THE CYNICAL TRUTH IS, WE JUST CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT. Cynicism about politicians isn’t new.
“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office,” Aesop, 2,500 years ago.
“Among politicians the esteem of religion is profitable; the principles of it are troublesome,” Benjamin Whichcote, 400 years ago.
“In politics as on a sickbed men toss from side to side in hope of lying more comfortably,” Goethe, 200 years ago.
“We have two types of politicians, the incapable and those capable of anything.” That was written on a wall in Paraguay.
“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge where there is no river.” That’s from Khrushchev.
While our opinion of our politicians has reached the level they’ve truly earned – the lowest in history – the cost of that disgust it is not borne by them. Like the proverbial cockroach, they’ve been here forever and can survive anything, feeding on whatever’s left. But in this particular slimy cycle, they’ve cost us our discourse.
We no longer talk to different people about different things; we talk at each other about the same things – surer and surer of ourselves. We no longer talk to people different from us; we talk to people just like us – ever louder in our echo chambers.
“Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.” – Oscar Ameringer
We did this, not them. They’ve always told us what we wanted to hear – the opportunistic junior senator from Wisconsin about the communists under the bed in the fifties – the opportunistic junior senator from Illinois about hope a few years ago – the opportunistic junior senator from Texas about healthcare bogeymen a few weeks ago – but if we don’t believe the crap, it remains just that.
“Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.” – Henry Brooks Adams
Trouble is, we’re believing it. Lapping up extremist rhetoric with such fervor that even Jim Jones would be impressed we didn’t ask what was in it. Following petty demagogues off cliffs so blindly that lemmings are getting jealous.
“A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.” – Texas Guinan
Even my golf group has become so polarized I – alone on the cart’s left side – am no longer welcome to play unless I toe the line – blaming Obama for everything from missed putts to Kenyan dominance in long distance races, looking reverently skyward whenever the name Reagan is mentioned. I’m not good at toeing lines but, fortunately, I’m not good at golf either so I’m saving on lost balls and bets.
I miss those guys. I miss when we laughed a lot, able to kid and poke at the stuff friendships are made of over decades, and when anger was directed at the flight of the ball not at the course of the conversation.
I, in fact, miss conversations.
I’m a Memphian, and when we let extremists talk for all of us, all of us are to blame.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.