This was the question a 9-year-old fourth-grader asked President Obama at a town hall meeting, last week, in New Orleans.
Obviously the boy must have been exposed to the right wing propaganda and mounting criticism of Obama these days, on TV, by Republicans and other quarters, not happy with his proposed health care plan, the unemployment and recession that doesn’t seem to be going away, and his handling of the Afghanistan war.
The question the boy asked temporarily silenced the crowd, an awkward silence, but Obama, the wordsmith that he is, flashed a broad smile at the audience, gave a little hug to the boy and skillfully turned the question into a teaching moment, not only for the young student but also for the audience, both inside and outside the town hall.
Addressing the boy as if he were talking to an equal, Obama said:
“Well, first of all, I did get elected President, and not everybody hates me; I got a whole lot of votes. If you’re watching TV lately, everyone seems mad all the time. Some of it’s just what’s called politics. One party wins, the other party feels it needs to poke you to keep you on your toes. You shouldn’t take it too seriously. People are worried about their own lives, losing jobs, health care, homes, and feeling frustrated. When you’re President of the United States you’ve got to deal with all of that.”
The audience largely cheered the president, and the boy later told the reporters that the presidentâ€™s answer made him feel good.
Handling difficult and embarrassing questions and turning them to one’s advantage, is a skill that can be learnt, that is, if one wants to and tries to learn. Clearly, Obama has that skill. Of course, the right kind of education — not just a degree — and conviction of one’s political beliefs and integrity also helps.
Watching Obama’s performance, I wondered how some of our top leaders, if confronted with the same question in a crowd, would answer the situation. As an exercise, for fun, I asked a few of my Pakistani American friends — a doctor, a banker, a professor and a marketer — who keep a close watch on the Pakistani political. We brainstormed for a while and a came up with the following hypothetical answers. While doing this exercise, we tried, as much as possible, to remain objective and be descriptive rather than judgmental. Here is how our leaders would have answered the question:
Pervez Musharraf, twitching his lips and glowering at the boy:
“Who says people hate me? This is not true. I am 120 percent certain people love me. In fact, they want me to come back and be their president once again. And, I will! I am not a coward. I always kept national interest uppermost. (Raising both his fists in the air) Sab say pehlay Pakistan!”
Asif Zardari, taking out a portrait of Benazir from his breast pocket, holding it to the boy and speaking, breathlessly, without a pause:
“My party has made huge sacrifices for democracy. Shaheed Bibi gave her life. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave his life. I spent 11 years in jail. But I always said, ‘Pakistan khappay’. I did this for Pakistan. I did this for democracy. Democracy is the biggest revenge!
My army, today, is fighting the terrorists in Waziristan. I shall fight them in the mountains; I shall fight them in the caves; I shall fight them in the fields. I shall never surrender to these hate mongers.
You must have seen large ads in newspapers, with my portraits and that of my whole family, put out by my ministers and advisors, congratulating me for what I am doing for Pakistan. That shows, not all people hate me.
I come from the land of saints. I have nothing but love for everyone, and malice towards none. I extended this message even to Sarah Palin when I met her in New York, even though I knew she won’t get elected. I am told, of all the world leaders she met, she still remembers me kindly. That is the power of love.”
Nawaz Sharif, bending down to the boy with a pained smile on his face:
“Beta, who told you this? This must be a rumor spread by the enemies of Pakistan. How can they hate me? I stood up to the US pressure when no one could. Bill Clinton called me five times, yes, five times! I was counting. But I went ahead and did the dhamaka, anyway. Do you think that coward Musharraf could do that?
And do you remember, I also sacked a serving army chief when he opened his mouth publicly against me? Who else could do that? In fact, if you study history, which you would when you go to higher classes, the only other person who sacked a senior army general was President Truman of America. He fired General MacArthur for bragging publicly. Truman was a tough and stubborn man, like myself. He made difficult decisions. He also did a dhamaka over Japan. Actually, I didn’t know these things about Truman. I don’t get much time to read. It was my information minister who told me this. He said I was tough like Truman. He also once compared me with Sher Shah Suri. But he turned out to be a Lota — not Sher Shah Suri, but my information minister.
I believe in the supremacy of democratic civilian government. That’s why I signed the Charter of Democracy. I hate self-serving politicians and lotas hobnobbing secretly with the army generals and trying to stab democracy in the back. I have also told Shahbaz Saab not to meet the generals secretly anymore. If he has to, he should meet them in open kutcherries — or, preferably, in a good tikka joint, in which case I might also join them. I believe Khakis love good food, particularly barbecued quail and male sparrows, just like I do.
Don’t worry about Musharraf. I will bring him back to Pakistan, handcuffed to the aircraft seat, and try him under Article 6. I donâ€™t talk much about him anymore because the Big Brother advised me not to. It’s always good to listen to the Big Brother. No one knows, when we might need him again. That is what I advise Shabaz Saab, too.”
Imran Khan, with an expression that varies between a smirk and a grimace:
“You see, you have got to understand the root cause of hate. It is all because of the American presence in Afghanistan. Before the Americans came to Afghanistan, there was no problem. The wolf dwelt with the lamb and the Taliban would distribute bottles of milk and honey on street corners to men, women and children.
I have traveled extensively throughout FATA. I know these people better than anyone else. Even if I don’t understand their language, I can read their mind. They are my people.
Dont be confused by their rhyming names – Baitullah, Hakimullah, Fazlullah. They are basically good people, harmless as cows. All they want is to have a jirga system and nizam-i-adl established throughout Pakistan, with them running the system. They want quick and cheap justice. Murderers to end up hanging on lampposts or trees, thieves on chopping blocks, rapists on chopping blocks, too. No parliament, no judiciary, no nonsense. You see, lampposts and chopping blocks are far cheaper than building courts and hiring judges and lawyers. Once we have enough lampposts and chopping blocks, there will be peace and love all around.”
“Barkhurdar, when you grow up and start studying science, you will know that mixing oil with water is not easy. Oil always floats on the surface, be it kerosene, gasoline or diesel. Similarly, religion does not mix with tourism. I have this tightrope to walk. That’s why some people are not happy with me.”
Chaudhry Shujaat, in dark glasses. One canâ€™t make out whether he is looking at the boy or the wall:
Ugah, mugah, wugah, Jerry Luger, Looter, wugah, ugha, mitti paao, ugah, mugah, raat gayee, baat gayee, phoomph!