February 21, 2008 08:20 am | Barack Obama has not only just taken the lead in the contest to become the Democrats� presidential candidate by winning the Potomac primaries, but he also swept up the Grammy Award for the audio version of his book, The Audacity of Hope last week. If nothing else, that shows his real popularity.
It was, therefore, an apt and timely idea for the Hungarian opposition leader, Viktor Orbán, to base his regular, state-of-the-nation speech on one of the cornerstone thoughts of Obama’s book.
“That which binds us together is greater than that which drives us apart,” Obama writes in the prologue in his book, and Orbán did not simply use this as a nice phrase to open up with, but returned to the thought, emphasizing it two more times during his speech, calling for unity and alliance.
Obama is, of course, a liberal nominee, while Orbán is head of a conservative party, but those titles don’t matter too much these days. The line between left and right had already been blurred by the beginning of the 21st century, and, at the level of slogans, at least, there probably aren’t far fewer values Fidesz shares with today’s Democratic Party than with the “classical” conservative movements of the 20th century.
There is even a (coincidental) ) similarity between Fidesz’s Social Referendum logo and Obama’s 2008 campaign, which has long been a source of internet humor.
Alas, it seems Orbán has never read Obama’s book any further than the prologue. If he had, it would have surely occurred to him that when Obama calls for unity, he doesn’t just mean unity with more and more of his own supporters, but rather unity with his political opponents too.
In Obama’s thinking, an alliance can be described as “let’s put our debates aside and work together for the good of all,” while in Orbán’s understanding, it seems to mean “let’s come together and follow me against them.”
It is only a few pages further where Obama discusses at length how he respects George W Bush as a man, and how he admires most of his personal values, despite their serious disputes on most political questions, and Obama’s belief that Bush should be held personally accountable for the damage his administration has caused.
“I recalled my previous two encounters with the President… and both times I’d found the President to be a likable man… with the same straightforward manner that had helped him win two elections,” writes Obama.
For the President, read Ferenc Gyurcsány, and imagine the improbability of Viktor Orbán saying this at any time of his political career.
Following the logic that a politician’s past mistakes can come to stand as a symbol for the person – based on which Orbán usually dubs Gyurcsány a symbol of lying, the head of the opposition is undoubtedly a symbol of division in Hungary.
He started digging a ditch between the two sides while leading his 1998-2002 government and proclaiming “the House could always work without an opposition; it would just be a bit more boring.”
But he became especially vigorous and successful in establishing clear water between them after losing the general elections in 2002.
First, he told his supporters that they “can never be in opposition,” suggesting that the newly elected Socialist government was illegitimate and unpatriotic, and ended up at a degree where he makes his whole parliamentary group leave the debating room whenever the prime minister has something to say (a position that is still upheld today).
So if Gyurcsány, following his “lying” speech, is the one man who shouldn’t keep talking about honesty and transparency (a claim frequently reiterated by Fidesz politicians), then Orbán, surely, is one person who’d better keep quiet about unity and alliance.
But then again, his speech had nothing really to do with forming an alliance or unity: it was a harsh campaign speech, aimed solely at the approaching referendum.
It was telling how Orbán addressed the issue of the mandatory, although illegal, hálapénz (or gratitude money) for doctors and nurses, in order to gather support for the abolishment of the visiting fee (one of the three questions Hungarian citizens will be asked on Mar 9).
“Look where we got in our failed struggle against gratitude money: now we have both gratitude money and the visiting fee…. This means we are paying twice for the same thing. It is like we had to pay for a theater both beforehand, and on our way out,” he exclaimed.
In other words it means that, by supporting a ban on the visiting fee, Orbán implicitly approves the illegal practice of the gratitude money (so that we pay only once).
“We either exaggerate the degree to which policies we don’t like impinge on our most sacred values, or play dumb when our own preferred policies conflict with important countervailing values.”
This quote is not from Orbán, it’s from Obama. But it could well be about Orbán, too. The policy of division has driven Fidesz to a point where collation of competing values is not possible any longer.
The benefits and disadvantages of any proposal are judged exclusively by its origin. If it doesn’t add up, they have no other choice but to play dumb. And so they do.
Oh, and by the way, the expected overwhelming victory of the referendum, as opposed to what we had heard earlier, will not now overthrow the government.
Were it likely to do so, Orbán surely would have mentioned it on Wednesday.
This post appeared on the front page as a direct link to the original article.