By Bob Cesca: Shepard Smith was mostly right about politics. It’s weird and creepy and doesn’t have much of an attachment to reality.
I totally get it. It’s difficult to observe the day-to-day events from Washington without eventually becoming disillusioned by the apparent absurdity of it all. But we can’t allow ourselves to give up just because politics is irreparably weird and creepy. The stakes are too high.
Just about every day, I take a look around my usual political haunts and I wonder what the hell is going on. Are we perpetually stuck in a trash compactor between two opposing groups of mental patients (with the press slithering around just below the surface of the gunky trash water)?
So yes, I stood up and cheered for Shep when he delivered one of the most memorable several lines in recent cable news history.
But there’s more to it. And a few things that are worth remembering.
The United States might be home to the most effective and enduring constitutional system in history. It’s been consistent, rarely amended and quite successful. Nowhere else in the world have all varieties of ethnic groups and religions coexisted (more or less) in a single nation, while most other nations are formed exclusively around one ethnicity, and seldom has there been a democratically elected central government capable of maintaining order and relative cohesion across a geographic land mass as vast as this one. Despite egregiously vile historical episodes (slavery, Japanese internment camps, indigenous genocide) most Americans enjoy a considerable amount of personal liberty and wealth compared with just about any other nation.
No, America isn’t perfect. And we shouldn’t walk around with a petulant, entitled sense of exceptionalism. But let’s face it. A few omissions aside, the framers of the Constitution got it really damn right.
But honestly I don’t think there would be a Constitution without weird and creepy politics. Specifically, the framers couldn’t have done it without haggling, backstabbing, grandstanding, in-fighting, feuding and, ultimately, negotiation and compromise — sausage-making, to use a common analogy.
In his brief monologue, Shep was specifically referencing a statement by Mitt Romney who, as we all know, is a serial liar. The statement was an obligatory measure designed to mend fences with Newt Gingrich after Romney and Gingrich eviscerated each other throughout the primaries and via their respective Super PACs. Glad-handing aside, it was a sign of good sportsmanship. Romney won, Gingrich lost, now let’s move on and defeat the president (with lies and bumper sticker sloganeering).
So how does it all work?
On one track of the American system, there’s reality: the trials and tribulations we experience on a daily basis. Feeding ourselves, paying our bills, staying alive and healthy and so forth. Everyone human being in the world is engaged in this same mission in one form or another.
And just below that track is the weirdness and the creepiness of governmental politics. It simply can’t function on our track, in the same way the wheels on your car can’t function if they’re sitting on your lap. More than anything else, and all contrivances aside, the mission of politics is to negotiate and compromise in a way that supports our “reality” within the rules established by the Constitution.
That process of negotiation and compromise is very, very weird. In order for it to be successful, the negotiators must be capable of conceding and perhaps betraying (temporarily or permanently) some of their own values and, by proxy, some of your values. In a complicated system governing 300 million people, with complicated rules, complicated personalities, massive populations, massive personal ambitions and an enormous economy that essentially sustains the broader world economy, negotiation and compromise is inevitably going to look really, really, really weird and creepy.
Without negotiation and compromise, as well as the politicians who are capable of doing it, America crashes and burns. For example, the American Civil War, as Shelby Foote once said, was the consequence of a lack of compromise on the issue of slavery. More than 600,000 Americans were killed as a result.
A common mistake is to expect politics to be run like a business wherein one or two powerful executives and, to an extent, a small board of directors, makes every decision irrespective of what the employees or the public demands. Absent of that, a system that must keep in mind the interests of everyone is going to seem erratic and inconsistent, mainly because a large population is going to have very different views and whims. Couple that with the basic task of negotiation and compromise and the weirdness and creepiness is simply part of the game. Put another way, politics will never be normal — it will always be different degreesof weird and creepy.
And the best way to reduce the degree of weirdness and creepiness is to choose the right politicians. Specifically, we should be voting for men and women who are effective and smart, even if that means choosing politicians with whom we don’t always agree. Let’s say you absolutely agree with everything Dennis Kucinich says. Literally everything. He’s your guy. You’re well within your right to vote for him for president next time around, but think about what might happen if he’s elected. Will he be able to effectively govern? Or will his personality and his positions make things weirder and more creepy?
Once again, the American people/voters exist on a the reality track, while the weird and creepy political track supports that reality. Representative democracy makes the barrier between the two tracks permeable so we all have the power to choose how weird and creepy the political level will be. Sadly, when too many Americans choose poorly and the weird and creepy quotient rises.
George Carlin suggested that maybe politicians don’t suck — maybe it’s the people who suck, and we likewise choose sucky politicians. Carlin said, “If you have selfish ignorant citizens, you’re gonna get selfish ignorant leaders.” Very true. Obviously. We resign ourselves picking leaders based on the wrong things, then complain when the weirdness gets weirder. We pick leaders based on what Fox News Channel says and how they report the news. Shepard Smith, for all of his bravery and honesty, is part of that problem. So is AM talk radio. In 2000, we chose a Republican politician for president because we were convinced that he was just like the Democrat, so what’s the difference? This Republican appointed two conservatives to the Supreme Court and now we have Super PACs — yet another gateway to more weird and creepy politics.
It’s critical that we don’t give up and walk away from American politics. We all have a role to play, and we have to play it wisely and with great vigilance in spite of how weird and creepy it might seem.