On friendly politicians and presidential character.

My parents just sent me a story in the Washington Post by Anne Kornblut that focuses on the personal slights and favors that underpin so much of our politics. In other words, grade A standard political journalism.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I recently celebrated just such a report by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker for laying bare the fragile egos that created and then destroyed our best shot at effective climate change legislation.

Unlike Lizza’s chronicle, which ultimately shames the protagonists for allowing their personal shortcomings to endanger our collective welfare, Kornblut’s account is long on tattle but falls short on tale.

It repeats, in various phrasings and through a half dozen quotes, the observation that unlike Bill Clinton, Barack Obama does not like to ingratiate himself – an observation obvious to anyone with a television set.

Kornblut doesn’t establish whether this difference in character has political consequence. She notes that Clinton’s personality made him highly accessible to donors and opponents, alike, but that this warmth did not save him from almost being impeached. (Nor did those connections help him pass health care reform, etc.)

Kornblut may not have been encouraged to draw a conclusion but there are political lessons to be drawn from the evidence she has gathered. For instance:

Some lawmakers see it more as a sign of insularity, if not arrogance. “[President Obama] doesn’t suffer fools, and he thinks we’re all fools,” one senior Republican member of Congress said.

If that is Obama’s opinion, it’s one held by the overwhelming majority of Americans, according to polls.

Fool: (12c., Mod.Fr. fou), from L. follis “bellows, leather bag” (see follicle); in V.L. used with a sense of “windbag, empty-headed person.”

Foolish politicians mistake their office for a privilege rather than a duty, a vanity re-enforced by the multibillion-dollar lobbying industry that provides funding for candidates on their way in and golden parachutes on the way out.

When politicians have more interactions with corporate courtesans than they do with their constituents they may feel they’ve done a great job when they get re-elected even though there are less and less people voting. (It doesn’t help that it’s still easier to buy the vote of a million and suppress the vote of nine than it is to get ten million to vote for you.)

That our politics has digressed towards a pathological courtship for money has been noted strenuously by insiders and outsiders alike. It may be a function of the complexity of modern life where specialization is the norm and bureaucracy its (mostly hidden) cost (cf. Max Weber). But it is not a welcome state of affairs and its beneficiaries should be mocked rather than encouraged for making politics so personal.