Economics may be the proverbial "dismal science," but to my mind it's lost out bigtime toanother: Politics! What could be "dismaler" than the spectacle daily confronting us, politelycalled a presidential campaign? And what could be more unaccountable than the obsessiveattention being lavished, by otherwise sensible millions, on this civic freakshow? It's a trial, going on being a responsible citizen, all the while in terror of being tarred by the touch of the political tarbaby. As President Reagan said of his signing the MLK holiday bill, come election day I "hold my nose" and, as good as blindfolded and dizzy, try to pin the tail on the least-asinine of the choices, the lesser of the two obvious evils.
Contrary to popular imagining, it's nothing new under our political sun. The dismalness ofAmerican political life is as old as the country. The two Adamses are perhaps the archetypes of the off-noted phenomenon of "decent people," "the best people," either voluntarily pulling out of American public life on account of its unsavoriness, or being hounded out, leaving the field tothe "worst," to the unscrupulous and nasty. Tom Jefferson himself led the pack, turning scurrilous scribbler James Callender loose on the likes of Hamilton. "St. Thomas of Cantingbury," as John Randolph called him, would be right at home raking today's muck.
Those of the "progressive" persuasion (such as this newspaper's "house liberal") clearly arecertain Ecclesiastes had it all wrong, that that which has been isn't that which shall be at all,that things have gotten worse in our lifetimes. "They do not inquire correctly concerning this," saith the preacher. "Vanity [futility] of vanities," he'd say of their passion for passing judgment on current events. Leave it to history! History itself has a hard enough time of it.
"The terrible simplifiers," Burkhardt called such passers ofjudgment. The current form oftheir terrible simplifying of the terrible complexity that is life seems to be: "George W. Bushand Co. are devils. Just rid us of them, and the millennium will have arrived!" Much the same their forerunners have said of the 40 other presidents. Everybody's hero Harry Truman suffered just about the same unpopularity, even hatred, as George W. Suggesting that, should things in Iraq turn out half as well as Truman's "containment of communism," egad! Bush just might wind up right alongside Harry as a "near-great!" Nobody knows what's just over the hill. The future can't be extrapolated from this morning's news.
The past, on the other hand, is an open book, at least for those who can read, read beyond the adolescent bounds of "FYI." Warren Harding, that liberal's b'te noire, perhaps wasn't such a villain after all; he just couldn't say no to his villainous friends. His sainted predecessor Wilson, on the other hand, in the conclusions of many, did the country irreparable harm, thrusting us into a really needless war and starting the gummint on its way to the present tyranny.
Have you ever stopped to note: In 200 years of our vaunted "democracy" we've managed to wind up with almost exactly the same grab-bag of dullards, disasters, doers, and decent nonentities as any monarchy, limited or otherwise. Heredity, it turns out, is no whit worse a leadership crapshoot than universal suffrage, Nietzsche's "this mania for counting noses." Behold what the current nose-counting binge is bringing us. Is this lineup of mendacious nitwits the best we can do? A harridan who wants to be our physician and financial trust officer, as well as our president. An old soldier with the foreign-policy experience of being a prisoner of war, and whose solution to the world's ills is to let 'em all in, wholesale (never mind they'll vote Democratic; our gated communities need gardeners and housemaids!).
Ah, and last if not least, there's Osama bin Obama, or whatever. Whose curriculum vitae is a blank slate. Whose foreign-policy experience consists of modeling the quaint colorful getup of his paternal fatherland, whose late presidential contest was decided via machete. Who got his religion, he says, from one whose gospel seems to be not the familiar "Christ and Him crucified" but rather something like "America and crucify it!" All of which adds up, mystifyingly, to something called "charisma!" Which sounds like what would make a good Hollywood celeb but not a personage we'll be sending out to save and defend us in a worldful of sharks.
Worst of all, he's not only busily "ringing the changes" on "change," that political inanity I've bemoaned more than once before. He's made it his very theme! Like Vivaldi, who (say the uncharitable) wrote one concerto 500 times, Obama's spouted his one speech 500 times already, and counting. No, it's not that bravura boilerplate about "race" at all. Nothing so concrete, so specific. It's about... what else? "Change!" "This is the greatest, the most perfect country in the world!" so it goes, if a trifle paradoxically, "So let's all join hands and pull together to change it!" A pundit calls Obama's slogans "the most interesting" of the campaign; he's made a dialog of them: Obama's creed: "Yes, we can!" Citizen: "Can what?" "Hope." "Hope for what?" "For change!" Obama signs read: "Change we can believe in!" As opposed, the pundit guesses, to unbelievable changes. Which, indeed, would include Hillary's.
And otherwise sane folks, mobs of them, actually swoon over such stuff! Deaf to the obvious fact that "change can be for the better or the worse." They "confuse change with improvement, fail to weigh its costs and benefits, or consider its unintended consequences. [Democrats] ask us to embrace change for its own sake." The saving grace (if any) is that what candidates say bears no relation whatsoever to what they'll do, what they'll find they can or can't do, once in office.
Politics isn't a science after all, then, dismal or no. It's too inexact. It's an art. A dismal one! In the pejorative sense of "the black arts." Witchcraft. Hucksterism. Swindling.
I think I'll wear earplugs and blinders till election day, then hold my nose and pin the tail on the most changeless beast on the ballot. And all real animals hate change! To improve on Obama: Despite the damage the change-aholics have already done, it's the most wonderful, perfectest country. So let's all join hands and pull together to keep it that way!