Doc’s note: Today, I’m continuing guru week with an essay from famed political satirist P.J. O’Rourke. In a recent issue of his online magazine, American Consequences, P.J. explains what makes a good politician and why he’s thankful for bad ones.
American Consequences is edited by P.J. and written by some of the smartest contrarian market analysts in the world. The best part is… it’s 100% free. There’s no subscription fee, “paywall,” or anything like that. Sign up to start receiving issues right here.
A well-known saying is attributed to the Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582): “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”
Likewise – let us hope to heaven – there are more smiles spread by things we had prayed would never happen…
And certainly, if we’re people of conscience and faith, we prayed that American politics wouldn’t become as bad as they are at the moment.
But bad politics do have a few good aspects (or such is my fervent wish in this otherwise politically bleak Thanksgiving season).
First, let us be thankful that, in the matter of our domestic politics, we are a bitterly divided nation. This sounds like an odd thing to say. But highly polarized partisanship about internal political issues is, in fact, a kind of luxury. It shows that America is blessed with not being under grave external threat.
When the U.S. is under grave external threat, Americans unite in a jiffy – the way we did after Pearl Harbor or 9/11. This unity is an awesome thing to behold. Also, it’s a “shock and awesome” thing to behold if you’re an enemy of America. If you’re someone who’s caused this grave external threat, we’re going to come and get you whether you’re in Berlin, Tokyo, Abbottabad, or a hole in the ground in Idlib, Syria.
But when America is not under grave external threat, we Americans get to go back to indulging ourselves in a wild extravagance of bickering with each other, the way we’ve been doing since 1776.
Of course, this internal political strife can get out of hand… It did during the Civil War. However, as heated as America’s arguments may be at the moment, 2019 is not 1861. Fort Sumter is not taking any incoming fire. Our political battles are all smoke and no lethal fire. Except among a few fringe lunatics, our weapons are just TV shows and other such media pie fights. And the projectiles don’t land with deadly effect – they land with a stupid splat like Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity.
A second thing to be thankful for is that bad politics are a healthy reminder that politics are bad. Actually, being a “good” politician specifically requires committing every single one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Pride is foremost, of course. What kind of too-big-for-your-britches swell-head grandstander has the sheer damn conceit to flash the brass and come right out and claim that he or she ought to be president of the United States? It’s a nearly impossible job, and anyone who doesn’t admit that is unqualified for the position. The only kind of people we should want to be president are the kind of people we’d have to drag, kicking and cursing, into the Oval Office. (Anybody know where Clint Eastwood hangs out?)
Envy is pride’s inevitable twin. Even the most successful politician is always envious of someone whose britches are further split at the seams, whose head has a more pronounced case of mumps above the ears, whose bleachers are jammed with a larger crowd of jerkwad fans. Hillary Clinton’s green glow of envy still shines so brightly that you can use it at midnight to read newspaper stories about President Donald Trump from across the street from her house in Chappaqua.
Wrath is the defining emotion of politics today. All the presidential front-runners are furious… Trump’s angry… Warren’s angry… Biden is angry – although we sometimes have to wait a moment for him to remember what he’s angry about.
Greed, Gluttony, and Lust play vital roles in politics. And I’m not referring to money, food, and rolls in the hay. Although with corruption, $1,000-a-plate campaign fund-raising dinners, and #MeToo stalking the halls of power, those transgressions do abound. But the true mortal sin of politics is greed, gluttony, and lust for power. The avaricious, the voracious, and the horny may be forgiven, but people whose deepest desire is to bend others to their will and lord it over mankind go to hell.
And let us not forget Sloth. Politics might seem to be a busy and active profession with laziness rare among politicians. But politicians sure can be indolent, idle do-nothings when it comes to answering the needs of the American people. To give just one sinful example: The 15th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870.
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Then came 95 years of Jim Crow state and local lawmaking until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
And lastly, let us give thanks that our bad politics provide our terrible politicians with something relatively harmless to do. They’re spending most of their time these days campaigning on their godawful political platforms. This keeps them away from the rest of us in remote places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and the Twittersphere where they’re out of our hair. It could be worse… They could be engaged in ordinary day-to-day life nearby.
For example, if Joe Biden weren’t being driven from place to place on the campaign trail, he might be driving his own car in typical elderly fashion… at 15 mph and going the wrong way down a one-way street while leaving his turn signal on for half an hour.
And however you feel about Trump, you can be thankful that he’s too busy these days for much real estate development. Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza Hotel, and Trump Entertainment Resorts all went bankrupt.
Speaking of which, Elizabeth Warren’s specialty as a law school professor was bankruptcy law. If she were in private practice, she might be working for Google or Amazon or Microsoft… and Google or Amazon or Microsoft would be bankrupt.
Which South Bend, Indiana, might as well be, with a poverty rate of 25.4% compared with the national average of 12.3%. Plus, the city’s violent crime rate is 157% higher than the nation’s. Whatever Pete Buttigieg was doing as South Bend’s mayor, its residents must be thankful that he’s off trying to do it elsewhere.
Let us all bow our head in thanks for bad politics.