Over the decades I worked with hundreds of elected officials. Only 2-3 understood what you are about to read:
Power must be exercised in order to exist.
The real problem with over 95% of politicians is this:
They are not politicians. They are petit business people in it for the contacts. Sure, some are out-and-out crooks and are there to steal from the public treasury, but those are minuscule in number. Nonetheless, contacts or theft, it comes down to the same thing: money. North Korea, public education, health care, Puerto Rico: as for anything else, not only are most elected officials not interested, they view non-how-to-make-money matters as intrusions. Nuisances.
The phenomenon is not new. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
"Men living in democratic times have many passions, but most of their passions either end in the love of riches or proceed from it. The cause of this is not that their souls are narrower, but that the importance of money is really greater at such times. When all the members of a community are independent of or indifferent to each other, the co-operation of each of them can be obtained only by paying for it: this infinitely multiplies the purposes to which wealth may be applied and increases its value. When the reverence that belonged to what is old has vanished, birth, condition, and profession no longer distinguish men, or scarcely distinguish them; hardly anything but money remains to create strongly marked differences between them and to raise some of them above the common level. The distinction originating in wealth is increased by the disappearance or diminution of all other distinctions. Among aristocratic nations money reaches only to a few points on the vast circle of man's desires; in democracies it seems to lead to all.
The love of wealth is therefore to be traced, as either a principal or an accessory motive, at the bottom of all that the Americans do; this gives to all their passions a sort of family likeness and soon renders the survey of them exceedingly wearisome. This perpetual recurrence of the same passion is monotonous; the peculiar methods by which this passion seeks its own gratification are no less so."*
The head-long rush to make hay while the sun shines explains why the vast majority of politicians are politically tone-deaf.
We recently saw a classic case study of a politician who is not a politician.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine likes to claim she is a moderate Republican who is the key Senate swing vote. As last week´s Kavanaugh vote showed, when all is said and done (which it was), she cowards down real fine. After kewpie-pie flirting with a no vote, she gave a speech in which she performed the Blivet Trick -- trying to put 10 pounds of horse shit into a five-pound bag. To watch her explanation that didn´t explain anything, click here.
What would a real politician have done?
* * *
I had a client who was a House Representative and close personal friend who was one in a million -- a real politician.
He started out as a member of an endangered species: a liberal Republican. As time passed, he realized that the GOP superstructure would never let him advance in the House despite the prevailing seniority system.
He was out of step -- but never out of touch. A once-in-a-generation opportunity came up that proved it.
Following the general elections, the 70-member House was split between 35 Democrats and a coalition of 35 Conservative Democrats and Republicans. The legislative session was a week away, with the all-important vote for Speaker due the first day. The Speaker runs the place -- period. The Democrats offered my client a far better deal than anything the Republicans could conceive of, much less offer. The Democrats told him that if he cast his vote for their candidate for Speaker, in return they would make him Chairman of The House Appropriations Committee.
What happened next: in the course of the two-minute roll call vote for Speaker, my client went from a nobody to one of the five most powerful people in the state. He subsequently changed his party affiliation to Democrat and served with distinction for over 20 years. He faced re-election every two years; no opponent ever came close to beating him.
Susan Collins had a comparable opportunity last week. All she had to do was find an associate or two and vote no on Brett Kavanaugh. Presto -- Collins and friends would have become the swing factor of the United States Senate. But to have power she had to exercise power, and that is where she failed. Unlike my client who stood tall and voted for the Democrat candidate for Speaker, Collins stuck with the GOP establishment and voted for Kavanaugh. Sure, had she voted no her Republican colleagues and Trump would have been mad as hell -- whereupon she could have gently explained to them that if they didn´t change their tone they could expect more of the same. In fact, she and her friend were thinking of changing from Republicans to Independents; she would then smile and ask her Republican colleagues what they had to offer so that she and her friend would stay Republicans.
So it goes, on and on -- or rather could have gone.
Because Collins did not exercise power when she had the opportunity, it now does not exist for her. Her flirting with a no vote means that she will now fall through the cracks; neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will trust, much less respect her. Instead of controlling the United State Senate, she will politically make a swift trip in the service elevator to the basement where she will be consigned to the bottom of the bottom drawers -- that lower than lowly station in politics everywhere -- not of a traitor or crazy person or idiot, but a flake.
Before and after Kavanaugh. When you look at her, you won´t see any difference.
But it´s there.
Update: October 13. In case you are wondering, Public Policy Polling showed (August 21) that the percentage of Maine voters against confirming Kavanaugh was 49% with 42% in favor.
Only 35% approved of Collins´job performance, 48% disapproved. That finding spells disaster for Collins because everybody in Maine knows who Collins is: they either (i) like her or (ii) dislike her. With numbers like hers, all I can say is if the Maine Democrats can´t beat her, they have no business being in electoral politics. She is a dud ripe for dumping.
Nonpoliticians like Collins always poo-poo negative poll findings - "polls quickly change," they "don´t really mean anything," blah-blah-blah.
To fool others in order to fool themselves -- such is the mysterious inner essence of such people.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 2, Section 3, chapter 17.