Unless you have been living in a cave without wifi, you will know by now that The Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia was caught on camera using his phone just before meeting the Pope. I figure this will probably make the top ten list of political gaffes, if there is someone out there compiling such a thing.
Obviously the photo went viral and satirists were in satirist heaven, while everyone tried to come up with the best caption, speculating about who was on the other end of the line.
What is worse, however, at least in my view, is that he has now tried to justify it and in this he joins the list of countless others before him who have trouble with the concept of ” when you’re in a hole, just stop digging”. To be honest, after a couple of days the jokes were starting to wear a bit thin, but his lame justification reported in the Times today has simply drawn renewed attention to the whole incident. It has also opened the door to yet more satire. I mean, come on, he called his secretary? Even I can think of at least six punchlines for that one – he’s lucky there are no TV shows with comedians who lampoon politicians on a daily basis.
In the wake of such a gaffe seen around the world, the best approach is to do damage control. You either say nothing until some other politician does or says something stupid which catches the public’s attention (which doesn’t usually take more than a day), or at the very least, you act contrite. Instead, Dr Farrugia decided to explain the phone call away, further compounding the PR disaster.
This kind of approach towards public criticism does my head in. Why is it so hard for politicians to just say , “look I screwed up, I’m sorry” or official, diplomatic words to that effect? Do they suddenly suffer a short circuit to their brain once elected which makes them incapable of apologizing?
At times, I think this lack of humility could also be attributed to equating an apology with a sign of weakness or backing down, as if they are demeaning themselves by acknowledging that they have made a mistake. That, to me, shows a sense of insecurity because nothing says “self-confidence” more than someone willing to take responsibility for their actions. It is, in a word, a sign of character, something which seems to have disintegrated from our DNA. I know it used to exist more in the past because we even have a quintessential Maltese phrase for it; we call it “irgulija” (gentlemanly behavior). In fact, when we speak of people who come forward and admit they were wrong, the greatest accolade we can give them is “veru ragel” or “veru mara” (a true gentleman or a true lady). These days, though, it seems everyone’s ego has rendered apologizing an unacceptable option.
There are much worse things in life than admitting you were wrong and if politicians knew how much they could regain respect in the eyes of the electorate they would do so more often. All you have to do is grow a bit of a backbone, square your shoulders and be ready to face the music for what you did. To use the phrase so favoured by Americans, “you have to own it”. And, by owning their own mis-steps, politicians would in turn be handing down a very important, much-needed lesson to party supporters who are so touchy whenever their precious politicians are criticized or ridiculed. Instead of finger-pointing and searching frantically for past episodes when “the others did it too”, maybe diehard supporters will one day stop idolizing politicians and elevating them to the status of demi-gods, and accepting that they are mere humans and fallible like the rest of us.
But what I am saying…politicians are just like us? What an absurd idea. That would upset the entire dynamics of the entire Maltese political system…and we can’t have that now, can we?