You Could Put Lipstick on a Pig, but...

By: Theodore Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 28, 2014


Theodore Hodge

I have literally written volumes of critical essays for close to fifteen years now. I have expressed some very strong opinions. Well, I can't help it; I am by nature a very highly opinionated person. But I try to balance my personal viewpoints with deep critical analyses. I try to be as objective as I can be. I try to use as much evidence as I can find to support how I come to the conclusions that I reach in my opinions. So yes, they are my opinions, but I try the best I can to provide my readers with a clear path as to how I derive these conclusions. The process is called deductive reasoning or deductive logic; the process of reasoning from one or more statements (premises) to reach a logically certain conclusion.

Recently, after reading one of my articles, a reader wrote to dismiss what I had written as simply an opinion. He was stating what was obvious; I did write an opinion piece and made it clear that I was expressing my personal opinions based on my observations. But are we to draw the conclusion that just because an article or piece of writing is an opinion it is therefore wrong or unimportant? Not necessarily so. We are not monolithic; we are diverse and it is natural that our opinions may vary and differ. The right way to go is to allow me to express mine and you take the challenge to offer your contradictory view. Allow the readers to determine which view is palatable. Sometimes yours and mine may have equal weight, or one may be more favorable to the other. I accept that, and as a matter of fact, encourage dissenting views, but not cheap shots.

In responding to my last article, "The Great Liberian Drama..." someone took me to task by writing: "Mr. Hodge conjectures the failure of leadership was actually premeditated ex-ante: that politicians and activists such as EJS, Tipoteh, etc. never had the country's interest at heart from the start, and were only in it for their personal interests..."

No sir, I made no such conjecture. There is a distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning. I used deductive reasoning by examining the minor and major premises in each case before drawing the conclusions from the observations. In other words, I drew the conclusions in retrospect. I did not form a major conclusion in advance and then devise a narrative to establish its validity... there is a fine line there.

The second point to be addressed is this fallacy espoused by the same critic: "It is clear here that in our polity, the variables that change often are the leaders and technocrats, while the system remains relatively constant. Given that we almost always have the same results regardless of the leaders, it suggests to ME that there is something fundamentally flawed about the SYSTEM. Change EJS and her "cast" today, and I'd wager that the outcomes we care about (rule of law, economic development, etc) will not improve that much."


I believe that this is flawed thinking. The "system" is not something written in blood and stone that lies beyond our control, perhaps something of a mystical (or even metaphysical) phenomenon imposed on us by unknown forces. The "system" is man-made. It encompasses the political, economic, social and other contracts guiding a society. It is generally shaped, perhaps re-written, by the leaders in conjunction with the society at large. The various national institutes, along with the various stakeholders are utilized in implementing the changes. It is therefore a weak argument to say that the leaders and activists that come to power are powerless in changing or reshaping the system. It is a responsibility they understand (or should understand) and vow to change before coming to power. When they get into a corrupt complex system that swallows them, the failure is theirs. It is not a matter of a system being unchangeable or inflexible to change, it is because these so-called leaders failed to be effective. To blame the "SYSTEM" is a cop out, and an easy and convenient thing to do.

For example, Dr. Amos Sawyer wrote an excellent book detailing "systems failure" in Liberia. He narrated and analyzed how Liberia got to be where it stood from the country's inception to the present day. He knew the short fallings of all our past leaders, from J.J. Roberts to Tubman to Tolbert to Doe, etc. He criticized the True Whig Party vehemently and promised to change the system when he ran for Mayor of Monrovia. He promised to change the system from his bully pulpit at the university where he had a captured audience. He became an advocate championing the cause for freedom, justice and equality, etc. Now, is it logical to make an excuse for such a man that he failed because the "system" was immovable? But what was he talking about all along, if he had no clue how he was going to change the system? Why did he promise to do so? Enough said on debunking that theory.

The same could be said of the late Baccus Matthews. He started a revolution and did not establish the necessary steps to accomplish the goals to achieve success. Perhaps it could be said that he set no goals, except to change the Tolbert regime. He had no clue what it would take to change the Liberian "system". He thought changing the regime was tantamount to changing the system. He hurriedly and boldly asked for Tolbert's recognition. Incidentally, Tolbert was removed faster than he Matthews anticipated. But he got caught with his pants down. He had no plan to change the system; regime change did not effect system change. Mr. Matthews was exposed and went on to lead a marginalized life... we know the rest of the story.

