Politics in the balance
The Al Gore buzz is quite incredible. But I think it suggests something worrying about our political culture. It is as if only when a politician is out of the game that the media are prepared to present their most appealing side to the public and the public is prepared to see it. As a ...
The Al Gore buzz is quite incredible. But I think it suggests something worrying about our political culture. It is as if only when a politician is out of the game that the media are prepared to present their most appealing side to the public and the public is prepared to see it. As a Gore aide observed to New York magazine, “He has acquired a halo from being out of politics…Americans love nonpoliticians.” Indeed, to this foreigner’s eyes Americans do seem to have a bit of a Cincinnatus fetish—look at the love lavished on Colin Powell down the years. But the problem goes beyond these shores. Between 1997 and 2001 William Hague led the British Conservative party. During that period he was derided as some sort of bizarre political nerd. Almost immediately afterwards, when he hit the TV show circuit, everyone started lauding his wit and his immense intelligence. Attributes that had always been there but previously didn’t fit the narrative, much in the way that Gore’s seriousness and environmentalism were lambasted in 2000.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the press should laud every politician. Clearly there are corrupt ones, deeply unpleasant ones, bigots, and the like amongst them. Yet I would venture that more of them than not are genuinely trying to do the best for their country. (I realize that by this point I’ve already earned a nomination for naïve idiot of the year award from most of you—and a warning as to my future conduct from the blog mistress.) But if we always think the worst of those who go into politics, eventually only the worst will go into politics.
I think a lot of journalists—especially political ones—are frustrated politicians, people who didn’t quite have the balls to go into politics: We’re happier criticizing from the sidelines than actually trying to get things done. Some of the personal hostility to Clinton and Bush can be explained by the fact that they blew away many journalists’ excuses for not getting involved. Take Clinton: If you ask someone who should–but didn’t–get involved in politics why they didn’t run, they’ll often tell you that it is because “private life wouldn’t bear the scrutiny, old chap. Few too many girls back in the day—and yesterday.” Post-Clinton it is hard to keep that one up. Then Bush destroyed another well-worn excuse: “Partied too hard in college, drank too much, took a lot of drugs.”
Unthinking cynicism about our leaders is as dangerous as unthinking adulation.
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