I don’t really like to do it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So on occasion, when I feel the situation has devolved from everyday addle-headedness to foolishness pure and simple, I breathe in, cinch my belt, and enter into the political fray. I do this mostly from the sidelines, not holding much truck with the actual playing of the game since the evening, long ago, when my first wife challenged a future United States congressman to a drinking match and won. It’s not that the future congressman didn’t try: both contestants ended up under the table, where they just sort of slithered at some point, taking care to grab their respective bottles as they slid. But the future congressman stayed there, snoring, while the first wife emerged wobbly but triumphant, and from that point I figured the trouble with politics is that it’s played by amateurs, and therefore not to be taken overly seriously.
Still, Matters of Consequence do come before these august bodies (I’m referring to the House and Senate, not to the future congressman or my first wife), and so it’s only common sense to pay at least a little attention to what the incumbents and candidates for incumbency have to say and do. That does not mean I watch the form of debased televised theatrics known as presidential debates: I’m proud to say that in the endless campaign slog of 2015 and 2016, I’ve skipped them all. Still, I read the post-mortems, and word seeps through.
No, I like to take my questions on the political process to the experts, of whom I’ve known a few. Readers of this column might recall my previous conversations with the likes of the canny Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, who among other insights into the power racket made the famous and eye-opening distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft: to paraphrase very loosely, if you accept tit, you’d better give an honest tat.
I also chatted with the Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, who’s developed a fierce and controversial reputation for his views on realpolitik; the American steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, a key corporate political insider; my old friend Kautilya, a superb tactician who wrote the ultimate Hindu treatise on statecraft and military tactics, the Arthashastra; Eugene Field, a poet among political commentators; Thomas Hobbes, the noted political theorist and author of Leviathan; Huey Long, a master practitioner of the byzantine form of politics followed in the Deep South; Jesus of Nazareth, an influential populist religious leader with ties in the disputed territories of the Middle East; and the prominent American religious revivalist Elmer Gantry. Continue reading Gird your loins: the battle hymn of the Republicans (and the Democrats)