The Costs of an Unresponsive Politics

A team of Democrats and a team of Republicans playing basketball.

This is the very picture of American politics: two parties playing for points, often in view of spectators, in an environment closed off from the ordinary world.

Individual lawmakers lack the autonomy that statesmen enjoyed in earlier times.  Most officials today are suited up for a game of party supremacy.  For its sake, they have lumped themselves together in the cadres of two warring tribes.  Personal stardom is the goal, but unfortunately it’s attainable only by playing on one of these powerful teams.  Fitting in with the pros is far more important to every politician than being true to the amateurish fans and mentors who gave them their start at playing back home.

The leading class in the US has gradually broken free of its traditional dependence on ordinary voters and local institutions.  It’s no longer necessary to be personally known and liked, no longer essential to win the approval of veteran politicians to get in the game.  Politicians no longer need friends.  They can rise with the help of consultants.  Using what is essentially a corporate model, they look for seed money, then hire and recruit and posture their way into office.  It’s a grueling, strenuous affair, impossible without the right coaches, communications people, and above all statisticians.  Using data and a bunch of sociological stereotypes, modern American politicians strive to make the right plays and garner the support needed to stay on in the brightly lit arena.

So it happens that local constituencies have very little influence over their ostensible “representatives.”  Their powers are amazingly puny when it comes to reining in politicians who forget about the people’s needs.  Once in power, officials who like it there can harvest money from sympathetic backers and use the media to project the right image back to their harried, perplexed, or complacent base.  As long as they do nothing objectionable, they may stay put longer than their achievements warrant.

George F. Will has rightly observed that there are two types of politician: the type that seeks office in order to do something, and the type that seeks office in order to be something.  In the tumultuous weeks of the impeachment and since, we’ve seen that the latter type of politician prevails.  As the Republicans, in particular, make an ever more desperate effort to maintain power and ignore inconvenient demands, the game drags on, as if it will produce what the nation needs.

Image: from this source.


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