Teddy bear politics : A Potent presidential symbol
Julia Suryakusuma ; The author of Julia’s Jihad
JAKARTA POST, 02 April 2014
Have you ever had an encounter with a teddy bear? You know, those soft, cuddly, cute stuffed toys that just beg to be hugged?
Be honest …
And you would not be alone in thinking that hugging and teddy bears go together naturally. In fact, this is something that has not escaped the attention of Aburizal “Ical” Bakrie, aka ARB, the Golkar Party’s chairman presidential candidate. This is probably why a photo of him with a beaming smiley face hugging a teddy bear has gone viral on the Internet.
But far from the photo being the basis of a smear campaign against him, it might be a deliberate tactic of a cunning electoral campaign.
Think about it: Hugs are things of awesome power. Their nurturing touch builds trust and a sense of security. The best and most powerful leaders know that these are feelings you have to instill in your electorate, and being a good and powerful leader, Aburizal obviously gets it, too. Clever, huh?
And scientists say that hugs boost self-esteem, strengthen the immune system, take away pain, reduce the worry of mortality and cause us to release oxytocin (also known as “the cuddle hormone”!), which is linked to social bonding and devotion. All of these things are obviously essential to electoral politics — in fact, life in general, when you think about it. Vitamin H!
Researchers claim that even hugging an inanimate object — a teddy bear, for example — soothes existential fears, and makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The older you are, and the more fragile you are physically, the more important physical contact is. At 67, Aburizal is no spring chicken, so perhaps he should make himself the coordinating minister for hugs.
And guess what? Well-hugged babies are less stressed than adults, so the best thing you can do for your kids is hug them — lots. Hmmm, perhaps Aburizal was just doing his bit for Indonesia’s future generations when he took two young actresses, Marcella Zalianty and her sister Olivia Zalianty, on a private plane to the Maldives in 2010 for a holiday, as a reward for their involvement in a Golkar event? Certainly no one on the holiday looked stressed!
The photos that have since gone viral, plus a 3-minute YouTube video, show the three of them joking around on the plane, in a boat and then relaxing in a luxury hotel. Sadly, his wife, Tatty Murnitriati, wasn’t there, but they were accompanied by Aziz Syamsuddin, a Golkar member and House of Representatives lawmaker, and, of course, Marcella’s now famous and well-traveled teddy.
I reckon that Aburizal’s teddy bear electoral move may also be motivated by the fact that, learned man that he is, he knows it’s a potent presidential symbol. Yes folks, the cuddly teddy bear has its origins in America’s 26th president, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. On a hunting trip, Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear as it was injured and suffering. Compassionate or what?
The story was picked up by The Washington Post, which ran a cartoon of the incident. Toy-store owners Rose and Morris Michtom saw the cartoon and were inspired to create a stuffed toy bear, named “Teddy” in the president’s honor. It was an immediate hit, and remains popular today, not just in the US but worldwide.
Roosevelt has been ranked among America’s top-10 presidents. It’s not for nothing that his was one of four presidential faces carved in stone on Mount Rushmore. Roosevelt was a “real man’s man” but he was also a populist and an astute diplomat, who deftly resolved several crises while in the White House.
So, Roosevelt is obviously someone a presidential candidate like Aburizal would want to emulate, which explains the teddy bear symbolism. Aburizal has made his admiration for strong men clear and constantly extols the virtues of our former dictator, Soeharto. On the campaign trail in Sleman, Yogyakarta, last week, accompanied (this time) by his wife, he again said that Soeharto’s government was much better than the current one. “I am ready to move forward as president to reclaim the golden age of Soeharto,” he proclaimed.
Hello? Has it slipped Aburizal’s mind that he was coordinating economic minister (Oct. 2004 - Dec. 2005) and coordinating people’s welfare minister (Dec. 2005 - Oct. 2009) under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono? Or does he now think he didn’t do such a great job after all?
In any case, given everything going for teddy bears and hugs, I just can’t figure out why so many see the Maldives jaunt in a negative light. Maswadi Rauf, professor of politics from the University of Indonesia (UI), has even said that Aburizal should relinquish his presidential candidacy because the video depicts him as possessing low moral fiber. Even Ais Anantama Said, a Golkar politician, has added that Aburizal’s low electability rating and the fact that he has supposedly tainted Golkar’s reputation mean that he is unsuited to be a presidential candidate.
Oh dear! Dissidence among the ranks! Don’t they understand the brilliance of teddy bear politics?
Maybe no one does — after all, the damage now seems to have been done. Aburizal’s electability rating has sunk to 16.42 percent, lower than even Jusuf Kalla (17.33 percent) and, surprisingly, lower than a much younger Golkar politician, Priyo Budi Santoso (18.44 percent). None, of course, compare to Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who now rates a stratospheric 53.03 percent, way above even his own party’s leader, Megawati Soekarnoputri (23.37 percent).
Oh well, you can’t have everything. Sometimes you have to choose between being popular with the electorate or with young
ladies toting teddies. Not an easy choice, huh?
But not to worry, even if he loses, Aburizal will still have his teddy bear to squeeze when he wants to feel good! ●