When you see an actor in a movie or on a TV show, you know that the person is acting. You don’t expect that the lines he says reflect what he is in real life. What you probably don’t know is that you should assume the same thing about politicians.
I was reminded of this earlier today when a frustrated friend sent me a link to a story about a married Republican state legislator in Ohio who was found drunk with a young stripper and charged with DUI. The legislator is Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, who has a history of backing strong “family values” legislation that plays well with the GOP voter base. My friend is originally from Germany, and she gets frustrated with American politics at time. Her comment today:
“This is sad. Why are some thinking they are so above the standards they impose on others?”
I don’t get outraged by these incidents and haven’t in years. It hadn’t really occurred to me until today why that’s true. The people who are outraged at such hypocrisy assume that the things politicians say represent something about what they really believe and think. I know better. I know that the delivery of their lines on a political stage has almost nothing to do with how they live their lives.
When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I would have once shared the outrage, but working in politics for 20 years was enough to desensitize me to it. Even on the state and local level, politics is a show. Those of us who have run campaigns and orchestrated various parts of them are no different from the directors and producers of a movie. We create a script. We build sets and then tell stories. The politicians are simply our actors.
Every now and then, there’s an actor who only plays one type of role, because all he really knows how to do is play himself. It’s a limitation on his career unless the public really happens to like him personally. It’s the same way with a politician. It doesn’t matter whether a politician is a drunken womanizer who hangs out with cheap strippers in his private time. There’s a long history of that in politics. It’s accepted and ignored by those in the system unless it gets public enough to hurt the politician’s credibility with the “audience.” If a politician only knows how to play what he truly is inside, he will eventually be shunted aside by the system. That’s not what the state and its political apparatus need. They need people who will read the lines they’re assigned — and the “audience” of voters will reward them for the performance.
To my dear German friend who was outraged today about Mecklenborg, I simply remind her that the mistake is to assume that there’s anything real in the performances you see from politicians. When you watch a great actor in a movie, you overlook the fact that he’s had affairs and been in and out of rehab. If you’re going to follow politics, you need to realize that it’s the same.
These people sometimes start out with the best intentions in the world, but those who get anywhere in the political world eventually realize that they’re just reading lines written by people like me and dictated and approved by people with access to money and power.
That’s just the way it is. I’m sorry to disappoint those who haven’t realized this already.