A lot of people would like to disbelieve that statement by Mac Stipanovich. Some will say “There must be some missing context;” others, “Maybe he was just funnin’ us.” After all, the man was a Republican political consultant. By flapping his yap the way he did, he’s “given the game away” and endangered Republican prospects for the elections ahead. Surely that would endanger his career prospects, too!
Well, no, it wouldn’t, and I shall tell you why:
1. Get Elected.
2. Get Re-Elected.
3. Don’t Get Mad; Get Even.
Take them seriously, Gentle Reader. They’re an education in political dynamics, all by themselves.
The professional politician’s first and highest priority – and this never changes – is to get elected to office. He puts a degree of effort into that quest that ordinary Americans could never fathom. It’s a classic monomania, and it drives him with the fury of a Cat 5 hurricane. Nothing – let’s slam that word really hard — NOTHING — is permitted to interfere with that goal in the slightest way.
What does he need to get elected? Votes. Lots of votes. And he doesn’t care how he gets them. So he’s naturally receptive to the appeal of individuals who can plausibly claim to know how to get him votes. Such an individual could be three feet tall, covered with warts and rank hair, and speak in the language of Hell itself. (I have no idea if, in the style of Adam Zlugy, there are political consultants from Hell, but I’m sure there are some in Hell.) He will hire whichever of them has the best credentials, which usually reduces to a record of bringing in the
There is no effective counteracting influence to that drive, for there is nothing that matters as much to the politician as getting elected – and re-elected.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the politician approaches his desire for high office equipped with some convictions about right and wrong. Let’s imagine further that he arrives in office to confront sitting majorities: professional politicians who, to put it bluntly, don’t give a shit. They’re there to be there, and for no other reason. They intend to remain there come Hell or high water. How will they react to his announcement that this or that must be done, because it’s “right?”
They probably won’t laugh audibly. But they won’t show the newcomer perceptible willingness to go along with him. Rather, they’ll subtly encourage him to emulate them.
In this connection, one must not underestimate the power of time and persistence. The newcomer confronts a large body of men who’ve “been around,” who “know how things are done around here.” Their urbanity and experience are seductive. (Never mind what they’ve actually accomplished.) As he adapts his behavior toward theirs, they provide subtle increments of reinforcement. His political consultant will reinforce the process with polls, opinion surveys, and reports of “trends” among likely voters.
“This is the way it is” morphs into “This is the way it must be…especially if I hope to remain here.”
In his regular bouts to retain his office, no one matters more to the politician than his party colleagues and his consultant. The former provide advice and endorsements; the latter designs and implements his campaign strategy. Neither need involve what the politician has achieved, if anything. All that matters is what will garner a sufficiency of votes.
The critical word here is image: the politician’s and that of his most plausible general-election opponent. His colleagues and his consultant are critical to both.
After two or three terms in office, the politician has “learned” all the following:
- Being in office is preferable to being out of office;
- He can achieve nothing independently of his colleagues;
- In vote-garnering, image is superior to actual achievement;
- In crafting an effective image, words matter far more than deeds.
He might say that during his years in office, he has “found his place in the world.” In actuality, as C. S. Lewis put it, “the world” – the micro-environment composed of the corridors of power and the men who roam them – has found its place in him. The idea of being ejected from that domain becomes intolerable to contemplate. Whoever and whatever can keep him there is inherently to be preferred.
The issues no longer engage his moral sense. His convictions are transformed into keepsakes of his “naïve” years: that rosy-glassed period before he came to grips with “political reality.” It matters far more that he and “my sort” hold the levers of power than that they actually do anything. He has grown comfortable with all of it…though from time to time – usually among his grandchildren – he’ll take his old ideals out of the shoebox and fondle them nostalgically, perhaps with a tinge of regret. His consultant might even encourage him to do so…as long as he puts them back in the shoebox, replaces the lid, and returns the box to the high shelf in his bedroom closet before he goes back to the campaign trail.
Reality is that which is independent of our opinions and preferences. Whether we like it or not, it is. In the above we have the reality of majoritarian politics conducted in a quasi-democratic order. Rare is the office-holder who successfully resists the dynamics I’ve described.
There have been a few, over the years. However, as the decades have passed they’ve become ever fewer. Their colleagues have become ever more adept at filtering out the “unreformables,” or at neutering those who persist among them. The rise of a Donald Trump who actually means what he says and resists the pressures against him becomes ever less likely.
And the Mac Stipanoviches of the political world grow fat, sleek, and ever more contemptuous of Us the People. Perhaps there is some justice in it, though I dislike the notion.