The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

The Game That Never Changes

with one comment

I learned everything I wanted to know about politics more than 30 years ago when I was a young reporter, covering state and local governments. Nothing I have seen or heard since has shaken my early prejudices.

All politicians are similar to one another, and all of them are quite different from you and me. As they work their way up the political food chain, they don’t gain in character, although they do get quicker, sharper and meaner.

Even on the lowest levels of organization, like church committees, condo boards, neighborhood councils, only a special kind of person is willing to absorb the abuse they get, and to do the work they do, usually without sufficient compensation (with some notable exceptions). They have an unnatural and unholy ambition, even a lust, for attention, fame and power. The life would destroy most people, but not a politician.

Obama delivers speech

Then, after they claw their way into office, they are rewarded by a host of insoluble problems. Understand that not even a president can get you a job unless he or she is hiring you to work in the White House. After any economic collapse, economists study and analyze, and after the fact they figure it out, but they are never aware of the next one before it happens.

Their efforts will never be widely applauded or appreciated — maybe in North Korea they are, but anywhere else, never. All they get is clamoring, for example by people who can’t balance their checkbooks demanding the abolition of the Federal Reserve — whatever they think that is — and a gold currency. But whether you adore them or despise politicians, you have to admit we need them in the worst way, because someone has to do this stuff.

I may be skeptical, even cynical, but I am curious, and I was looking forward to reading Game Change by two members in good standing of the national press corps about the 2008 presidential campaign. Game Change is also the name of an HBO movie drawn from the last 100 pages of the book — the part about Sarah Palin.

Palin delivering speech.

The campaign in 2008 arosed what political curiosity I have when Obama started winning primaries and the adulation of a huge number of people. To tell you the truth, I didn’t like Obama at first. He was too vague and too new. His promise of change scared me. Change what, I wondered? I think he once said he wanted Americans to feel that they could phone the White House and be heard. Nonsense like that doesn’t mean anything. He had no record. I knew people who swooned over his speeches, but when I listened to them, they were the same old overproduced political speeches I’d always heard, starting with John Kennedy’s complaints about a missile gap between us and the old Soviets.

As Obama gained in popularity, I read what I could about him and listened to what I could of him on Youtube, particularly material predating the campaign. I found a pretty smart, practical, and thoroughly political man, not a wild-eyed outsider. He was new to Washington, but wasn’t in any way new to politics. I was comforted, and I faced the future without fear. We need politicians to fill political jobs. Who else? You? Non-politicians make a bigger mess than politicians. I stopped fretting about the campaign and the election.

McCain concedes

Most of Game Change is the inside story of Obama’s epic battle against Hillary Clinton. The writers, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, did a fine job of making this stuff dramatic and I really liked the book. I’m sure they’ll have no trouble getting their next work published. They give a novelistic account of how Obama outspent, out-organized, and outmaneuvered Clinton, and in the general election, he had a much bigger entourage and war chest than the other guy, John McCain was leading a disoriented and disorganized effort. Looking back, Obama was an even better bet because the economy was in free fall in the weeks before the election. If he wins this year, it’s because enough people are confident about going back to work; if he loses, it’s because people are still scared. That simple. A coin toss. And if anyone believes Mitt Romney can bring about an economy recovery with his platitudes, they are drunk, dumb or demented.

The book tells us much about the way political war is waged by focus groups and polls. The scripts are always written off these pseudo sciences. These practices annoy me because I think they’re tantamount to studying chicken guts, but politicians’ handlers and trainers have done this for decades and they will continue. Candidates are tutored by public relations experts, dressed up like characters in a movie and directed to strike the right poses and postures. It’s obnoxious but I don’t see an alternative. No large number of people are going to plunge into the details of policy, which is why politicians know it’s futile, and even dangerous, to say what they mean.

In any case, I have grown to like Obama as our president. Maybe, he disappointed a lot people who thought the White House would be bathed in rays of sun blazing through the clouds, but I’d like to point out that Obama did the most to fix health care in the United States since Lyndon Johnson. I also don’t blame him for being sucked deeper and deeper into military adventures. Almost all politicians have no answers for the generals.

I also don’t like the vicious reaction to Obama from the right, whom the far right likes to call a “European socialist” whatever that means. I am convinced all they mean is that he’s black and they don’t like it. Tough for them. No matter what you think of the details of intricate issues, I think Obama was dealt a bad hand in 2009 and did about as good as anyone could with it. For me, a vote for Obama is a vote against extremism and the excesses that have always plagued politics. (But not a vote for bipartisanship, whatever that may be.)

Yes, Obama is a politician. So is his opponent. They both have to have the same twisted cast of mind to run for public office. Neither one will fix everything, but I take comfort in the fact that neither one will break everything. The world is not in continual decline. Things are not worse than ever before. There was no golden age in some distant past. Someone will win and take office in 2013 and he will carry on.

Game Change the book, and I’m sure the movie once I get around to seeing it, was reassuring that it is still politics as usual.


Written by theunbiasedeye

April 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm

One Response

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  1. I also didn’t think Obama was ready for the Presidency, but no one is ever ready for the Presidency. It is a job that no person ever gets right the first few years.

    I will say this for Obama, he is not only probably the smartest in the room in DC, but the smartest in a lot of rooms. And we tend to forget the enormous gamble he took with his entire presidency with the special forces assassination of bin Laden. That required some double O gambling skills, and big testicles. I just can’t see the chameleon Mitt Romney doing that kind of thing. It’s just not in his nature to take that kind of a risk. So, Obama’s got my vote.

    John Kurman

    April 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm

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