We tend to end up with imperial presidencies in Liberia because political candidates tend to run individually only on their own strengths and popularity. Once they attain the position, they feel no obligation to include other strong individuals, although they might all want the same thing, i.e. to change the system. They shun team work and work hard to eliminate perceived enemies. But by concentrating on eliminating the other strong contenders, they cannot do the job of changing the system by themselves. They, therefore, settle for personal glory and ignore changing the system, simply because it requires too much work. They then settle onto the mindset that they must be mini-gods. After all, didn't the people elect them without the benefit of a team? The glory must be theirs, and theirs alone.

Solution: If you want to change the system, build a coalition. Build a team; a diverse team where individuals' strengths and expertise will complement each other. Do not go it alone. You may compromise a bit of popularity. You may compromise by losing some power. But together, a strong team in unison can change the various institutions that comprise the "system". You alone and a few cronies and sycophants will never do the job; after all, they will be too busy singing your praise and preserving and ensuring their cut, than to think systems overhaul. 

There are many successful examples in history where a system change came from the vision and commitment of one individual, but the changes were implemented by a committed team; not just that individual with the dream or vision. The first example comes from the political life of Abraham Lincoln to be summarized here: Never be too conscious about your own popularity. Work with a team, although some team members may overshadow you in popularity. But the stronger the team you build, the better your chances of success. When Lincoln won the presidency, he staffed his first cabinet with his political rivals, some more well known and better accomplished than he. When asked why he had chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents, he replied: "We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services." Always remember as Dr. M. L. King said, "A chain is as strong as its weakest link."

Abraham Lincoln believed that to change the American system, which was a tall order, he needed the involvement of a strong team. He knew further that this team had to go to work changing the way of thinking of all the stakeholders, including the most ordinary citizens who make up the bulk of society. It is a tragedy that Mr. Lincoln did give his life for the plan he envisioned, but history records his success and his triumph is sung way beyond the borders of America.

Ironically, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf understood this very well. During her first inaugural address, she had this to say: "First, let me declare in our pursuit of political renewal, that the political campaign is over. It is time for us, regardless of our political affiliations and persuasions, to come together to heal and rebuild our nation. For my part, as President of the Republic of Liberia, my Government extends a hand of friendship and solidarity to the leadership and members of all political parties, many of them sitting right in front of me, which participated in our recent presidential and legislative elections. I call upon those who have been long in the struggle - and those who recently earned their stripes - to play important roles in the rebuilding of our nation."

It is fair to assume that the presidential candidate (Sirleaf) understood the vast challenges. Now, should we be apologetic that she has failed to implement those changes she so clearly articulated? Should we now settle for the excuse that the system is too complex for her to change; that in fact, that she didn't know how complex the system was? How come the candidate knew and articulated issues that the president is only now finding out? Hogwash!

Perhaps there are those who will claim that the Abraham Lincoln example happened so long ago and in such a fundamentally different system that perhaps the comparisons are invalid. Okay, let's grant that. But did Fidel Castro not come in and change the Cuban system that perpetuated under the Batista regime? Whether you admire Castro or not, you must admit that he did change that system; in my opinion, for the better in some cases.

The Polish labor union leader, Lech Walesa, after leading a strike in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, went on to change the Polish system. He struck a major blow against Soviet communism. Poland has not remained the same. It went from a communist-military system to a thriving capitalist system, instituting democratic rule in its own way. The struggle was not Lech Walesa's alone, he was simply an instrument used through the Solidarity Movement for the aspiration of the Polish nation and people.

Nelson Mandela was stuck away in prison for almost three decades. Many of his comrades and students gave their lives in the fight against the Apartheid system. Their party, the African National Council (ANC) became victorious in taking leadership. Nelson Mandela became only the public image of the movement; he did not make himself the movement. Now, as his successors move on, they are not perfect, but they are not sitting around moping and complaining about the Apartheid system being such an immovable and unchangeable system. They have instituted a new system, because they knew that was the mandate; not simply regime change, but systems change.

Yes, when politicians and activist rise to the helm of power, on the backs of the people, they have a responsibility to deliver on their promises. Our activists and rising politicians tend to understand the ugliness of our national system, ugly and nasty as a pig. But sooner or later, they get into power and then try to accept and live with the ugliness of the pig. The ugly pig all of a sudden becomes the pretty pig. They put lipstick on the pig and fantasize about its beauty. But here is the message to them as eloquently told to us by others: "You can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on its tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig." Others have likened the idea of cosmetic change to simply "putting lipstick on a pig." Yes, fellows and gals, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig; ugly and nasty as can be


About The Author: The author of this article is Theodore Hodge. All "opinions" are his, and his alone. He can be reached at

Mahmud Johnson
Mr. Hodge, same reviewer here. First of all, I must say that I am a bit shocked - and humbled - that you wrote a response based on my review (out of the many responses). I think it's healthy to have this opportunity to share and debate our views in a civil manner.

