Sentimentality in Politics

"Politics has always been a noisy, but now it has also become maudlin"

Sentimentality is the excess of affectation. Younger Filipinos call it being “senti” or “emo.” It used to be called OA (“over-acting”), the uncalled for use of feelings, as when someone overindulges in drama and loses grasp of logic.

Sentimentality used to be displayed only in entertainment, theater, and popular culture where attention-grabbing is necessary to keep celebrities on the front pages of media. Now sentimentality has come into the political arena, where grandstanding and headline bannering has also become the norm. What used to be frowned upon is now considered virtuous among some politicians.

Politics has always been a noisy, but now it has also become maudlin. A senator delivers her privilege speech like a high-school declamation. Another resorts to finger-pointing as he accuses a blogger for not taking his side. A general cries like a reprimanded child when confronted with alleged policy on police brutality. Even a Malacanang official has been quoted as saying, “Love is still there anyway” when President Duterte’s approval rating dropped.

More and more, elected and appointed officials are taking too much offense, recounting personal hurts, citing past grievances, taking the underdog position, presuming love gained or lost, or notoriously walking out when they have run out of arguments – classic scenes in primetime “teleseryes” from which some of our officials seem to be modeling their behavior.
Sentimentality is dangerous. Emotive appeals to get sympathy votes suffer from the fallacy of ad mesiricordiam. Emotions cloud judgments in much the same way that tears cloud one’s ability to see. Histrionics shows lack of fortitude. When used as a defense mechanism for underperformance, crying does not lead to the resolution of problems but merely leave them unaddressed.

Plato did not like poets to be leaders because of their proneness to sentimentality. He wanted, instead, to have philosopher-kings steeped in reason. We seem to be going against Plato’s prescription. We need to heed him by electing, or getting appointed, leaders who use logic rather than lachrymal glands, display evidence rather than emotion, cogitate rather than cry. Time to get back to our senses rather than our sentiments.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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