By Richard Sale, author of Clinton’s Secret Wars and Traitors.
The great poet Paul Valery once said that politics is the art of getting people to argue, fight and torture each other over something that they know or care about.
What astonishes me always in political debates is the irresistible urge for completely undiscerning people to comment and argue about things they know nothing about. These so-called “public questions,” are the very things that most people (whether Republican or Democrat) are completely indifferent to. Indeed, politics would not be possible except for the indifference of the majority. Unfortunately, it is always a small, venomous, energetic minority who given a computer or a microphone the sight of a camera, are instantly at the throat of anyone who disagrees with them.
At the heart of every human being is a streak of merciless egotism. Each of us has it in some degree or another. Most of use our manners and good conduct try to hold that egotism in check; we even to try and train it to give way to the needs of others. Unfortunately in politics, there is no such delicacy. In politics that self-consuming egotism results in the tendency to sneer, insult, libel, slander, to be wildly inaccurate. In politics, is given free rein. Its crimes against others are done in good conscience because they are done in the service of noble ends, a higher collective human good
I don’t think the talent for debate is a very admirable one in most cases, but the manner candidates debate these days is extremely revealing. To have a vicious, instinctive repulsion towards a subject or an individual who hold a different view suggests a connection, a hidden affinity between the reviled and the vilified. To always be at war, to always exhibit an unappeasable hatred for a group suggests that they are basically on the same level. Their very similarity infuriates. Opponents strain to dislocation trying to improve a superitity that they know is doubtful. This, I think accounts for always having some form of despotic energy always replacing a more honest and detached and balanced debate.
Members of a political party promote and are partners in every sort of outage all because they want to be thought better than their opponents. Yet In life it takes a bit of the personality of the hermit to achieve any sort of excellence, a stubborn resolve to do worthwhile work in the face of settled hostility or indifference. But there is no trace of the hermit in a politician. What they want is not excellence but power over of men. They want people to follow them as a dog does its master.
The absence of genuine gifts of mind and any genuine satisfaction with oneself allows a member of a party to create a haughty fictional caricature of their enemy made up of ignorant misinformation and the faulty conceptions. Any upstart originality, anyone who differs from their views, is immediately branded wrong in every argument, labeled home to every evil, a breeding ground for every vice, damned in every article of belief. These political hacks have no ideas of their own, no original perceptions or outstanding virtues. The voice of the hour is a commonplace voice. Those who are the least gifted, those who have the fewest inner resources, feel the need to create their self-esteem any way they can. But to bray with malice at every deviation from what you have approved and promote is pathetic and retarding. But in politics, gross goals require gross means. I think Hazlitt once said that real excellence does not find its foil in inferiority, and he’s right.
To immerse yourself in questions of politics implies for many, the possession of a third rate mind. Minds of any excellence have certain spaciousness, a ready sympathy, an emotional detachment that results in a mental perspective, a refined capacity to judge requiring a mastery of knowledge that gives you a framework for the making of sound assessments. Their whole tone of the debates has been one of resentment of persecution at the hands of those who differ with them. They are always indignant victims and ignore any refuting evidence. Most debaters are not only wrong, they are wrong at the top of their voices. When you hear any debate, it is profitable to keep in mind Congreve’s observation, “Empty vessels make the loudest sounds.”
It must be a sad career to promise a program in life that never happens.
We train all our lives to think for ourselves, but get near a political party our independence of thought is the first thing to go. We are given a platform, we are given leaders, and we are given certainty, and all of a sudden our self esteem is assessed based on our conforming to the whims and notions of the leaders of a group. Unfortunately, groups are home to mediocrity, says Pasternak and he’s right.
In politics, alas, the strong are everywhere enslaved by the weak.