I hope it isn’t too embarrassing to admit this, but since I’ve started working for a policy magazine, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how difficult good policymaking — i.e., politics, law-making, what goes on in capitol buildings — really is. (Even bad policymaking isn’t exactly a cakewalk.) I also understand better how so much of our political rhetoric works against good policy — the idea that “career politicians” are the problem, that term limits are the solution, to name but two. I will grant you that politics ain’t exactly eye surgery, but when was the last time you asked for less expertise in any service provider? “I don’t want a career mechanic working on my car; let’s let this guy with no experience open the hood and see what’s what,” said no sane person ever.
Again, I grant you that the idea of citizen lawmakers, who come together in session to consider the needs of the republic, then disperse back into their roles as farmers and insurance salesmen and high-school math teachers, is an attractive one, and not without merit. I only ask that those farmers and insurance salesmen and teachers be the best goddamn policymakers that we can find, and in this day and age, that means they’re pretty much policymakers, period. Governing is complicated. It’s not the 18th century anymore. There are 320 million people in this country, millions of them in each state (for the most part). You can’t get together, discuss solutions to the sheep on the commons problem and then ride your horse home anymore. People who believe this can still be done either live in very small or low-population states, mostly in the west, or they’re Hoosiers. Although they’re listed as a hybrid on this map, Indiana has every-other-year “short” and “long” sessions that meet for only a few weeks or months at a time. Coming from Ohio’s capital city, it was a shock.
Michigan has term limits, and when you talk to the permanent residents of Lansing — lobbyists and the stewards of the zillion-and-one nonprofit organizations that advocate for pretty much everything — they talk about the teaching-and-learning that must go on when every election cycle brings in a sizable freshman class who need to be brought up to speed on so, so much. Most of them have some political experience, so they’re not totally ignorant, but no one knows everything, and most are stepping into a wider arena than they previously occupied. So they have to learn, for example, how we fund mass transit in the state, who the players are, what’s needed, what needs upgrading, what the stakes are for the people who depend on it, and because it’s mass transit, what needs to be coordinated with Washington, and, and… It gets tiring. Repeat for education, health care, roads and bridges, agriculture, etc. It gets really tiring.
A running theme in our discussions here is the War on Taxes, the Let’s Drown Government in the Bathtub movement, the general, from-the-right idea that the best government is not only that which governs least, but that which barely exists. I don’t think of myself as anything more radical than a left-leaning moderate, and I’ve come to believe that idea is a big part of why our politics seems so broken. We have contempt for the people who practice it. Every cycle, we throw in a new bunch of not-career-politicians, and then wonder why they haven’t performed a miracle with less revenue in their allotted time.
Face it: It takes real dedication, or true masochism, to stay in politics for very long these days. So I was intrigued by the argument John Scalzi makes in this piece, which one of you sharp commenters already linked to, but let’s let the non-comments-reading readers see it. After explaining his philosophy of service to self and others, he gets to it:
I think that Clinton has shown amply over the years that, whatever personal ambitions or her willingness to cash a check for speaking fees (and as an ambitious person who occasionally speaks for money, I don’t see either as inherently a problem), time and again she’s put herself in service. Not with 100% success and not without flaws even when successful, but there are none of us perfect, and the end result of her putting herself back into the arena again and again is that much of that service has had an impact. Her ambition and service are not just about her and what it gets her. She’s done much, and at a high level, for others.
But Hillary Clinton is — is what, exactly? A criminal? Corrupt? Dishonest? Evil? Terrible? Awful? A bitch? Satan in a pantsuit ensemble? As I’ve noted before, a quarter century of entirely outsized investigations into her life and actions have come up with nothing criminal or found corruption that rises to indictable levels. As for the rest of it, whatever Clinton’s own personal characteristics, she also had the misfortune of stepping into the political spotlight concurrent to the GOP wholesale adopting the Gingrich playbook of demonizing the opposition. She’s has an entire political party and its media apparatus spending two full decades telling the world she’s a bitch, and evil, and a criminal. It’s still happening; the Republican National Convention resounded with the words lock her up, lock her up, lock her up. And yet she is still here. She is still in service. Now, you can see that as ego or delusion or the inability to take a hint. I see it as an unwillingness to yield the floor to those whose political playbook is simply “demonize your opponent,” with the rest to be figured out later.
He’s right about the two full decades thing, although it was a little longer. She was the one who coined the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and it turns out? She was right. Richard Mellon Scaife did fund the American Spectator’s campaign to dig up dirt on Bill Clinton. Fox News does have a memo of the day that lays out political talking points. Anyone who doesn’t notice this isn’t paying attention.
And after being examined like an ant under a magnifying glass for almost a quarter-century, what do they have on her? Not bloody much. And she’s still working. She could have retired years ago, and she hasn’t. Honestly, to still be in the game at this point? She’s either the world’s biggest masochist, or in it because she wants to make a difference.
By this point, she’s experienced. Give her that, if nothing else. She’s spent her career working as a lawyer in a state capitol, a political spouse, a U.S. Senator, a cabinet secretary, a nonprofit foundation executive – a well-rounded resume that’s allowed her to see the sausage-making from farm to table. And for much of that time, her every move has been examined, by people who despise her. Despise her. As bad as the abuse heaped on Barack Obama has been the last eight years, it’s been maybe worse for Hillary Clinton. This piece is humorous, but every charge on it has been made, in all seriousness, by the people who hate her. Last night I stuck a toe in right-wing Twitter. The voice! The boring stuff! OMG, can you imagine four years of this? (Well, yes I can. Ask anyone who lived through the Bush administrations.)
The election is still months away, and a lot — a lot — can happen in that time. But if she prevails, I will feel all my complicated feelings about her, but one thing I’ll be certain of is that she’s no dilettante. She is competent. She’ll make mistakes, as we all do, but after all this time, the fact she’s still in the game says something important about her.
Open thread for convention chatter again. The links I could post are already outdated, so nothing from me right now. I had a little string gathered on the men’s-rights people swooning over “alpha” Donald Trump, but it makes me sad to look at it, and in the end, I’m afraid it wouldn’t even make a bird’s nest. So let’s let that go.
And have a great weekend. Heat’s broken here. Hope it has where you are, too.