Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Folishness in High Places

One thing people need to understand about Rep. Foley is that he was not really elected. He was "promoted" progressively by a political infrastructure that indirectly rewards sin and corruption. Honestly, I say this without knowing a single thing about Rep. Foley.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say I’m Senator Warbucks, a good Republican from the state of Disrepair, and two Republican candidates are being proposed to run for the House in District 666. People in the party want my opinion, and I probably want to give it to them whether they want it or not. Candidate A is a good all-around guy, not too flashy, but nothing nasty in his background. Believe me, I would know. I know where all the bodies are buried. Now Candidate B is more charismatic, probably able to move the Party forward, has lots of influential friends and seems pretty smart. Unfortunately, he’s got like a whole ream of dirt. You’d have to know where to look, but it’s definitely there. Now, if not for the dirt, I’d have to go for Candidate A, but as it is, Candidate B is a no-brainer.

That’s crazy isn’t it? No, B is the clear choice because 1) he’s good for the Party, 2) he can’t run against me, and 3) I can get rid of him whenever I want. You decide which of these reasons is most important. Essentially, I will have a workable slot where I have complete control.

Now imagine that there are a couple thousand people like Sen. Warbucks running loose in Washington. Most of them are decent people who want to do the right thing for the country, but they have friends to stroke and status to maintain. Situations arise faster than they can work the agenda, and hard choices have to be made all the time, and we need to raise lots of money. God is this fun! You sort of lose track of the time. When it’s time to depart from the stage, no one goes willingly. A lot of damage can be done and the welfare of the country becomes a secondary concern. Oh, well. At least I got a building named after me.


There are several theories about the problems of democratic governments. It is necessary to explain how the people in charge seem to be consistently worse than the populations they represent. The Slick Willy theory is that people without conscience have an advantage in the contest. The Tammany Hall theory is that everything is rigged. Mr. Smith will just have to do what we say. The Don’t Delay theory is that motivated and innocent folk start at the bottom, move upward by luck and charisma, but somehow get corrupted by the exposure to temptation, by the mechanics of government, by requirements of compromise and the very social qualities that attracted the voters in the first place.

Actually, I believe it is a combination of all three. There is an algorithm in place that is not producing the quality of leaders that we wish for, not even the quality of leaders that we deserve. It filters out the good ones by scaring them off or undermining them, it corrupts the successful, and it handcuffs the effective. Given the countervailing forces, it is a testament to the basic decency of human nature that our reps are as sincere and hopeful as they are.

I’m really not being cynical here. I’m just trying to understand why things work out the way they do. It is my considered opinion that we need to change the algorithm, and I believe we can. That’s not cynical is it?

10/17/2006 1:39 PM

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At Wednesday, October 18, 2006 5:58:00 PM, Blogger anchovy said...

Very interesting.

Your last theory reminds me of a study that some folks conducted in which they concluded that drinkers make as much as 14% more than non-drinkers in the same profession. I don't have a source for this, but I also heard on the radio recently that kids who were underage drinkers also tended to be more financially successful than those who were not.

At Thursday, October 19, 2006 12:52:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Interesting. Yeah, well underage drinkers are technically breaking the law, and some people are too honest or too socially responsible or too prudish to do it. I'm sure that's not all they're doing.

People who are willing to break laws and cut corners like to hang out with other people of the same type. They're comfortable sharing their confessions of minor misbehavior and anti-social amusements. They help each other succeed, because they "like" each other. It's really a good thing in small doses because it fosters group solidarity and provides a way for people to measure loyalty. However, the real sharks circle in the same water.

I want to find a way to keep the sharks, the manipulators and the control freaks away from power. These informal circles of pranksters actually do protect us, to a certain extent, from the real bad guys. Being a prude, I disapprove and I resent the easy comradery that the party atmosphere engenders. I'd like to be part of it, but I'm unwilling to bend. Oh well. Can't be everything to everybody.


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