High-altitude gutter

By coincidence, the senatorial slates of the two main political alliances contesting the May 13 mid-term elections were in Baguio City Sunday. If their proximity raised the public’s expectations that the dueling coalitions would somehow elevate the level of campaigning, bring the discussion of their differences to higher ground, disappointment was bound to follow.

By their statements and their actions before the rallies got underway, spokespersons and candidates of the Liberal Party-led coalition known as Team PNoy and of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) signaled that it was going to be business as usual. (Coverage of those campaign rallies, which ended after this page went to press, may be found in the news section.)

Business as usual, unfortunately, had very little to do with the needs of the voters they were courting and the interests of the nation they sought to represent. Who cares who got the bigger venue?

A Team PNoy spokesperson, Rep. Ben Evardone, accused UNA of moving its rally venue from open-air Malcolm Square to the smaller, enclosed Baguio Convention Center because of an alleged lack of supporters. UNA’s Rep. Toby Tiangco shot back: “If he can promise that it will not rain in the afternoon, we will use Malcolm Square,” he said in Filipino. Then he added: “I don’t know if he has an eye problem or he is just bad in math but if I can prove that it can accommodate more than 2,000 [people], then for the nth time I can prove again that he is lying, which is very true to his character anyway.”

In response to the administration coalition’s decision to move up the start of its rally by a couple of hours, ostensibly so as not to conflict with the UNA gathering, former senator Ernesto Maceda decided to play coy, saying the belated move made him curious. (He was hinting that the other side blinked first.) Shouldn’t Maceda, an UNA candidate, have welcomed the new schedule by inviting Team PNoy’s Baguio supporters to come to the UNA rally too? At the very least, it provided the earnest Baguio voter with an opportunity to compare the two alliances’ platforms and political visions. And with the new schedule, UNA would have had the last word of the day.

But most every opportunity to respond to the other side in a thoughtful and reasoned way degenerated into what younger people call snark.

If we want to look for a single incident that sums up the mindless negativity, the unfortunate descent into the gutter, of the 2013 campaign, we may find the winner in a report from INQUIRER.net’s Karen Boncocan.

After an interview on local radio Sunday, Maceda emerged to issue a dare. Apparently fed up by the continuing (and rather hypocritical) criticism from Team PNoy about UNA’s use of dancing gimmicks during campaign sorties, he said: “I am challenging President Aquino to dance Gangnam. I can do it, I don’t know about him. The President is only what—around 50? He’s also single so he must be more adept at dancing.”

Everything we need to know about the sorry campaigning of the 2013 race is right here.

This is not only politics as entertainment—the trivialization of the essential pursuit of votes. Jovito Salonga topped three senatorial elections without having to sing or dance on stage, but all that happened in an earlier time. Today, a former Senate president and ambassador to Washington like Maceda does not only feel the need to make a fool of himself on stage; he feels the need to challenge others to indulge in the same foolishness.

But Maceda’s inane challenge is symptomatic of politics not only as entertainment, but as mindless entertainment. What is the point, after all, of challenging the president of the Republic to dance last year’s dancing craze? If he accepted, would that signify good governance? Would the challenge be a fair gauge of any necessary political virtue? (If dancing the Gangnam style is a true test of candidates’ qualifications, any dancer on any television variety show would outperform Maceda.)

But he issued the challenge because, well, probably because he thought it made him seem tough (calling on the President himself), and witty (who would have expected a dancing challenge?), and hip (pogi  points for referencing Gangnam). But that’s only the view from the gutter.

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