The past few years have seen a rotating schedule of politicians caught in bizarre scandals relating to sex and/or money. We just had Alaskan Senator Stevens convicted of ethics violation, and a week earlier Democratic Congressman Tim Mahoney, who replaced creepy Republican Mark Foley (of the text messaging sex scandal), was caught up in his own sex scandal involving affairs and payoffs. What is with these people? I’m generally of the opinion that politicians are usually at least as smart as normal people, so why does this seem to keep happening? Part of me just wants to dope slap them, but another part of me really wants to understand what’s going on.
Though I’m a Unitarian Universalist who doesn’t go in for that whole idea of damnation, I’ve always been fascinated by the seven deadly sins. While most sins are of the ‘thou shalt/shalt not’ variety, regulating actions (depending on your translation of the bible), the deadly variety are sins of attitude. While each of them is well-known, the most insidious of them, and the ‘mother of all sins’ that the other six boil down to is Pride.
Pride isn’t the satisfaction you feel for a job well done, nor confidence in your faith, though the line between them can sometimes be very thin. It’s the outlook of arrogance that says you’re better than others. It lets you justify all sorts of things from brutal crusades to cutting somebody off in traffic, and politicians trapped by the isolating deluge of attention seekers are especially susceptible to it. Politicians, despite increasing retinue sizes, are limited people who have limited waking time to try and meet all the demands on them. They have to make choices about who to meet and talk to. A normal cycle when someone hits Washington is that increasingly a politician will give more and more access to a more limited number of people and interests. The limited interests tell politicians what they want to hear, and a cliquish attitude sets in. Power can act as an intoxicant, just like fame or wealth can act on others. Many politicians have all three.
This seems especially egregious during election season. You’re not going around listening to new ideas, you’re constantly moving from venue to venue where thousands of people listen raptly to your ideas and adore you like a pop star. Being a candidate is more isolating than being a politician, no matter how much you knock on doors and talk to people on the phone. Both McCain and Obama engage in tactics that even their past selves of a few months ago might have found unethical to the extreme because their winning matters more than any other concern. Look at Elizabeth Dole’s painful ‘Godless’ ad, where she tries very hard to convince people that her opponent is almost literally selling her soul, and even includes a fake sound-alike quote of her opponent denying the existence of God (though the ad does not state that the quote is actually Kay Hagan), as just how far electoral desperation will push you.
The American electorate, certainly myself included, are also guilty of perpetuating and participating in this. The hard partisanship that sets in. I shrug my shoulders at the tactics of my own candidate while condemning the awful tactics of his opponent. I think Cindy McCain was telling the truth as she saw it when she said that Obama was running the dirtiest campaign in American history, which generated a horse laugh from Democrats. I find myself in general more short-tempered, more condescending, and more inclined to cut people off in traffic than I did a few months ago (though I’ll go out of my way to let someone with an appropriate bumper sticker merge painlessly). I’m looking forward to the election being all over and trying to kick myself out of my mindset.