Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Let the fiesta begin!

As I watch the electoral process unfolding, I am think of these sage words from writer P.J. O'Rourke:

The American political system is like a gigantic Mexican Christmas fiesta. Each political party is a huge pinata - a paper mache donkey, for example. The donkey is filled with full employment, low interest rates, affordable housing, comprehensive medical benefits, a balanced budget, and other goodies. The American voter is blindfolded and given a stick. The voter then swings the stick wildly in every direction, trying to hit a political candidate on the head and knock some sense into the silly bastard.

I'm tempted to add to that, or elaborate on it, or give examples. But why bother? It captures the system in a nutshell.

The moment a candidate comes along that actually has something new to say -- Alan Keyes springs to mind -- I get excited. I think that maybe, just maybe, we might have some intelligent discourse. O'Rourke captured this well, too:

In the American political system, you're only allowed to have real ideas if it's absolutely guaranteed that you can't win an election.

Obama gets treated as if he's saying something new, but is he? An Obama speech sounds like one of the spiels you get at the Holiday Inn for free right before the speaker tries to sell you his Motivational CD Series for a mere $89.99. Zaphod Beeblebrox had more substance, and less of an ego.

An election gives the public a Punch-and-Judy show, a chance to watch grownups smack at each other. It's trite and childish, but at least it engages our attention for a while. When the election is over, it's back to business as usual. Whatever that is. Who can tell? Bills get debated, laws get passed, resolutions are made. And what changes? Who can tell?

The areas where the government has the most control over our lives are the areas of regulation and spending, and even if the media did bother to give us decent coverage of that process, we'd all fall asleep. As O'Rourke said:

Government is so tedious that sometimes you wonder if the government isn't being boring on purpose. Maybe they're trying to put us to sleep so we won't notice what they're doing. Every aspect of our existence is affected by government, so naturally we want to keep an eye on the thing. Yet whenever we regular citizens try to read a book on government or watch one of those TV public affairs programs about government or listen to anything anybody who's in the government is saying, we feel like high-school students who've fallen two weeks behind in their algebra class. .... This could be intentional. Our government could be attempting to establish a Dictatorship of Boredom in this country. The last person left awake gets to spend all
the tax money.

Do I sound cynical? I always do, when it comes to politics. And in an election year, everything is politics.

I think, sometimes, that what passes for politics in the United States is actually an elaborate charade designed to draw our attention away from what's really happening where the real power is. And when we had Bill Clinton in the White House (the closest thing to Zaphod Beeblebrox to be found among one-headed, two-armed earthlings until Obama's appearance, a la Harold Saxon from Doctor Who), I start to think that P. J. O'Rourke has just a faint idea what's really going on. Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) has it right. The job of President isn't to wield power, but to draw our attention away from it. Maybe the person we need in the White House isn't a leader or a politician. Maybe we need a blabbermouth. We need somebody who will spend the State of the Union Address saying, "You should see what wrangling goes on behind the scenes here!" And then tell us.

P.J. O'Rourke quotes from Parliament of Whores

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