Having said that, there are a few points in your article that I differ with and will right a longer post when I have some time.

For now, the one point I'd like to highlight (which was in fact the main point of my initial review). The problem in Liberia is fundamentally an agency problem (i.e. "principal-agent" problem). All the examples you state in this article hint at your premise that politicians are the primary agents of reform. This is rightly so from a theoretical and perhaps practical standpoint - if we look at examples from other parts of the world. My argument is that, for a long time, this has not been the case in LIBERIA.

My intent was to raise the discussion, and in some ways "give up" on the notion of the politician as reformer, because we keep getting the same results over and over again. Might there be other ways in which activists, scholars, entrepreneurs, etc. can use their resources and energy to accelerate the reform process? That's what I ask. Or am I being naive?

Mahmud Johnson at 02:04PM, 2014/08/28.
B. K. Washington
I do support and commend Theodore Hodge for roundly condemning two-faced Liberian politicians who never keep the promises they make when campaigning for office.

But the article may have some difficulty gaining traction in certain quarters, and for this reason: if Ellen Sirleaf could exaggerate to the whole world (without consequence) that she is a "Harvard trained economist"; could manage to buy (without consequence) a whole bunch of undeserved awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize; and could have the United Nations and the US government ignore (without consequence) the TRC Report which lists her as one of the warlords responsible for the atrocious 14-year war in Liberia, then she will also try to impress people that Hodge's article only does her the honor of being compared to giants like Abraham Lincoln, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and other great world leaders.

The woman is just that slick. Hopefully, however, knowing her as well as they now do, Liberians and the international community will not continue to be so gullible and foolish as to accept everything that falls from Miss Piggy's lips, no matter what the color of the lipstick applied.
B. K. Washington at 02:39PM, 2014/08/28.
Theodore Hodge

Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I do appreciate all the comments made. I especially appreciate the civil tone you use in disagreeing. Let's continue the dialogue as the struggle continues.
Theodore Hodge at 05:45PM, 2014/08/28.
Theodore Hodge

Mr. Washington, thanks for your various comments made about my articles. Seemingly, we agree on a lot. May the dialogue continue, even when we disagree.

Your comment about EJS twisting my viewpoint to her benefit will be difficult, as slick as she may be. I specifically compared her to some great people in history (both past and contemporary), but where those people succeeded, she has failed. That's the conclusion I'm drawing. How she could cunningly use this to her advantage is puzzling. But let her try.
Theodore Hodge at 05:53PM, 2014/08/28.
Anthony Cofrancesco
Mr. Hodge is blunt and unapologetic for his attacks on the politicians who have failed the country for their selfish greed.The process of change was taken place for the good of all;but the new found politicians were so eager for power, that they opted for brutal change,that Liberia never got over; earning the trust and respect of the international community.The once respected nation lost its place in the world of nations.The so-called politicians were not prepared to move the country forward and did not know what to do. The hash realities of their actions caused our country a world of troubles;leading to a civil war, killing over 200 thousand Liberians and foreign nationals.Does any one expect to give notoriety to the crafty political designers and destroyers of our country? what changes have they brought to Liberian other than corruption and backward villages. Each of the so-called politicians that later ruled Liberia were known for stealing and corruption.It is our duty to bring to book these fraudsters, challenging and exposing them to the world to answer to their own crockery statements made in the past years, that elevated them to political power.The crooks did not know that Liberians would be brave and educated enough to challenge their statements made in the past years.These crooks wanted power and fed in to the vulnerable, lies they could not deliver.In the name of God and the spirits of those who worked hard to build Liberia; sooner or later would expose the crooks to nothing other than greedy rogues, who lied to the poor and less fortunate for power. Mr. Hodge has taken on the task of exposing the crooks, detailing their activities from years when they started.It is a good thing that some one like Mr. Hodge, A patriot of Liberia is willing to brave the storm, challenging them and letting the public know who they really are. Not one of the actors have disputed the truths of this great son of Liberia; which have made the reading public confident to read what the real issues are in Liberia. His accusations supported with documents make the crooks see themselves for who they actually are. These people must be brought to justice for destroying our country and killing over 200 thousand Liberians and destroying our image of a peaceful people for over 150 years.The Liberian people need justice.
Anthony Cofrancesco at 06:32PM, 2014/08/28.

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