Pathological politics

Sam Smith – I’ve only watched two  episodes of House of Cards but it has already made me glad I finally left Washington. Admittedly, I never ran into a congressman who  handed out dope to get some cooperation, but like the native American story teller put it, “all the facts may not be right, but the tale is true.”
What I did recognize in those first two episodes was the utter lack of integrity, loyalty and cooperation. It wasn’t always like that. I covered my first Washington story 56 years ago. There was dishonesty and corruption back then, but it was mitigated by such factors as party, individual and home district loyalty; less dirty money bouncing around; personal passion for some things of real value; as well as an understanding of the feudal nature of politics, which is to say that payoffs came with responsibilities to others.
Now, however, the payoffs come with little passion but loaded with pathology. And it goes all the way to the top. What strikes me about Obama is not just that he is pathologically disconnected from values, beliefs and real constituencies, but that there is – as Gertrude Stein said of California – no there there.

Everything is judged by  the convenience of the moment and, increasingly, backed up by disingenuous legal defenses.

It is even more true of the capital’s Republicans. And the other evening I listened to three liberals discussing drones on the Chris Matthews show and you would have thought they were arguing over strategy for some public works bill. The fact that Congress has never declared war on the countries we attack or that America has not taken one significant step in the past decade to make it less likely that someone would want to blow up one of our buildings was not mentioned. Drones are just more drudgery to fill the hour.
It’s not new, but as I watched House of Cards I couldn’t come up with another film that had gotten so close to the center of what increasingly drives our capital and its leaders. A decade ago, I described it this way:
“We live in a nation hated abroad and frightened at home. A place in which we can reasonably refer to the American Republic in the past tense. A country that has moved into a post-constitutional era, no longer a nation of laws but an autocracy run by law breakers, law evaders and law ignorers. A nation governed by a culture of impunity … a culture in which corruption is no longer a form of deviance but the norm. We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now.”

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