A week ago Gary Hart took to the pages of Time to spread a little food for thought about the corrupted American political process. “Welcome to the age of vanity politics and campaigns-for-hire” the former senator, whose presidential campaign in 1988 was thwarted by “Monkey Business,” said. Regardless, he’s worth a read.
I must admit that I am completely lost to apathy and cynicism when it comes to electoral politics. I was interested in politics once, but curse the stuff now.
The politicians themselves are too self-absorbed, too slick, and too much like the lobbyists that Hart condemned to actually reach anything resembling an accomplishment or a coherent plan of action.
The public is generally uninterested in “good governance” issues, and seem to prefer the blood-boiling issues of pop culture politics. The Supreme Court issued a ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage just as the media cycle got tired of the Confederate flag…. my Facebook feed looks like Robert E. Lee blew up a Skittles factory. Talk about the national debt…. Crickets. The result is a perfect hunting ground for political gangsters.
Selfish careerism is certainly nothing new in politics, but something about today’s dynamic is uniquely disgusting. Not the corruption, which could perhaps be tolerated to a certain level, but the complete lack of any purpose to anything in this great, stupid political game. That is unique in American history — we’ve always been doing something. We fought World War I to make the world safe for democracy, then we worked for a return to normalcy. Civil War, Wild West, the Space Race…. What are we up to now?
We have neither the politics of trusteeship that Edmund Burke spoke of and which Gary Hart has endorsed, nor the focus of any kind of purpose. The ruthless Revolutionary Thomas Jefferson’s move toward national greatness via the Louisiana Purchase, has given way to egotism, inertia, and predation.
Two acts of Thomas Jefferson, acts other than the authorship of the Declaration of Independence, illustrate his civic republicanism – the Louisiana Purchase and the founding of the University of Virginia, which was tuition-free at the beginning. Jefferson had the idea that a society with a large base of landowners and a generous number of college-educated citizens running around would be a firm base on which a republic could stand. People with Enlightenment-era education and property would theoretically be less vulnerable to the hierarchical system patronage of the aristocratic British government, which Jefferson utterly despised.
The situation today is a touch different. The government was complicit in a massive mortgage scheme, and college graduates are stuck in debt and many are having difficulty obtaining work. Student loan debt has affected my generation in ways that I don’t think the older generations really understand; even marriage and family formation has been badly affected. Politicos boldly ignore the whole mess.
That is just one example; politicians just seem to go on doing whatever they want to do, and there is not much we citizens can do about it. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is widely opposed by those who know what it is, but bipartisan support in the halls of government seem to make it an inevitability.
Take the fallout from the Disney Corporation, which fired a number of IT personnel, but offered them a severance package if they stuck around to train their foreign guest worker replacements, here on H1b visas. The cult within the Democratic Party that worships multiculturalism and the cult within the Republican Party that fires people as a ritual sacrifice joined together to shame their upset countrymen who saw something wrong with this.
Disney, the politicians pointed out, hadn’t violated any laws. Laws can be changed, as the aggrieved citizens countered, but such petitions seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Political types have often refused the petitions of their aggrieved citizenry… the House of Hannover springs to mind.
The Republican Presidential nomination is a wide-open contest at this point. Jeb Bush is stumbling as nobody is excited about a dynasty. Mike Huckabee just wants to talk about gay marriage; Lindsey Graham just wants to talk about military adventures. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is hosting townhall meetings and running around being Donald Trump, and redefining the politics of vanity on a minute-by-minute basis.
On the Democratic side, Hillary the Inevitable is losing ground to a little known and aged socialist from Vermont in the form of Bernie Sanders. His events are drawing 10,000 people, cementing him as a leftist version of Ron Paul; a protest candidate drawing the support of the disenchanted voter looking for a chance to register dissent. Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders, anybody?
I’m already getting campaign phone calls, and the caucuses are nearly seven months away. The consequences of all the money in politics is perhaps not direct corruption as Gary Hart argues, but a growing apathy on the part of a citizenry that is being harassed, not engaged. Right now, it is hard to care.