Entry number two in the “I’m Confused About” series.
Politicians. It’s often said that to know them is to hate them; to watch government in action is like watching sausage being made by the three wicked witches in Macbeth who haven’t washed their hands since the beginning of time. And to participate in the political process is equivalent to eating the sausages with your bare hands after you’ve slopped the pigs, baled the hay, and milked the cows.
The problem is that I’ve known lots of politicans. Starting way back when the world was young…or, rather I was young. What confuses me is that I’ve liked most of them — I’d say the vast majority even. Conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Bipolar, Alcoholic, sexual deviants — the whole bunch.
Individually, I’ve found honor and decency, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to consider various points of view. Why is it, then, that collectively, it’s like watching monkeys in a zoo?
A few years ago, I was on a private jet flying to some conservative educational conference (I was client hunting if you must know), and I met a religious conservative Republican congressman who’d promised his constituents that he’d only serve three terms. His third term was half over, and he was honestly and sincerely trapped in what he saw as a moral dilemma. His promise — his word — carried great moral weight, and yet he realized that it had been a dumb promise by someone who knew nothing about the Byzantine maze that is D.C.
Three terms — six years — hell, you barely learn how to find the congressional gym. He believed he had so much more to offer, but how could he go back on his word? He and I agreed on just about nothing politically, but he won my respect because he wasn’t just mouthing platitudes, he was sincerely torn and distressed. Of course the story would be a lot better if I knew the ending, but I don’t know whether he ran again or not. Oh well, that’s not the point.
The point is that there’s something in the process of government — or perhaps it occurs when three or more people come together to accomplish something — that turns decent people into political hacks.
Part of it is the power. If you’ve never experienced it, you can’t imagine how seductive it is — literally. I once worked for an elected official who’d have won every “ugly man” contest in every bar in America, but beautiful, astonishing women threw themselves at him. Even weirder, just because I worked for him, some of that power aura rubbed off on me, and beautiful women threw themselves at me. I, of course, turned them all down. But it’s more than sex. Power + conviction + adulation + principles = mental illness.
Those who’ve followed my rantings know that Dubya’s not my favorite president, but I was at a political dinner in his first term and sat next to Andrew Card, his chief of staff. He was one of the nicest, most interesting, decent people I’ve ever met.
I also didn’t think much of Bill Clinton, but I was at a small dinner towards the end of his term and sat at his table. The man’s absolutely brilliant and charming.
Why then, does administration after administration wreak havoc with their ham-handed attempts at policy making? Why does Congress act like a bunch of vultures fighting over dead carcasses?
Part of it’s our fault. You, me, and the rest of the American people who tell pollster after pollster that we’re sick and tired of negative ads and dirty campaigns, and then elect the person who’s done the best job of smearing his or her opponent. Then we demand more than anyone can deliver, and we vote as if our brains had been fermented in bourbon. (Notice I don’t say Irish whiskey.)
Sure, there are addled-brained pols just like there are nitwit corporate big wigs, but, individually, most pols aren’t addled-brained or corrupt or sinister. So why do administrations and Congress continually screw everything up?
The pols don’t like the system. More and more are retiring or complaining about how idiotic the process has become. It’s not what they want. It’s not what we want. So how come it’s what we’ve got?
In Jamesons Veritas