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Post details: Survival of the Oiliest

Survival of the Oiliest

The game of politics is changing. As its objective shifts from implementing efficient governance to coddling unrealistic expectations, its playbook has been filling with cues from the field of snake oil marketry. After all, how else do you fulfill the competing and often contradictory promises made to different segments of the society? If everyone demands happily ever after for themselves and their family dog, you better start pulling some serious rabbits out of your political hat.

As I watched the great finale of the debt ceiling debate, a weird and disconcerting image emerged in my mind. It featured a huge and completely packed football stadium, two teams of players running chaotically around the field in red and blue jerseys, donkey and elephant mascots shimmying on the sidelines and, above all, literally, a huge scoreboard hanging over the bleachers and shining far into the night with the final score of the epic battle between Democrats and Republicans:

Mediocrity 1, Charisma 0

As I scan the news program and political talk shows, all I see is pandemic demagoguery. Regardless of the party affiliation, our politicians' main distinguishing feature appears to be drizzling apathy, often accompanied by foggy reasoning and torrential incompetence. Sure, their words may cruise glibly past their lips and around their cheesecakey smiles, but the glitzy rhetorical make up only paints a Potemkin wisdom on their faces. What rankles inside their minds is best left unexplored. Let's just say that these days the public appearances of our elected representatives make me wanna order an extra strength yoghurt blower. But let's look at the bright side - the entertainment industry got a brand new genre out of this debate: a stand up tragedy.

I do understand that politics requires plenty of consensus, so certain level of lubrication is necessary for moving positions around. But when the oiliness becomes the primary mechanism for ascending in the power structure, we are in deep trouble. The pull of this mechanism inevitably brings spineless and unctuous mold to the top, leaving little room for people with ideas, scruples, intellect, conscience and other outdated bric-a-brac. The brave new handshakers spawned by this process slither happily in their natural habitat of stuffy congressional backrooms. Having mastered little more than just the basic calculus of payoffs, the slick eels of the modern political stream found their own path into the corridors of power - rubbing elbows. With the magic of evolution, I expect that after additional 100,000 years of wheeling and dealing there will be a new nominal subspecies of homo sapiens distinguished by a vestigial brain and exceptionally large and swollen elbows.

Engineers know that an electric current always seeks the path of least resistance. When corporate interests want to make sure that the deals essential to their well being get done, they exploit a similar strategy. Rather than battling it out with strong leaders, it is easier for them to influence weak followers. Placing contemporary politics under undue financial pressures indeed promotes those that can act as a natural power conduit, as a passive transmission system merely aggregating and relaying the present forces. Networking skills are obviously paramount. In today's emptified and ideologically high strung politics it is not about how many people you can win over, but how many people you can avoid alienating. No wonder that we end up with gray, meek, nondescript and easily pliable acolytes. The big cats with retractable morals. The pawnish hearts in general's uniform.

One does not have to dig deep to unearth examples of such prototypes. Listening to our congressional honchos reveals plenty of study material. Whether you focus on John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on the Republican side, or Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on the Democratic one - you'll hear the same sterile, abstract and structureless arguments and the usual barrage of mealy-mouthed rambling. No trace of a coherent thought, no concern for the consequences, and personal pizzazz of a pizza delivery service. Is this the best each party has to offer? What on Earth do they stand for? Why do they keep spinning contrived ideological dogmas where fifth grade logic would do? But don't expect many answers. When they do respond to specific questions, they just recite canned sound bites sometimes in blatant disregard for the crux of the matter. Yes, our overpaid baby kissers can memorize a lot. But we are not paying them for memorization. That's what pupils do in elementary school. We are paying them for thinking about the country's future and for finding the optimal path to it.

But the correct path likes to straddle. Sometimes it veers right and sometimes it veers left. Unfortunately, our career partisans observing the battlefield from their castles of insecurity with a pair of cheap binoculars won't see the other side of the coin no matter how many times you flip it. Analyzing the statements crawling out of their orifices reveals that this myopia is squarely spread across the political spectrum. The fantasy land soothsaying that characterizes the political analysis these days is rigorously bipartisan. Republicans keep dreaming about cutting taxes without saying how to pay for all the proposed wars and corporate bailouts. Sure, we do need some of those expenses, but the money necessary to fund the government operations does not grow on trees. On the other side, Democrats in their spendthrift zeal try to propose more and more ways to squander public money although the failed experiment of the Soviet Union clearly showed that when it comes to effective allocation of resources, government is not much better than a patch of barnacles. In other words, a small cadre of bureaucrats is not likely to outsmart millions of businessmen engaging in the daily operations of the free market. With such record, none of the two major parties can really claim the moral high ground or monopoly on truth.

Here is the real conundrum. In sports, arts, sciences or engineering we reward top performance, ingenuity, resourcefulness and courage. Why on Earth did we set up a political environment in which slick manners and intellectual crudeness take you to the top? Don't we need some creative minds in politics as well. You know - that special brand that can put two and two together and then drive from town to town explaining what must be done. That will stand up to short sighted special interests, even bang the fist on the table if necessary. We have to find the types that will shape the debate rather than be shaped by it. And pronto. The status quo does not seem to be working. We are trying to breed dynamic leaders, yet what comes out of the electoral hatchery every cycle is specimen after specimen of our very own Snake Oiligarchy.

That leaves us feeling like helpless cogs in the vast lobby machine, like Lenin's useful idiots. We could wear our shoe soles thin going to the voting booth, but as long as we have the same sad choice between prehistoric dinosaurs in red jerseys and two faced troglodytes in blue jerseys nothing will really change. We don't need any more petrified thinking or primitive slogans, all we need is some common sense and honest folks, preferably with real world experience, sequestered from the corrupting allure of big money. Oh, and we also need a couple of visionaries who will be able to peer beyond the four years horizon of their term and clearly point out the direction in which the country should be going. And currently that direction is neither left, not right. It is forward.

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