Animadversions.

The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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Political infidelity.

August 8th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Politics

Many moons ago, when I was in college, I was a blindly-devoted Democrat whose love and respect for Bill Clinton knew no bounds. I helped lead the Young Democrats group on campus. I campaigned for Democratic candidates from the lowliest local state-congressman to the President himself. I was a True Believer and being a Democrat was one of the things that defined me heavily.

Through most of early 1998 the Lewinsky scandal had been brewing, but the Clintons had maintained a unified front of denial and consistent dismissal of the charges. To the Faithful, it seemed sensible enough - after all, the GOP had spent the preceding half-decade accusing the Clintons of everything from shady real-estate deals to outright murder and none of that ever had any legitimate credibility outside of AM radio. As such, the “vast, Right Wing conspiracy” was something that seemed to be a perfectly acceptable explanation for why the President was being accused to cavorting with a zaftig junior staffer.

Clinton was forced to confess his infidelity during the summer prior to my senior year. I returned to campus that fall, totally dejected. Sure, Clinton was being subjected to a ridiculous impeachment effort, but the fact remained that he’d showed atrociously poor judgment, had lied to us all for months and had generally lent credence to every crack-pot accusation the GOP had leveled against the Clintons (and, by extension, the Democratic Party) over the previous six years. Part of the way through the first semester, our Poli Sci department held a dinner where we discussed - among other things - Clinton’s impeachment.

A great deal of the discussion revolved around relatively useless minutia relating to historical impeachment precedent and so forth, but things eventually settled on the subject of “how could he?” That is, how could he cheat on his wife, lie to America, disappoint his supporters, etc. A room full of disappointed liberals, wringing their hands and generally wallowing in shared moping. Then one of my professors spoke up and offered an explanation that sticks with me to this day.

In short, she argued that we should expect things like this from our Presidents. Not because “power corrupts” or that the office provides too much temptation, but rather because Presidents are almost certainly wired for misbehavior of this sort. The crux of her argument was this:

No normal person wakes up in the morning one day and decides that they’re totally comfortable with the idea that they should, in fact, lead the entire free world. Even if we have oodles of money and brilliant policy acumen, we lack the chutzpah or the confidence or the ego or the sheer audacity it takes to believe that we should be the most powerful organism on the face of the planet. The kind of person that DOES run for president is a mutant creature lacking all manner of self-controlling checks and balances that would mitigate the behavior of any normal person. They have boundless confidence and an appetite for a kind of power and authority that would - frankly - terrify most people if it was given to them.

Is it really, then, a surprise when they prove to have OTHER excessive, unbridled appetites? We’ve long tolerated (hell, DEMANDED) the arrogant lampooning of “normal people” that takes place in every election when politicians fall all over themselves to establish that they are “just one of the folks” by bowling or drinking cheap beer or riding horses on a ranch or working in a soup kitchen or hugging farmers or clearing brush on camera. We’ve tolerated it for so long that we somehow tricked ourselves into believing we were electing human beings instead of monomaniacal freaks who’re only BARELY able to contain their will to dominate and their disdain for anything normal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, like fish whose tongues have been replaced by weird parasites, we NEED the freaks to man the wheel of the ship of state. If we got rid of them now or replaced them with normal people, we’d be Doomed. Thus, we should probably stop being surprised when - in addition to believing themselves to be Tiny Gods - they also feel an uncontrollable urge to rut with anything that holds still in front of them for more than an instant. We’re lucky no President has yet been caught on tape in the midst of a titanic cocaine binge, while fornicating with an infant panda-bear stolen from the Chinese government during a recent diplomatic mission.

But, then again, George W. Bush still has a few more months to change that for us as well.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ralf // Aug 9, 2008 at 6:02 am

    I think the Greeks called that element of ‘freakiness’ you mention thymos. Or at least, that’s what your description reminds me of.

    So I understand the ‘arrogance’ in those terms. The strange part for me is that it somehow blocks the ‘cunning’ part of their personalities. Getting into a position where you can realistically run for president takes not only unbelievably extreme self-confidence and drive, but also at least some political acumen. (And/or a ton of money.) The ‘arrogance’ can’t completely overwhelm their ability, because in that case they’d never get anywhere. They’d be loudmouths in bars somewhere, not candidates leading large political organizations.

    How Edwards could have thought simultaneously “I cheated on my wife” and “It’s a good idea for me to run for President of the United States.” is baffling, to me. The unbelievable recklessness–if he had one the nomination, he would have handed the election to the Republicans. WTF!

    I am discouraged…

  • 2 Joanna // Aug 11, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Sarah Vowell discusses something like that in Assasination
    Vacation
    …in the context of comparing the kind of men who would want to be president and the kind of men who would try to assassinate a president…similar idea though.

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