Monday, February 13, 2006

Rhetoric, Effects & Politics

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

Election fever is picking up pace. Every other day, the media covers one or another election-related story. The first rhetorical salvo was fired by the WP's release of its manifesto. This quickly drew the ire of the PAP who replied with an escalating solidarity from Minister to Prime Minister to the Minister Mentor. It is then reported that SDP chief, Chee Soon Juan is as good as disqualified from contesting. Then today we hear PAP's Hougang candidate, Eric Low cranking up his rhetorical chikus while Minister George Yeo lays down the gauntlet in Aljunied.

All these developments need some analysis. Singaporeans need to re-attune their perception receptors during this period. Perhaps unlike any other prior elections, Singaporeans are going to be more fully provisioned with information. The numerous election watch blogs already in place is one such indicator. Blogs like Mr Wang, Singabloodypore, TVD, Singapore Ink, hopefully Molly and Sg Classics are ready to go. Single direction media information flow is not possible anymore. From the outset, Sinaporeans need to make the distinction between the use of rhetoric and its effects as an analytical perspective rather than questioning whether the rhetoric makes any empirical sense. This is a fundamental re-attuning of perception receptors because an election environment more than any other environment creates heightened levels of rhetoric. Example : the MOM statement on unemployment figures going down and Financial Times' suggestion that it is "massaged" figures. This is the distinction between empirical effect and rhetorical effect an the necessity of understanding messages disseminated during this period as rhetoric and concomitant effects.

The spat over WP's manifesto. As I have engaged a commenter, Luddite, in an earlier entry, the best way to look at this spat is at the rhetorical level, especially the effects that the rhetoric adduced. In this issue, some very good bloggers have tried to impute the empirical basis behind this debate, guessing racial quota statistics, rationalising possible scenarios ... but all from a black hole. There is no empirical data publicly available to back the analyses of the learned bloggers. And we find ourselves back at first base, what the WP said in its manifesto and the various PAP responses. Rhetoric and its effects. In this instance, the rhetorical effect of PAP's rebuttals is a radicalisation of the political discourse as the threat of racial dis-harmony is invoked.

Radic(i)alisation. This is a very very important point for Singaporeans to know. To understand the process of radic(i)alisation of Singapore politics. To realise which group starts this process because ultimately, there are legal instruments to crush those who radic(i)alise issues during the GE. This is one manifestation of rhetoric and accompanying effects.

The disqualification of CSJ is an interesting dynamic. Increasingly, CSJ and his political party have entangled themselves into civil society issues and it is much harder to define the political agenda of SDP today than before. CSJ perhaps more than any in the Opposition uses radical (at times overly explosive) rhetoric and perhaps more than any, barring JBJ, faced the sanctions for his rhetorical outbursts. Screaming at Goh Chok Tong at a hawker center and the $6 b/million (?) loan to Indonesia were the rhetorical incidents which led to his present disqualification. Though missing as a candidate, it may yet turn out that CSJ will have greater impact in the coming GE as he agitates without the confines bound by electoral candidacy. On the other hand, CSJ will face the constant rhetorical question : what is he fighting for? More than any, CSJ embodies the crippling effects of rhetoric, both self-generated and those adduced to him by his opposition. But it remains a big question. Without the distractions of actually needing to win a constituency, CSJ can turn out to be a surprise rhetorical actor in the coming GE.

Last, the assertions of Eric Low and George Yeo. Both are from the PAP and both are very different as can be assessed from what they say and how they speak. Eric Low is obviously a ground person. The use of chikus as a rhetorical device localises himself to Singaporeans. He is after all fighting the Teochew rhetorical master Low Thia Khiang. George Yeo speaks as what he is, a technocrat. He lays his gauntlet in the typical bland technocrat way. Whatever resources we have, we will fight for every vote. Hardly anything inspiring from a rhetorical sense.

Observers have always complained that the GRC system allows backdoor entries for PAP candidates not politically savvy. More precisely, the GRC system helps provide the rhetorical weight often lacking in PAP candidates; placing technocrats next to grassroots uncles who articulate like most Singaporeans. From another angle, look at how the Master Rhetoric, LKY had to be used in the last GE in Nee Soon to make up the light-weight and wordless Ho Peng Kee. This is a key political strategy of the PAP. The relative rhetorical capabilities of its candidates. In Opposition wards, the more rhetorically savvy like Eric Low cause a lot of problems for the incumbents. Because the incumbent has to devote a rhetorical master to counter him. But ironically, Eric Low is a nobody in the PAP hierarchy. Would the PAP ever send George Yeo to contest in Hougang? Never.

Politics is about calculating risk. Eric Low is a nobody in the PAP. Ultimately expendable since he is in Hougang. Why waste a rhetorical master on him? Why defend when you can attack?

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.


Quote of the Day --

"If ShanFu had not spoken Kongming's name,
Could Xuande's triple quest have ever been?
So Kongming at age of three times nine,
packed his books and lute and quit his fields.
"Take Jingzhou first and then the west!"
Here was a plan to alter destiny.
Across the realm his words created storms.
Juggling stars that held men's fate, he smiled.
Dragons danced, tigers stalked, heaven and earth stood becalmed;
Time itself can never erode his name"

--- Luo GuanZhong Romance of the Three Kingdoms

3 Comments:

Anonymous Twisted Lemon said...

Had Kongming been less calculative of "face" and less inclined towards "respecting relatives" for his dead Emperor, he would have conquered the East, which killed or caused the death of both Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.

Had he been a greater judgement of character, he would have used Wei Yan instead of Ma Yi, and march staright into Cao Cao's Wei Country.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The death of Guan Yu is an interesting turning point in the 3 Kingdoms. At the time of his death, he was in fact the 'ruler' of a significant part of the East Shu and the novel kinda hints at his arrogance which begins the road to his downfall. Zhang Fei's death is a direct result of his revenge quest. Always had the feeling that once Kongming entered Liu Bei's service, Guan Yu's role is relegated and there is always an undercurrent of tension between Guan Yu and Kongming.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Heretic_Guy said...

clear n concise. anyone care to share more views on this post?

1:04 PM  

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