The Price of Politics
Something about yard work seems to tick Bob Woodward off.
Before I get to speculating just why that might be, though, allow me to remind you who Mr. Woodward is. As a bright young reporter on the Washington Post metro desk, Mr. Woodward and his former partner Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate story.
Maybe you heard about it? Brought down the Nixon presidency. Made journalism cool for a half generation or so. There was a hit movie. Woodward was played by Robert Redford and Bernstein by Dustin Hoffman. Doesn’t ring a bell?
Well, time moves on and the now septuagenarian Woodward is the über insider in Washington political reporting. Still holding a desk at the paper, he publishes fly on the wall volumes every couple of years. This most recent tome focuses on the back and forth between the Obama administration and Congress, primarily the House and its Speaker, John Boehner, over the debt ceiling limit. Compared to high crimes and misdemeanors, war, drug abuse and the Fed it’s dry stuff indeed.
Yet probably no less important.
I try to avoid politics for a lot of reasons. Mostly that’s because I think that the 10- to 20-thousand folks seeking state or higher elective or appointed office nationwide are delusional. Very little of what they get themselves up to has ever made a difference in how I live my life and I suspect that’s probably true for most people. But in some cases–war, crashing the economy, keeping the machinery of government going–they do have a job to do. It’s pretty obvious that hasn’t been a priority lately.
And so this volume, which demonstrates just how badly everyone is capable of behaving. It’s fair to say that no one looks good in this recounting. Most everyone we see is more concerned with what the political impact of a given action will be than with what will happen if there’s no action. Nether party has a lock on being craven in this account–Democrat or Republican, the chances are, when given the opportunity the wrong thing will be done.
This lack of action–the ability to just do it, whatever it is–is probably what lies behind the general apathy towards the whole system. The details, though, are astonishing. The amount of time the President has for his political advisors–and the weight they are given–is astonishing. Even when Nancy Pelosi promises to get her caucus to go along with a less than perfect deal the White House staff can’t seem to keep their mitts off. It’s telling that when a sub-cabinet level Treasury official tells the President what a hash he’s made of everything everyone else in the room is silent.
TheTea Party wing of the Republicans is little better with one glaring difference: they don’t seem to be as invested in the pedigree of elite schools and prior government service. Most probably they think both those things are drawbacks. It’s apparent that in their blinkered worldview any consequences of their inaction or resistance will ultimately lead to the best outcome. It’s kind of a Panglossian take on political resistance that left me shaking my head. Honestly, you can’t make things better by letting everything go to hell.
The amount of energy for trivial nonsense is astonishing. There’s a photo, reproduced on the cover jacket and widely circulated when it was taken, of the President and Boehner meeting on the back terrace of the White House for a frank discussion. And the scene has been scrubbed. The alcohol and cigarettes that fuel these two legendary smokers are nowhere in evidence. At some point too much becomes about stage management.
That, in a way, brings me full circle to the yard work thing. I take as a given that if something made it into the printed version of a book it matters to the author. You might not agree but there’s an editorial process. So things either survive query and challenge or the editor’s view is in sync with the author’s.
Not once but twice we hear that major players are working in their yard. Boehner is one, a guy who evidently enjoys taking care of his lawn. The other is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona who puts off taking and returning a phone call from the White House because he’s in the middle of a major yard project with rented equipment and he wants to get his money’s worth.
I suspect we’re suppose to wonder what type of person focuses on his yard when there’s serious matters at hand. And while I understand that way of thinking I also understand the converse. Lawns don’t cut themselves and costly rentals need to be used quickly to keep the costs in line. You can get judgemental about the choices seemingly embedded in these actions but I wonder if you should. Because it’s not a great leap from that judgment to thinking this is the sort of thing you should pay someone else to do. And that’s the sort of thing that’s really indicative of how different world views are and not terribly much more.
And maybe not understanding that is what’s really wrong with our politics.