Apropos of Nothing: Politics is a Messy Business
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett
As we, the American people, find ourselves ever closer to making a choice on Election Day, each of us may be troubled to find we experience a moment of despair. For some that moment may be fleeting. For others, it may linger like a persistent viral infection, or a visiting relative who shows no intention of leaving even after three weeks of sleeping on the couch and eating nothing but leftovers.
Welcome to politics, American style.
You may take comfort in knowing your concerns about the well being of our nation and the quality of the candidates is nothing new. In fact, the process has changed little in the 240 years since Sam Adams and his beer addled brethren got hot-headed with anyone who had the audacity to wear a red overcoat in the greater Boston area.
Candidates for national office have historically been a vapid, cartoonish, empty-headed lot. Their primary talent has been for gilding the lily, although they are equally adept at taking multiple stances on the same issue, sometimes in the same day. And occasionally they describe their own personal history in such glowing terms their own mothers wouldn’t recognize them in a literary line-up.
Take for example, Quentin P. Thackery-Jones, who ran for the presidency in 1848. Thackery-Jones was a front-runner for his party’s nomination for nearly a month. It was then a curious reporter followed up on the candidates popular claim to have killed a bear in the northern reaches of the nation, by engaging the beast in hand-to-hand combat. The reporter found that although the candidate had indeed killed a bear, it was not a grizzly, but a koala bear joey that was hiding high up in a tree. The captain took an axe to the tree. The tree fell. The bear died from the impact. As a result, the long planned Chicago National Zoo folded with a whimper at the loss of its prime attraction.
When the news of what actually happened, broke, Thackery-Jones disappeared, never to be heard from again. That, in and of itself has become a staple of American politics. Which reminds me, have you seen John Edwards in the last decade or so?
On the other side of the aisle, Millard Beneficent Carlton III, a dandy from Delaware, threw his hat in the ring in 1882 on a solid platform of being a hard-working, blue collar, everyman who understood the electorate and their desire to move westward as the nation grew. To prove his claim, Carlton very publicly headed to Texas where his intent was to personally help assemble the rails that would carry hopeful voters to wide open spaces, freedom, and prosperity.
Carlton made good on his promise. He travelled by ship to Galveston where he took his place amongst the laborers working to expand the railroad westward. The majority of the workers were uneducated, recent immigrants who found the candidate’s high-pitched voice and eastern accent to be even more peculiar than their own. Yet the candidate proved to be a hard worker and became popular with the men and women of southern Texas. At the same time news reports of his indus-triousness won him great support back east.
Historians believe Carlton would have been a real contender for the presidency and potentially a very powerful leader. Sadly, his might proved to be his undoing. After delivering a particularly powerful blow to a rail spike, driving it into the thick wooden tie with a single stroke, he stepped back to admire his work, directly onto a parallel track that was occupied by the San Antonio Express, which ran over the presidential hopeful at top speed and kept right on going.
Politics is a messy business, even without the occasional railroad wreck. Wilbur Mills would certainly attest to that. Even a brief dalliance in a public fountain can end a career… or make one if the circumstances are spun the right way.
Most modern political experts have come to the conclusion that politics, in any nation, at any time, ultimately comes down to a collection of winners and losers. Fortunately, the calculus required to determine which camp you fall is relatively simple and straightforward.
If you’re a voter, you’re one of the losers. No matter who wins, and no matter what their platform is, and no matter how talented or talentless they may be, you have won the right to pay for their mistakes and ineptitude. But it’s the only game in town, so you might as well join in with the shenanigans and enjoy the show. The outcome may be a mess, but at least we can all have a good time while the ship of state is going down once, twice, three times.
There’s a reason they say Nero fiddled as Rome burned, ya’ know.