leaders with those of our own in every move and every speech, what they said, how they walked, zestful to the last minute. Romney may have gone back and shed tears in the privacy of his bedroom. He may have been smitten by the shame of defeat or disappointed by the futility of a dream, but none of his emotions showed up on his face when he faced the camera for his concession speech.
When Obama came on stage in Chicago, there was no victor's spring in his walk. He was calm and composed, decent and dignified in his reaction to perhaps the most momentous moment in his life. But then his speech spoke his mind that blew the minds of those who listened to him. He was larger than life in his words, rich, deep and conciliatory, dripping with patriotic fervour, hope and vision for his country. He sounded like he had won the election for the people, not for himself or his party.
This is where I found the answer to my question: what do our leaders have to do to get there? The answer is simple and sweet; they only have to stay with their people. They don't have to be as sophisticated as Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. They don't have to speak as eloquently as either one of them. But if they only believe in their people, it cannot hurt if they lose or win.
America has been a divided nation throughout the race, yet the Americans took that division not to their blood but to ballot box. We just need to make that simple switch.

The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
Email: badrul151@yahoo.com

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