Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Political Skills

     If you’ve bothered to watch the thirty-six second video below, you already have an inkling about the subject for today’s tirade. If not...well, I don’t charge extra for bullheaded stubbornness.

     “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” – John Adams
     “War is the continuation of diplomacy by other means.” – Karl von Clausewitz
     “War is deceit.” – Muhammad
     “Politics is conceit.” – Me

     There’s nothing more conspicuous about the nature of the politician, whether already in office or merely aspiring to it, than his enormous ego. This follows from the nature of his quest: the pursuit of power over others. To desire such power and pursue it as his foremost priority, he must meet one of two requirements:

  1. He must believe himself fit to rule;
  2. He must be completely amoral.

     And yes, sometimes those two qualities are found in the same person.

     In private life, men of good will exhibit neither trait. Even those who believe themselves to be superior to others in particular ways will have been conditioned to modesty as children or (at the very least) taught to simulate it. Indeed, we who don’t aspire to rule others intensely dislike excessive ego and open amorality...at least, in other persons.

     This presents the politician with a problem. The very traits that admit him to the political class will be serious detriments if allowed to become visible. From this arises the skill that’s the sine qua non of every politician: the ability to conceal what he truly is from the inspection of others.

     There are occasional exceptions. One such, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, makes no bones about his belief in his own greatness. In all honesty, he’s earned a certain amount of his self-adulation. What’s singular about him is that his blatant ego has not impeded his political rise. Indeed, it may have been essential to it. But he is, most definitely, an exception.

     He who deems himself fit to rule others will have plans: laws and policies he means to push with the powers of the office he seeks. In the usual case, some of those plans will be unpopular. Therefore, he must prevent them from becoming known. Anyone who tries to unearth and expose them, whether by direct examination or by inference, must be deflected.

     A politician’s record of public statements and alliances will usually provide clues to the plans he’d prefer to keep to himself. When a nonpartisan or hostile journalist seeks to examine him on them, he must talk his way adroitly around what he really intends. This requires skill at circumlocution: to speak of something that edges toward but sounds more palatable than the nub of his plan. Thus federal welfare became “a hand up, not a hand out.” The imposition of licensure for the practice of medicine became “medical quality control.” Social Security payroll taxes became “contributions.” The list could be extended many times over.

     The video below provides an example of a Michael Kinsley-esque “gaffe:” a politician unwittingly telling the truth. What follows from such a gaffe is usually unfortunate for the politician.

     A third skill found in most politicians is generally visible at certain times: specifically, during contests for office. It manifests when the politician is attacked in some fashion where the objective evidence supports the attack.

     No one likes to be criticized. Politicians, possessors of oversized egos, dislike it far more than private persons. Moreover, a sufficient volume of criticism believed by a sufficient number of voters can deny a politician the power he seeks (or wants to keep). However, if the facts are against him, a straightforward defense will be difficult. It might well be impossible. Therefore, the tactic he’ll most often reach for is discrediting the source.

     We’ve already seen this tactic used several times during the current campaign. Maximum effectiveness requires that the wielder know discreditable things about his critics. That’s the motivation for “opposition research,” a phrase that’s become well known since the Democrats’ odious 2008 efforts to disparage Sarah Palin. However, even without such knowledge, it’s always possible to impute discreditable traits or motives to the critic. At least, one can accuse the accuser of being a “paid shill for my opponent.”

     In the usual case, the politician wielding the discrediting tactic will know himself to be no better a man than his critic, and quite possibly worse. But in politics, playing defense is playing to lose; no matter how feeble one’s weapons, it’s always preferable to be on the attack. The skill of greatest importance here is the ability to say the meanest imaginable things about one’s critics with an air of self-righteousness and a perfectly straight face.

     The Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch are unlikely to feel great esteem for persons who possess the political skills described in the above. Yet that is the nature of politics in these United States in this year of Our Lord 2016. It might have once been otherwise, but no one alive today has known anything else. Which, as with T. S. Eliot’s “Streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent,” leads us to an overwhelming question:

Why support any politician?
Why not ignore the lot of them,
And be about our proper business?

     Just a thought for those of you who, like myself, have grown so thoroughly disgusted with politics that we’d greet news of a nuclear attack on the District of Columbia with wild applause and raucous cheers.


Tim Turner said...

"Indeed, we who don’t aspire to rule others intensely dislike excessive ego and open amorality...at least, in other persons."

Thanks for the smile, Fran.

Malatrope said...

We support politicians because if we ignored them the system would devolve into the kind of tyranny that puts you literally in chains (or the ditch) if you annoy the State – or even just if they don't want to waste food or energy on you. All political contests whittle down to a binary decision. We have some small control over who ends up on either side of that duet. The final vote should always be to vector away from a North Korean style dictatorship.

This is not to say there is anything resembling complete control over this process. Even full-on, bullet-spewing, bayonet-wielding revolution may not have the desired outcome.

I have five words for politicians, and the State: Leave me the hell alone.

Anonymous said...

Your last quote writ large in bold font would be wonderful in practice, however being left alone in 21st century America is a rare thing. And unless one has several billion dollars at one's disposal to grease the palms of said politicians, they WILL find a way to butt into your everyday business and fine you heavily for not being a good little serf.

Malatrope said...

@Anonymous: you have to work at it, you have to ignore whole classes of laws, you have to move to the right region, and you have to "go dark" – but it's possible to come very close.