Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Betrayal Guaranteed

These past five days, I've rigidly refrained from reading anything about politics, legislation, or events relevant to either. That's a radical departure from my usual practice. I adopted it because my activities over that interval have required:

  • That I be perfectly cheerful and upbeat;
  • That I concentrate wholly on my work.

I managed both. However, the success of the decision got me to thinking about the underlying phenomenon: that is, the maddening and saddening overall quality of contemporary politics and political discourse.

There are more maddening and saddening things about American politics in our time than anyone could cover in a large book, much less a short op-ed here at Liberty's Torch. But if there's one that stands head and shoulders above all the others, it just might be the certainty of betrayal by our elected representatives.

I chose to use the word certainty after much deliberation. Over the century past, I can name only a handful of exceptions to the betrayal-habit among American politicians. Granted that not all betrayals are of a single type -- there are policy betrayals, and character betrayals, and will-to-fight betrayals, and possibly other kinds -- I estimate that the probability that an elected official will exhibit one or more serious betrayals over the course of his political life exceeds 99%.

A serious betrayal is one that causes those who had previously given the politician their support to withdraw that support. That's the sort that makes headlines and leads to convulsions during conventions and primary battles. It also persuades Americans to plunge into ever deeper cynicism about politics and governance.

Who can seriously argue, given the incredible number and variety of the betrayals we've experienced over the most recent decades, that such cynicism isn't entirely rational?

Just as everyone has his own highest-priority political issues, everyone irked by political betrayal will have his own little list of the worst incidents. If nothing else, it makes conversations about such things variegated and lively.

The T.E.A. Party arose out of a sense of betrayal by the "Republican Establishment:" the "old guard" of long-established Senators and Congressmen that has steered the behavior of GOP caucuses for some years and appears cemented into place. Seniority in a legislative position is a cumulative asset: the longer you've held your seat, the more power accrues to it and the easier it is to retain it. That makes it difficult to displace a party's "kingmakers" in favor of younger and more combative blood. Nevertheless, T.E.A. Party support enabled three candidates, all well out of the Establishment vein, to attain seats in the United States Senate in 2010 and 2012. Those three Senators are responsible for all the vitality in that House of Congress, and they've attracted a mass of vilification to rival anything ever heaped on a Western politician.

I have great hopes for Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul -- most especially for Paul, whose soft-spoken, highly appealing style seems well suited to the presidency -- but I also have great fears. They're politicians, members of an occupational category known for a powerful tendency to betray their followers. They're human, and so are guaranteed to have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It's not impossible that, as good as they look today, their ongoing exposure to the incentives attendant upon legislative powers will corrupt them. We can only wait and see.

Meanwhile, they and the like-minded in the other House are fighting the good fight against the surrender-minded in the GOP Establishment. That guarantees something else: that those who are discommoded by their stances will target them with the heaviest weapons in the political arsenal. Indeed, we've already seen assaults on Cruz for his Canadian birth and on Dr. Paul for his father's eccentricities and questionable alliances. Expect more and worse the longer they hold out against the pressure to conform.

Strong, forthright convictions in politics have always carried a cost. Ask Sarah Palin.

Most politically aware persons don't have the temperament required to contend for political office. It demands too much of one's time and energy, the surrender of personal and familial privacy, and fortitude before the assaults of those who would see one brought down. There's no shame in admitting that to oneself, or insisting upon it to those who insist that "you really should run, Fran." (Yes, I've been approached thus. I still talk to those people...well, to some of them, anyway.) For a man with political principles founded on deep moral premises to enter the arena requires more than energy and equanimity: he must be unusually courageous and staunch in the face of the attacks he will confront and the vilification he will surely receive. This is made even worse than it would otherwise be by the behavior of our Legacy Media.

I heard a snatch of an interview with Newark mayor and Senatorial candidate Cory Booker yesterday. Whenever Booker evaded a question, the interviewer backed down. Only on one occasion -- the question whether Booker lives in Newark or outside it -- did the interviewer even dare to pose the question twice. It came to nothing: in the pattern established by Booker's mentor Barack Hussein Obama, the candidate "ran out the clock" by changing the subject -- indeed, by ranting about rival Steve Lonegan's "extremist views" and his association with the T.E.A. Party.

Even if it was as obvious to other listeners as it was to me just what was going on, it's more likely to have reinforced the typical listener's conviction that "they're all liars and thieves" and to intensify his resolve never to grant his trust to a politician. A sincere interviewer, passionate about the truth and its importance in politics, would have cut Booker off in mid-sentence, and said explicitly to the audience that "the candidate is clearly unwilling to answer that question." No such thing occurred.

The betrayals of politicians are greatly assisted by the media's disinclination to put an evasive or clearly prevaricating politician "on the spot" in a fashion that denies him a convenient escape. Political betrayals might be possible without such cooperative betrayals by the media, but they'd certainly be a lot harder.

For five days I allowed myself to live in a betrayal-free world: a world in which the statements of others could be relied upon as a predictor of their subsequent behavior. The temptation to return to it, never again to leave it, is strong. I have no doubt that many other decent Americans -- i.e., the sort that want nothing from others but respect for their rights -- feel much the same.


agraves said...

It should be clear by now the U.S. government is the biggest drawback to the worlds' restructuring itself along sovereign lines. The Europeans, for all their faults, are now waking up to their governments individual interests and the rights of their indigenous populations. Greece, France, Italy, Norway, etc., are all taking steps to save their countries, painful as it may be. But the U.S. with its two party system doesn't allow for many voices to be heard. Unheard of illegal immigration, massive debt, crime amongst the black population, etc. are not being addressed in a sane manner. So the system will break rather than bend. The gov. can't be reformed, it can only be remade on the ashes of the old. Alex

KG said...

Divert a river, flush the stables.
That river must be revolution, horrible and bloody as it may be.
Nothing else will restore America to decent Americans.
Something similar will almost certainly happen in Europe sooner or later.