This is as self-indulgent and blatantly ego-stroking as I get.
I read Erick Erickson’s RedState piece, “The Fundamental Problem with a Jeb Bush Presidency (and a Hillary Clinton one).” Beyond the obvious fundamental problems either of these Shakespearean-tragically flawed characters would bring to the White House*, Erick defaults to his law training: “We are, in short, becoming a nation of men, not a nation of law.”
I do think we have reached a stage of politics in this country objectively led by personality over policy. Men and women arrive on the American political stage who lead their armies of supporters to both advocate certain policies and turn a blind eye when the law is breached.
Erick then delivers a litany of reasons supporting this, concluding that the wife of a former president running against the brother of a former president, both of whom are alive and kicking (and scoring big bucks on the speaker circuit) presents the nation with a singular opportunity to fall on its sword. Should this happen (and Vegas odds favor it), we could all take up arms against a sea of cynicism, and by opposing end them; or to sleep—perchance to dream of a Republic ruled once again by Law not Men. (My profuse apology to Shakespeare—who is dead and cannot accept it).
There were once unwritten rules played out in the salons and meeting rooms of Washington, D.C. Unwritten, they were not binding, but most followed them. In the past decade, neither party has time for those rules any more. They can go for a rent-a-mob to get their way. Both sides have decided Washington must do something, they have both become vested in the idea of the expanded federal state, and government has spilled outside its natural bounds into every aspect of our lives making everything political.
That was Erick’s dream, that the “unwritten” rules of civility in American politics would evolve into chivalry reminiscent of better days past: Camelot, and a Kennedy in the White House—a country-loving, stick-wielding, Kennedy who faced down the Russkies on two continents.
I am sorry to say, Erick, that your dream, although fine and splendid, is fantasy. Yes, cynicism is unhealthy, but it’s part of our Republic. Only about 1/3 of Americans even supported the Revolution. The rest were either Tories or cynics—waiting to see which side won so they could butter their bread.
Thus has it always been in America. From our nation’s founding until now, there’s been cynicism, uninhibited populism, cults of personality, “bully pulpits”, inflated egos, power grabs, back room deals, enemies lists, and obnoxious legislators (John Adams).
The press has always been yellow, the presidency has always been feckless or imperial (depending on who’s sitting in the chair) (or both), voters have always been pawns, enlightenment has always been for the next candidate, and the bums are the ones in office.
What separates now from then is the preponderance of 24-hour “news” cycles, 100 million bloggers, pundits, “contributors”, and Twitter. It only used to be possible to rake the muck one newspaper at a time, and then if you lived in Kansas, you likely didn’t hear about Washington muck until 2 days later.
Now you can immerse in Washington, London, Paris, Moscow and Jerusalem muck simultaneously–while driving and texting your spouse, eating a Gordita from Taco Bell, with one hand on the wheel.
Maybe that’s the problem: it’s not a nation of Men vs Laws, it’s a nation of Men (pardon the Patriarchy) with one hand on the wheel, driving the nation while distracted to pure ennui.
It might be instructive for our nation to see the fruits of distractedness: a campaign between two cardboard cutouts, side by side with no functional policy differences, while their standard-bearers occupy opposite ends of a quite broad spectrum of interests. Politics would then be reduced to the soulless retweet of a 140-character opinion, or the millionth view of a meme on Facebook.
If our candidates are a reflection of our society, we deserve a Jeb/Hillary race in 2016.
*One candidate suffers from in-her-husband’s-shadow syndrome coupled with in-her-president’s-wake disorder. The other candidate suffers from in-his-father-and-brother’s-shadow syndrome, among other self-identity issues. Apart from their need to compete with those very real shadows, they have to somehow separate themselves from them. Kind of like a teenager who looks exactly like Dad so he dyes his hair purple.
(crossposted from sgberman.com)