What Did He Just Say?
Politicians and pundits on the political stage deliver their lines in hype, a language of the shrill. To the untrained ear, it has all the appeal of fingernails on a black board, but to one schooled in the art, it is the choreography for a dance that has been going on since the first neighborhood – individual autonomy versus group supremacy. If you choose to ignore the clatter, what you don’t know can hurt you.
Can you name one of the two individuals elected to represent your state in the U.S. Senate? This is a very exclusive body of only 100 people who are frequently in the news. When I ask this of coffee companions, almost nobody can answer it. While I have not kept statistics, my guess is that fewer than one in 20 know the answer.
If there is a disconnect between politics and people, and I believe there is, it is the people who pulled the plug with their trivial pursuit of life in the distraction age. And the politicians know what you know because they pay consultants to advise them on bumper sticker size issues that will stick in the voters’ minds until election day.
Beware of Shallow Water
In1978, I attended a League of Women Voters candidate night featuring our sitting congressman and three wannabes challenging him in the Republican primary. The biggest political issue for that off-year election was inflation and interest rates lodged in the high teens and Fed Chairman, Paul Volker was public enemy number one.
During the Q & A, I asked the candidates if they supported Jack Kemp’s proposal to limit the power of the Fed Chairman. Kemp was a congressman at that time who had made the proposal in committee and their views on the question seemed quite germane since the office they were seeking might obligate them to vote on the issue.
I would have received clearer answers if I asked them to explain cold fusion as a potential future energy source. After three sets of blank stares and stammers, the sitting congressman said, “it depends upon whether or not you are a Volker-basher” (a common term in 1978). Glib but hardly informative.
At break, the incumbent came over to me and said, “We didn’t expect a question like that”. Ponder that for a moment. The economy was in recession and many could not afford new homes and cars because of the exorbitant interest rates. I personally had a job that entailed bidding equipment for construction projects and terms were, ‘price in effect at time of shipment’ due to inflation.
That these candidates for U.S. Congress did not expect a question like that speaks volumes about the politicians’ view of us, the voting public, and our knowledge of issues. The saddest part, is they are absolutely correct in their assessment.
Jack Germond, one time Washington post columnist, wrote, “Unsurprisingly, the poll-takers don’t talk a lot in public about the ignorance of the electorate on political and public policy matters. And the politicians are not going to disclose the, let’s say, limited body of knowledge in their constituencies. You don’t get elected calling your voters airheads.”
This gap between politicians, issues and voters leads to a lot of post mortem dissatisfaction and bluster about the sad state of political affairs.
This is a bad idea which will never happen – fortunately. It is a cop out by an electorate too preoccupied with playing thumb hockey on their electronic alter-egos to meet the minimum qualifications as an informed voter resulting in a ‘throw the bums out reaction’,
The problem with that ‘solution’ is it gives political parties even greater influence as they plug in a new a ‘deserving’ party member to replace the termed out politician and there is an endless supply of clones for the job.
Referring back to the 1978 candidates’ night, the incumbent inherited his job from a retiring congressman in a solidly Republican district. Sam (not his real name) was county Republican party chairman prior to his ‘promotion’. Sam unfortunately was diagnosed with cancer and passed away mid-term and his replacement was a high school wrestling coach who went on to become speaker of the House. Upon retirement, indiscretions from his coaching days came to light which did not turn out well for him.
The real question is who do these term limit proponents think will replace the scum bags that they voted into office – a second coming of John Adams?
Everyone should serve a term as a precinct committeeman and see how sausage is really made. It is an elected office and getting on the ballot is not difficult with a fair number of vacancies due to lack of interest. Main activity of this ‘sausage factory’ is to provide support for the ‘right’ candidates seeking local office. For example, a committeeman will gain favorable status by selling a bunch of tickets for a fund raising dinner hosted by a candidate for coroner.
A few years ago, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend and I brought up something Allen West had said on TV recently. Allen West is a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq, and a former congressman from Florida who’s views on issues are frequently sought. After describing the West commentary, my friend looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who Allen West is”. He could however recite every important statistic of our local minor league baseball team plus the point spreads of all athletic events scheduled for the upcoming weekend.
If any citizen wants to expand their horizons beyond where they are now, here are some things they can do.
- Watch some news and not the local news, weather and sports. Sample several cable news outlets until your BS snifter is tuned up.
- Find something to drill down on that interests you and do a little research. The internet is a good place to expand your knowledge.
- Read a book by an author you like on one of the news shows.
Anyone who does only those three things for a week will be off and running on a self-directed journey. Don’t have time? How many hours did you spend last week watching reality shows, sitcoms, sports, special effects gore and other bad TV?
The PC which preceded Politically Correct was called polite conversation and it excluded politics as an acceptable subject. Some might suspect a shady politician with a lot to hide started that convention. If group conversation is about common interests, then doesn’t that degrade the subject of politics as a matter of personal interest? Everything I have ever learned came from someone else’s knowledge or experience.
Breaking the monotony of every day conversation with a political tidbit is a sure conversation stopper, not because it’s rude, but because no one has anything to add. Political ignorance is like leaving the front door open and ajar when you go to bed. The thief in the night is fluent in politispeech.