Friday, February 18, 2005

What are the Real Sides in Politics?

What disappoints me most about politics today is that it's government by polls and publicity. Mix that with all the apathy and ignorance, and we've got McGovernment. Little about it is good for you, but it doesn't take any effort, and so it is what we keep buying.

During the last year, we've had a chance to visit all of FDR's homes: Hyde Park, Campobello Island, Warm Springs. We were struck by a few things: a) how frugally he lived -- all the properties were in nice places, but far from extravagant, at least by today's standards (most large cities have upscale residential developments full of houses nicer than Hyde Park); b) how much impact an intelligent, passionate and committed leader could have; and, c) what a luxury he had in that mass communications was in its infancy.

I've gotten involved in several volunteer and community organizations since retiring early. One kind has leaders who are like FDR -- they have a vision and integrity, and care little what the masses think. They pursue their vision disregarding criticism, and remold the rest of the team to execute the goal. When an organization has a lot of history and tradition, the change brings turmoil, loss of membership and strife. But if the leader has a good vision, and the fortitude to stick with it, magical things happen.

Other organizations have leaders who bend to the will of the loudest voices in the masses, because the leader's primary objective is to be liked. The consequence is mediocrity. Maybe worse than that -- you get a system that can be manipulated by the powerful few for their own benefit.

My feeling is that there isn't really and Right or Left wing of politics in this country. It's really like a giant pick-up football game where the team captains alternate choosing members for their side. Except that it's not the captain that chooses the sides, it's the sides that choose the captain. The players in this game aren't the public -- they are the big hitters who want to tilt the table in their favor. At the end of the day, they laugh at all of us who argue things on a liberal-conservative spectrum. Each of the big hitters has become attached to one side or the other because it has been economically good for them, not for philosophical reasons.

In this scenario, the public is nothing more than an annoying actor of the game, kind of like the dice in Monopoly (you have to roll and the outcome isn't certain). Every once in a while, the public gets to choose which side is in power. The TV show West Wing has a thread running through it right now that makes this point: There is a noble, honest candidate named Santos who wants to tell the public who he really is, and what he really believes. A member of the sitting President's senior staff, John Lyman, has resigned from the President's staff to run the campaign for Santos. Lyman's advice has consistently been that Santos should withhold his passions and instead focus on doing what it takes to get elected. "Let's get you elected first, then you can govern," Josh advises. Santo is balking, and I suspect the story line is going to lead to making the point that a passionate, committed, and honorable person can be elected to the Presidency, and not have a lot of strings attached (to the big hitters).

Every American should be watching this show. It does have a fairy tale quality to it, but fairy tales can inspire dreams and passion.

I'll take that over apathy any day.

No comments: