Happened to be in Sears yesterday, hunting for some new tools, trying to talk myself into picking up a weed wacker and out of the temptation to buy a chain saw---"Be not afraid of the chain saw," says Neddie Jingo. "Fear not the chain saw."
I heard Neddie's voice intoning in my head like Obi-wan's telling Luke to trust the Force. "I once was, like you, afraid of the chain saw. I am no longer so afflicted. The chain saw rocks. I use the chain saw to mow the lawn. I use the chain saw to carve turkey. Yea, I use it to shave. For the chain saw ROCKS. Fear it not."
On my way to the hardware department I passed by electronics. Forty-eight television screens were tuned in to the news, and for a moment I thought something momentous must have occured. Why else would the news be on in the middle of the afternoon, I asked myself, naively. There must have been an earthquake, an assassination, or a verdict in the Michael Jackson trial!
Yes, I know. I'm still living in the days before CNN.
Last week I wrote that the reason I am, marginally---I repeat, marginally. A lot of people missed that modifier in my post---more hopeful about the survival of the Republic (this one, not the one falling apart in Return of the Sith) is my belief that people are no damn good.
But another reason I am, marginally, more optimistic and cheerful than your average blogger is that I don't watch TV news.
No CNN. No Fox. No 60 Minutes. No Jennings, Rather, or Brokow, when it was Jennings, Rather, and Brokow---I don't even know who has replaced Rather or Brokow. No Nightline. No Sunday morning shout fests and clown shows.
I don't even watch the local news.
All I know is what I read in the newspapers.
And on the web.
I recommend this. Stop watching the news. You'll feel better almost instantly. It's like giving up smoking or red meat but without the resulting urge to go around bragging to your friends about how much healthier you are now. Because unlike cigarettes and hamburgers, once you give it up you never miss it.
A lot of people have made the same decision. Even Fox News' ratings are down, reports Ron Beasley.
(Link via the indispensible Jack Shannon.)
On the other hand, newspapers aren't in such good shape either.
(Update: Bob Somerby doesn't think highly of the Kevin Drum post l linked to there. In fact, he doesn't think that highly of Drum, period. I come in for some justified cricitism too.)
At any rate, because I was dumbfounded to see the news on at a time I still think of as prime soap opera time, I didn't catch which network I was watching. Probably didn't matter. They all look the same, I think. Screens splits three ways from Sunday, crawls, a well-coiffed female bobblehead frowning earnestly, a couple of not so well-coiffed male bobbleheads smiling in a way meant to be earnest and folksy and which immediately identifies them as politicians, one Democrat and one Republican.
I was too far away to read their names. One of the politicians looked like a graying Ray Bolger when he was out of his scarecrow makeup and playing the farmhand in Wizard of Oz. I think that was Henry Reid. The other pol had white hair slicked down and parted in the middle like Herbert Hoover, ears that stuck straight out from the sides of his head like Alfred E. Newman, a lean, square-jawed but still boyishly handsome face that when he was younger probably earned him a lot of compliments of the you look just like Tom Cruise variety, and a pleased with himself smile that suggested he agreed with the comparison. I have no idea who he was.
I couldn't read the captions, the crawls, or the network logo, but the big title letters were clear.
Oh, right. The filibuster debate.
The sound on the nearest TV was turned up just enough for me to hear the female bobblehead ask Reid and Tom Cruise there something very close to, "What do you say to people who say this is all just poltics?"
She spoke in the hectoring tone of a high school principal who's caught her least favorite members of the student council embezzling from the funds for the senior class trip.
How dare you two politicians engage in politics when you're supposed to be doing your jobs running the country and taking care of the people's business and, well, um, engaging in politics?
There's no point in inquiring into the motives of that particular bobblehead for asking that question. It's a reflexive cliche of the news business. It's asked the same way local TV reporters, sticking their mics into the faces of victims of train crashes or winners of lotteries, ask, "How does it feel?"
But the question itself arises out of the assumption that the American people on the whole are disgusted by the very idea of politics and if they had their way there'd be no more politics or politicians, which may be what people think they think.
Implicit in the question, too, though, is the idea that there is or ought to be some way for us to govern ourselves without politics coming into it and if only the damn politicians would do something about it we wouldn't have to worry about it.
We are social animals, Jefferson said. We are made to be governed.
He meant that we want to, have to, live in society, that is, with each other, and if we're going to get along, then we have to put restraints on ourselves and on each other---we have to negoitiate and compromise---play politics---and come to decisions about how our society will manage itself and then see that it does it---we must govern ourselves.
Jefferson had misgivings about how much governing should be done and where the center of the power to govern should reside, but he was no Libertarian. If anything he was a conservative Democrat.
People are made to be governed. Which means people are made for politics, and fortunately, people like politics.
We don't like partisanship because it gets in the way of our own brand of politics carrying the day. But we like to politic among ourselves and we are naturals at it and when left to our own devices, without professional politicians around to get in our way, we go at it with gusto and are, I can state without fear of contradiction, mean, nasty, petty, vicious, and thorough-going scoundrels and cads when we go about it, as any one who has had to deal in office politics, parish politics, school board politics, drama club politics, academic politics, Little Leauge politics, and Girl Scout politics can attest to.
To be good at politics takes a certain callousness, a certain hardness of heart, and a certain vulgarity that most of us aren't capable of sustaining for the long periods necessary to get the business of governing ourselves done. We tucker out.
This leaves us with two choices. Soceity won't run itself. We will be governed. But either we leave it up to professional politicians or we leave it to people who won't bother with politics, who won't govern us---they'll just rule. Despots.
And Plato was wrong about despots of any kind. Their benevolence extends only as far as themselves and, maybe, their family and a few trustworthy (that is, weak and frightened) friends.
It turns out that the choice between government by politicians and government by despots pretty much sums up the divide between Democrats and Republicans.
Republicans want the country run by as few people as possible. When they say they want limited government, they mean they want its power limited to themselves. Traditional Republicans, of the kind that has absolutely no more power in the Party these days, want to put the government in the hands of an aristocracy made up of rich businessmen and their heirs, whom they assume will act benevolently. Right Wing Christian Republicans want it run by the Preachers who will leave all questions of benevelonce up to God to take care of. Neo-cons want it run by intellectual militarists with the help of compliant generals. And the Bush Leaguers want to run it all by themselves, bankrolled by a few Texas oil millionaires, and have no interest in benevolence.
They all want to limit the involvement and the say of the People, which is to say they want to govern us without having to play politics.
Ronald Reagan's "Government is the problem" is a foolish and self-hating principle for a democratic people who supposedly revere Abraham Lincoln to embrace.
If we have government of the people, by the people, for the people, and we decide government is the problem, we are deciding we the people are the problem.
Which plays right into the hands of the Right wing Republicans and Bush Leaguers. Their contempt for the Constitution begins with its opening three words.
"Senator, what do you say to people who say this all just politics?"
"I say, damn straight! And a good thing. Considering the alternative."