P.J. O’Rourke: Two lessons I’ve learned in 46 years of covering politics

From P.J. O’Rourke in Stansberry Digest:

I’ve been covering politics for 46 years, ever since I began writing for one of those smudgy, goofy, hippie “underground newspapers” in 1970. (Coincidentally, that newspaper’s office-turned-crash-pad was in Baltimore, off St. Paul Street, just 12 blocks north of the present-day Stansberry Research headquarters.)

My politics have changed a lot over 46 years, but politics itself hasn’t.

What’s really wrong is not just a matter of things that are amiss in this particular strange and perplexing political cycle. Political problems are permanent problems.

Covering politics has taught me a few things… although, as Porter always says, “There’s no such thing as teaching, there’s only learning.”

Lesson No. 1: Why the Best People Don’t Run for Political Office

There’s a book that gives a wise and insightful description of a typical politician’s personality. The authors of the book, however, had no idea they were describing a politician. They thought they were describing a mental illness.

The book is the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The description appears on page 717, under the heading “Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder”…

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration… beginning by early adulthood… as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

This constitutes the very essence of a candidate’s decision to run for office plus the outline for his or her campaign speech.

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance…

Here are the details of that campaign speech…

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

The special or high-status institutions are the House, Senate, or (for starters) the local zoning commission. The special or high-status people are known as “campaign donors.”

(4) requires excessive admiration.

But will settle for yard signs.

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

Air Force One, executive orders, having Pebble Beach cleared so the chief executive can play golf alone.

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her ends.

Forcing Joe Biden out of the running, luring Chris Christie into an endorsement.

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of other.

This diagnostic criterion might not seem to fit because every politician is always telling us how much sympathy, understanding, and fellowship he or she has with us and how deeply he or she is moved by our hopes, our dreams, and our fears. (“I feel your pain.”) It’s called lying.

(8) is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.

As in a GOP candidate debate – Marco Rubio envies Donald Trump for having real poll numbers, while Trump envies Rubio for having real hair.

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Did someone mention Donald Trump?

Lesson No. 2: Why the People Who Are Elected to Office Do Such a Bad Job

As neurotic as the aspirants for political office are, the real problem isn’t politicians– the real problem is politics.

Politicians are chefs – some good, some bad. Politics is boiled skunk. The problem isn’t the cook, the problem is the food.

Let me restate that: The problem isn’t the cook, the problem is the cookbook. Politics is the idea that all of society’s ills can be cured politically. This is like a cookbook where the recipe for everything is to fry it. The fruit cocktail is fried. The soup is fried. The salad is fried. So are the ice cream and cake. And your chardonnay is rolled in breadcrumbs and dunked in the deep-fat fryer.

That’s no way to cook up public policy.

But politicians have another problem. They are unable to tell us the truth about the menu described above.

Politicians lie to us. But it’s not like they have a choice. Think what it would sound like on the campaign stump if a politician told the truth, even an itty-bitty bit of the truth: “No, I can’t fix public education. The problem isn’t funding, overcrowding, teachers unions, or the lack of computer equipment in the classrooms. The problem is your damn kids!”

I’m not seeing an election victory in that politician’s future.

My job is to make fun of politics. But after 46 years of making fun of politics, I’ve realized that I’m enjoying myself about as much as a grizzly bear getting a bikini wax. I hate politics.

And I don’t just hate bad politics, I hate all politics.

Imagine if our clothes were selected by the majority of shoppers, which would be teenage girls. Dick Cheney would have spent two terms as vice president with his midriff exposed.

Imagine deciding what’s for dinner by family secret ballot. I have three kids and three dogs in my family. We’d be eating Oreos and rotten meat.

Politics stink. Think about how we use the word politics. Are “office politics” ever a good thing? When somebody “plays politics” to get a promotion, does he or she deserve it? When we call a co-worker “a real politician,” is that a compliment?

Nonetheless, we’re continually tempted to give more power to politicians. Power of any kind is dangerous. Political power, with its legal monopoly on deadly force, is particularly dangerous.

Politics is a Rottweiler ready to be unleashed on your problems. And you’ve stuffed that rotten meat down your pants.


P.J. O’Rourke

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