Blogs > Cliopatria > Your Behavior Has Tainted the Gods

Oct 16, 2010 1:41 pm

Your Behavior Has Tainted the Gods

Oh, children. Politics is no longer a noble profession. Don't you see what you've done?

David Brooks takes up a reliable theme in the Thursday New York Times, marking a politician's personal failures against the account of the fools who get to vote. I'm just guessing, but are newspaper columnists contractually required to lament the immaturity of the American rabble? Is there a rotating schedule? ("Hey, Jim, it's your turn today. Eugene has next week. And then Tom Friedman is on deck, but that's contingent on his taxi driver in Hyderabad offering a timely lament about the degeneration of American public life.")

This week's ritual lamentation is triggered by Mark Kirk, the Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, who has been caught embellishing his military record. Brooks notes that this is an odd thing to do, since Kirk's real military record is pretty distinguished without enhancement. But he has an explanation:

"Today’s political environment encourages narcissism and inflames insecurity. Pols must continually brag about themselves, and Kirk has succumbed."

This is why the New York Times will never hire me: I can't type the sentence,"Today’s political environment encourages narcissism and inflames insecurity," without roaring with laughter.

And just what causes"today's political environment," the terrible dynamic that makes good politicians have to lie against their will? We cause it:

The system will inflame your weaknesses (Kirk’s mistakes were serious and he has apologized for them). Then the bad will come to define you, and the good you’ve achieved will be forgotten.

Few people try to weigh the good against the bad and reach some measured judgment. Instead, as David Frum once observed, they regard candidates the way adolescents regard parents: if they are not perfect then they must be irredeemable.

Adolescents, why judgest thou thine parents? Why can ye not respect them, so they may stay true? Why have you done this to Mark Kirk's narrative sensibility?

Other political embellishments caused by today's toxic political environment: Lyndon Johnson's Silver Star for valor in combat, awarded for participation in a single bombing run on which Johnson's plane developed engine trouble and turned back well short of any actual combat; Johnson's decision to have the Silver Star"awarded" to him over and over again on the campaign trail; Ronald Reagan's searing memories of the day he first entered a Nazi death camp in the late days of the war in Europe; and Richard Nixon's recollection that he had campaigned for Congress in uniform because he had just come back from the war and didn't even own a civilian suit, which is funny, because he was still campaigning in the uniform in the late months of 1946.

Man, it's outrageous that today's petulant child-voters forced poor Lyndon Johnson to lie about himself. What are we becoming?

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