(Originally broadcast on Nov. 20, 2009, on The Frank Show, here.)
Well, the Presidential election is Sunday and I’ve thought long and hard about not talking about it. But I suppose I have as little insight and as little to add as everyone else who IS talking about it — so why not?
No, I’m not going to endorse anyone. That’s not my place. And, it’s not my desire. If I were you, I wouldn’t listen to anyone, anyway, about whom you should vote for. Do you really think they’ve thought about it any more than you?
But the fact that I’m a foreigner, an American, has attracted a swarm of Romanians to me recently – sort of like flies in a cow field — who DO want to talk politics. You won’t be surprised to know they are not happy with the way politics works here. And they say it in a way that suggests, because of the way politicians act when they campaign, and because of the way they DON’T act when they’re in office, these people want nothing to do with it. Nothing. They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to think about it. They don’t want to vote.
And I’ve had one message for them. Believe it or not, politics is not that different here or anywhere in my experience. You can look at other countries, from afar, and it’s easy to think, now why can’t Romania be more like that? A functioning government. Politicians on TV looking like statesmen. Rational discourse. A sense of purpose. Unity of country and ideals. But, believe me, that’s a perception that only works if you don’t LIVE in those other countries.
I’ve always loved politics. Probably because I was a kid in the 60s and old enough to worry about being drafted into the Vietnam War. In high school, I read about the Watergate scandal every day. I skipped school to work for George McGovern in 1972 and then I skipped school again in 1976. I worked on Capitol Hill for a US Senator and I’ve spent a lot — maybe too much — time with politicians and lobbyists. I love politics.
What I don’t love, though, is what happens to people after they’re in politics. I’ve seen it happen even to those who work around politics, write about politics, and talk about politics. The game becomes the point. The process is paramount. The profession is no longer a means to an end. No. For those who enter it, it quickly becomes an end in itself. It’s justified with the thinking that nothing good can be done unless I first win. But after the victory, the game resumes, not the results. Unfortunately, Socrates was right when he describes the difficulty of finding a leader. True lovers of wisdom and the Good don’t need, don’t want, the power associated with ruling. Too often, those who don’t deserve it, want it.
That’s true everywhere. You don’t need to read many history books on the US to discover that for 200 years, our political system, when viewed from inside, has been repeatedly shameful and in shambles. Name calling, rumors, lies, mud-slinging, assassinations, cartoons of candidates as monkeys, snakes, dogs. It can bring out some of the most base and disgusting of human behavior.
Here? Well, you haven’t had time, perhaps, to establish more coherent rules and traditions for how politics and governments work. Then again, maybe that won’t help. Look at the fist fights that break out inside parliament in India, Taiwan, Mexico, Italy. Maybe this country IS destined to be the Italy of the Black Sea, as someone recently suggested to me. Well, I love Italy.
But the one thing I haven’t said to all these who have come up to me. The one thing I’ve wanted to say to the ones who dismiss politics with a shake of their head and a disdainful look in their eyes. Stop complaining. Stop feeling separate and alienated from things here. Stop looking away and standing back and shrugging your shoulders and resigning yourselves to the government is if it were some kind of artificial edifice. That’s what politicians want to create to make themselves believe — and make others believe — that they are different, untouchable, separate and special. Stop complaining, I want to tell them, and do something about it. Too idealistic, you think? Well, I’ve met idealistic, intelligent and capable people here. Many of them. So I suggest, if you don’t like it, you’ve got five years to get ready.