There are still some of us who – despite all of the unalloyed stupidity, graft and cynical machinations – still believe in this whole government of the people, by the people, and for the people schtick. We want and try to raise our kids to pay attention to events, form educated opinions and engage in the political process, even if only to vote when they’re old enough. But the chronic incompetence of recent sitting Presidents and Congress make it impossible to want to do so, let alone try. The recent picture of Senator John McCain playing poker on his smartphone simply drives me over the edge of indifference; the Senator – who long ago and far away had my respect – was sitting in the Senate Committee hearing on the President’s proposed use of force in Syria and decided to take a little break by playing poker.
Seriously? Seriously? While my Youngest is still in elementary school, I’m old enough that some of Eldest’s peers now serve in the Armed Forces and any of them could be sent overseas because of this business. Yet a senior Senator sits in the hearing regarding their future, playing electronic poker; the fact that this is the guy who spent years as a prisoner of war makes it mind-boggling in the extreme. Being a parent means that at some level, the kids’ friends – who I’ve historically referred to as the Opies – become young adults with their own discernible dreams, hopes and wishes. Some of them virtually become our own kids and their safety and welfare matters as much as that of our own offspring. The fact that senior senators are sitting around during the hearings hoping to draw a flush is not only insensitive to those of us who give a damn, it’s insulting.
The great majority of adults reach an age at which they understand that there’s a difference between the ideal and the reality. We know that money and power come into play but hope – with some sufficient pressure applied – that these elements are somehow offset by a sense of the public good and simple common sense. Yet the survival of a democracy is based ultimately on optimism; not the saccharine Hallmark-card variety, but the elemental optimism which believes that the great majority of people are decent sorts, able to put aside their differences and live in some degree of peace with one another. We can teach about our form of government in school – and that’s not going too well, either – but this core belief is one that, like so many other beliefs, is passed along as much through the quiet conversation and personal interaction that occurs daily in the home. Contemporary American society is crass and cynical and I freely admit that I’m trying to raise my kids to be skeptics. But such a deep-rooted optimism requires continual nurturing in the face of the crap that our politicians throw around like so many chimps with their feces, and the Senator’s hope for a flush crosses a boundary that is deeply offensive on a personal level. Man, there’s actual use of chemical weapons and now there’s the prospect of sending them to the sandbox – again. What’s the evidence for this and more importantly, do I trust a government that provided manipulated information for a previous trip to the sandbox? I only hope that the leadership is paying atten…no, wait. Nevermind.
Any good politician knows that politics is a fusion of substance and imagery and that the latter can trump the former. The 1988 image of presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in a tank was as much a killer as the fictitious image of Abraham Lincoln splitting rails was a winner. But the image of a senior senator playing smartphone poker like a high schooler in the back row of Civics class is damaging. It not only portrays McCain in a poor light, but reinforces the notion amongst the public that the political leadership is not only cynical, but callous towards the ramifications of the actions that they are – or aren’t – about to take. McCain acknowledged in a subsequent tweet that he was indeed playing poker “during a 3+ hour Senate hearing” yet the tweet is meant derisively: yeah, I did it but geez, it was three hours of bloviation and if you’d been there, you might have done it, too. The Arizona Senator’s behavior during and after the hearing is a gross, immense action of unabashedly immature stupidity and when I’ve heard similar exculpatory flatulence come from the mouths of any of my three kids, I’ve dope-slapped them, Gibbs-style, across the back of their heads. This isn’t rambling about the tax code, but a matter of the use of force and after previous administrations’ efforts in 2001 and even earlier, in 1964’s Gulf of Tonkin resolution – and that one led to the Vietnam War – the public deserves better.
Public upset over this will pass quickly since the American public has a short attention span and memory. But while the exact instance will pass, there will be a corrosive after-effect. The cost of running for, and gaining, office is now prohibitive to the average American and assumes dollar amounts that are not attainable for Joe and Jane Six-pack and there’s already a belief that to gain office requires more than a little duplicity to please the backers who pay the freight for their pet candidate. One of the goals of the nascent Occupy movement was to grab the attention of the politicians via demonstration and sit-in and that did seem to work until the movement imploded. But the corrosive element is not only that the political classes are no longer like us, but that they simply don’t care about the typical American’s needs. That was the knock painted against the Republicans but it’s increasingly the same knock laid against Democrats, many of whom are also independently wealthy in their own right. Lifetime pension? check. Lifetime healthcare? check. Access to inside information that can be used for personal gain? ah yep, check. It is this behavior that drives home the point that the government really doesn’t care about the public, and drives Americans away from the system. The internal intelligence apparatus has grown to massive proportions and the reports about the extent of domestic electronic surveillance foster a sense of helplessness amongst the public, and Americans cocoon themselves in the hope that they’ll be left alone by this whatever-it-is that we’ve constructed. It’s difficult enough fighting through the societal noise to raise kids that both understand and care about the political process; when the public behaviors are so stupidly callous that they discourage and dishearten the parents who are trying to wage this fight, then the Congress has only itself to blame for the image and we ourselves for the political results.
There is true irony here. John McCain’s persona is intimately tied to the tortures that he endured as an American prisoner-of-war in the Vietnam conflict. That conflict was an undeclared war, but then-President Johnson was provided political cover by a Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 on what is now known to be questionable information. Were the existant Congressmen of that year paying full attention to what was happening, or was their attention engaged elsewhere? And what would then-Lieutenant McCain have thought – in Hanoi – had there been proof that the civilian leadership responsible for the Resolution’s passage spent their time in Chambers playing poker instead of attention?