Monday, November 01, 2010

A Plague On Both Your Houses

In 1883, during a tour of the United States, Oscar Wilde came across a saying (one that actually had existed since the 1860’s) posted on a notice in a Leadville, Colorado saloon, It read, “Don't shoot the piano player; he's doing the best he can.” The more current expression is “Don’t shoot (or kill) the messenger,” and a similar sentiment was used not only by Sophocles many centuries earlier, but even Shakespeare adopted the doctrine in two of his plays (but not in those exact words). So, as the messenger, I’m requesting you give me the courtesy of not blaming me for the words of others.

Now that the great American Election Circus is over, you are either thrilled with the results, looking forward to a bright new American awakening, or you view the aftermath as a devastating blow, surely leading to the country’s decline and disintegration. In either case, you can praise or blame the politicians. It would seem that the current crop of office seekers has been forced to take a course based on political strategies and tactics utilized as far back as the Roman Empire. The source book could very well be, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician. A book review in the Washington Monthly referred to some of the basics:

“Indeed, along with actual assassination, character assassination was part and parcel of Roman politics. Accusations of promiscuity, drunkenness, and homosexuality were commonplace (and, if the surviving rhetoric of the times is to be believed, ‘family values’ had a very different meaning back then). When it came to such charges, Cicero was both accused and accuser. In one of his famous ‘Philippics’ attacking Mark Antony, he said, ‘You assumed a man's toga and at once turned it into a prostitute's frock. At first you were a common rent boy; you charged a fixed fee, and a steep one at that.’ So much for the lamentations bemoaning the loss of civility in our coarser times.”

It seems that the activities of politicians have not changed much since Cicero’s time. In fact, about 200 years ago, the following comment was added to the “Politician 101” curriculum: "In politics... never retreat, never retract... never admit a mistake." (Doesn’t that sound like current political strategy?) Indeed, this has become indispensable and intrinsic dogma that was voiced by one who might be termed the Über Politician, Napoleon Bonaparte. That is just one of a series of similar views expressed below about politicians by a number of eminent personalities, and several politicians. In total, however, I think you will admit that these commentaries seem to be popularly accepted expressions regardless of your party affiliation:
  • “An honest politician is one who, when bought will stay bought.”
    – Simon Cameron, U.S Senator, 1845

  • “Asking an incumbent member of Congress to vote for term limits is a bit like asking a chicken to vote for Colonel Sanders.”
    – Bob Inglis, former member of Congress

  • “I am persuaded that in the case of elected officials, the overwhelming temptation is to conclude that it is more important for your constituents that you be reelected than that you deal honestly with them.”
    – William Buckley

  • “In politics, an absurdity is not a handicap.”
    – Napoleon Bonaparte

  • “A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.”
    – Texas Guinan

  • “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”
    – Charles De Gaulle

  • “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.”
    – Henry Kissinger

  • “The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces.”
    – Maureen Murphy

  • “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”
    – Nikita Khrushchev

  • “Government is too big and too important to be left to the politicians.”
    – Chester Bowles

  • “When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.”
    – Edward R. Murrow

  • “No wonder Americans hate politics when, year in and year out, they hear politicians make promises that won't come true because they don't even mean them – campaign fantasies that win elections but don't get nations moving again.”
    – Bill Clinton

  • “Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”
    – Will Rogers

  • “The mistake a lot of politicians make is in forgetting they've been appointed and thinking they've been anointed.”
    – Claude D. Pepper

  • “Politics and the fate of mankind are shaped by men without ideals and without greatness. Men who have greatness within them don't go in for politics.”
    – Albert Camus

  • “Nothing is so abject and pathetic as a politician who has lost his job, save only a retired stud-horse.”
    – H.L. Mencken

  • “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
    – H.L. Mencken

  • “Hell hath no fury like a crooked politician denied his cut.”
    – Benjamin J. Montalbano

  • “I remain just one thing, and one thing only – and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.”
    – Charley Chaplin

  • “You slam a politician, you make out he's the devil, with horns and hoofs. But his wife loves him, and so did all his mistresses.”
    – Pamela Hansford Johnson,

  • “The short memories of American voters are what keeps our politicians in office.”
    – Will Rogers

  • “Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him.”
    – Charles De Gaulle

  • “If a politician isn't doing it to his wife, then he's doing it to his country.”
    – Amy Grant

  • “Politicians have the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterward to explain why it didn't happen.”
    – Winston Churchill,

  • “I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”
    – Rodney Dangerfield

  • “A politician would do well to remember that he has to live with his conscience longer than he does with his constituents.”
    – Melvin R Laird

  • “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”
    – Mark Twain

  • “Why are the 10 Commandments not allowed to be posted in U.S. Court Houses? Because posting Thou Shaltl Not Steal, Thou Shalt Not Lie, and Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians creates a hostile work environment.”
    – Unknown

If you disagree with the basic nature of the above propositions, and object to my account of them, remember, I’m just the messenger, so allow me to present the following in defense: If you do object to the unkind treatment of politicians as expressed in the above quotes, you are definitely in the minority –– and I have the polls that prove it:

In December 2009, Gallup’s annual “Honesty and Ethics of Professions” poll found that the least well-rated profession was Members of Congress. Fifty-five percent of those polled believed that members of Congress have low ethical standards. That number is much more than double what it was ten years ago (21 percent). Just below that were Car Salespeople followed by Senators, Stockbrokers, and HMO Managers.

Another annual Gallup poll titled “Confidence in Institutions” published just two months ago (September 7 th) resulted in the following statement: “Americans continue to have more trust in themselves to make judgments under the country's democratic system than they do in the men and women who are in political life, with 69% of Americans expressing ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust in the former, and 47% in the latter. This year's readings on both measures are the lowest in Gallup's history of asking these questions, and reflect a continuing general downward drift in trust over the last three decades.” The report also finds, “Congress ranking dead last out of the 16 institutions rated this year.”

On September 24 th this year, another annual Gallup poll surveying “Trends in Trust and Confidence in Branches of Government” was published. The poll concluded, “Trust in the legislative branch was highest, at 71%, in May 1972 and remained generally high from that point to the mid-2000’s. It then dropped to 50% in 2007, 47% in 2009, all record lows at the time they were measured. This year’s 36% legislative confidence rating marks still another record low, and is the lowest trust level in any of the three branches of government in Gallup’s history.

Keep in mind that two politicians, each of whom who spoke from vast experience, expressed, possibly, the most notable aphorisms in recent times:
  • “My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.”
    – Harry Truman

  • “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
    – Ronald Reagan

It has been a common belief that the term “honest politician” is an oxymoron. The admissions of the above two ex-presidents repudiate that conclusion, at least as far as they are concerned.
Yet, Shakespeare had it mostly right saying, “A plague on both your houses.”