Blue State Blues: How to Interpret Fake Sign Language
Fake sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie told a local radio station on Wednesday: "I've been interpreting for the quite number of events. And then now--I'm very sad now, because they are the ones who are supposed to protect me....They are supposed to come...and say, 'Mr. Jantjie, you don't interpret the right interpretation'....Everybody's attacking me for nothing! What I was doing, I was doing as I was doing all the time. And if what I was doing all the time was wrong, why do they come now? Aish! Nkosi yam (my God)!"
Jantjie is the enduring story of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, overshadowing even President Barack Obama's handshake with Raúl Castro and clowning in the stands. He is being likened to a terrorist--one who stood just a few feet away from several world leaders for hours--and being described as a national embarrassment to South Africa. Jantjie has since said that he was "hallucinating" during the service. That may be true. Regardless, it is clear he did not seem to think that he had done anything wrong at all.
Indeed, Jantjie had "interpreted" at several previous events for the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa's ruling party (which promptly blamed "the state," which it controls completely, for the mistake). The radio host who interviewed him concluded: "He doesn't think he's a charlatan. He's totally convinced that he can do what he can do. You know, like when you encourage your kids to play soccer, and you know they suck at soccer, but, 'My boy, you are the next Ronaldo.'...I think somewhere along the line, this has happened."
If that is true--and it seems the likeliest explanation--then Jantjie is not an exception, but an archetypal example of what is going on in South Africa today, where people are promoted to high positions far beyond their competence, solely because of their connection with the ruling party, often in the name of affirmative action. The same problem exists in the judiciary, for example, where lawyers have grumbled for years about a proliferation of ANC-friendly judges who do not have the expertise to handle complex commercial cases.
The issue is not a racial one. When the opposition took over the City of Cape Town in 2006, for example, it scaled back the city's affirmative action policies in municipal contracts--and the number of black business owners winning contracts from the city rose immediately. Previously, only tenders by contractors close to the ANC had a reasonable chance of being accepted. The fundamental problem is cronyism, which exists in most political systems. In South Africa, redress of past racial injustice is just the moral cloak that corruption wears.
In the United States, we prefer different excuses, especially "green energy." That is how Solyndra happened, and Fisker, and a variety of other environmentally-friendly flops--all while enriching people who happened to be close to the Democrats. Terry McAuliffe, governor-elect of the Commonwealth of Virginia, found that "green cars" were the quickest way for him to create "business" credentials, even if his company was a failure and its actual business model appears to have been providing U.S. visas to Chinese investors.
The Obama administration is busily creating new opportunities for such rent-seeking, with a new executive order mandating that the federal government increase its use of renewable energy to 20% of its total energy consumption by 2020. At the same time, Democrats--having just destroyed the filibuster rule--confirmed the unqualified Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) to direct housing lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, where he is expected "to finance a new affordable-housing trust fund that will dispense cash to liberal constituencies."
Such cronyism is not unique to the Obama administration. President George W. Bush will be forever tarnished by the Hurricane Katrina debacle, not because of the humanitarian disaster, which was largely the result of failures by Democrats at the state and local levels, but because it was discovered that the official in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the time, Michael Brown, had few qualifications for the job--aside from his friendship with Bush. Thus, "Heckuva job, Brownie" entered the American political lexicon.
Yet President Obama has set the new standard for incompetence with Obamacare--which, as many have observed, was not a natural disaster, but one caused by the administration itself. Not only did the Obama administration waste over $600 million on a website that did not work, even as millions lost health insurance policies with which they had largely been quite satisfied, but it emerged last week that President Obama had not even met one-on-one with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in several years.
On Wednesday, Sebelius told Congress that had she known earlier what she knows now, she would have delayed the launch of Obamacare. Republicans had been asking for a delay since the summer, and President Obama refused. He preferred to shut down the federal government rather than delay his signature domestic policy, knowing that the media would blame the opposition. He then smeared the GOP, saying that Republicans wanted to deny health care to millions of Americans--again draping his purely political motives in the rhetoric of virtue.
As the Obamacare rollout became a bigger and bigger disaster, a new poll showed that Americans would have elected Republican Mitt Romney over Obama--by a healthy margin--if they had been given the chance to redo the 2012 contest. But voters were prevented from seeing this Obama--the real, incompetent Obama--by the mainstream media and by the Romney campaign, which failed to make Obamacare the central issue it could have been. He was promoted despite his lies about people keeping their health insurance--among other fibs.
Barack Obama has something in common with Thamsanqa Jantjie: no one ever told them they were faking it. They mistake the pageantry of the stage for earned greatness. And if Jantjie was protected by the ANC, which had ignored past complaints by deaf South Africans (as it ignores most criticism), Obama is protected by the media, so eager for him to be superlative that they translate his failures into successes. He has contempt for them: he knows they are making it up. Yet he can't resist pretending they are making sense.