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The reason why some people like Obama and others don’t isn’t just about personality or philosophy. It’s a reflection of a voter’s attitude towards politics in general. Obama is a very good politician – a great speaker, a clever strategist, obsessed with winning. Anyone who loves politics will appreciate his skills and, in all probability, come to admire and respect him. Anyone who dislikes politics – who regards the process as corrupt or corrupting – will be inclined to distrust a master of the medium. That explains the media’s exuberant reaction to last week’s Democratic convention. If you’re looking to be swayed by good rhetoric, then you will be. As movie director Paul Schrader once said, it’s not hard to provoke an emotional reaction from an audience. Just shoot a puppy.

Personally, I don’t like politics. That statement might seem perverse coming from a political historian. It’s like reading about the slaughterhouse worker who never eats meat. But it’s true. Of course, there’s much about politics that is salacious and fun – eccentric, insane, amusing and dripping in sex. Politicians can also be very good company, although many develop a pattern of speech that has all the false enthusiasm and rehearsed spontaneity of a Stepford Wife (“I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe…”) 

But politics ultimately comes down to power. It is an addiction no different from the gambler or the alcoholic, both of which develop clever ways to deceive others into thinking they are perfectly normal and can be safely left alone with the money jar. The politician looks dispassionate, even Vulcan. But beneath the surface, their blood yearns for votes and power. The Left might insist that they went into politics to help other people, but that begs the question, “Why politics?” If you really want to change the world, become a missionary in Africa. It costs much less to do and the News of the World won't take photographs of you while you're doing it. No, you’ve got to be an unusual mix of masochist and egotist to run for office.

To get to where they are, the successful pol has to make sacrifices that no ordinary human being would make: move to a winnable district, become a lawyer, campaign at weekends, stay away from strip clubs, marry, have an enormous blonde family with names like Trig and Trucker, attend football games, spend time cadging money off rich bores, and pretend to like people who smell. Only power lovers, narcissists, and sociopaths would do all of this. Anyone who is very good at it is not to be trusted.

Why then do I obsess about politics? Because the system is what it is and its imperfection reflects our fallen nature. Just as a Roman Senator had to endure Caligula’s insanity in order to get fresh water pumped to his district, so a congressman has to do the rounds of TV shows and barbeques to raise the funds for a bridge to Nowheresville. If you care about anything at all, you usually find yourself drawn back to politics. If you want to talk and write about the way things are, it’s impossible to ignore the powerful. And if you must be political, why not try to enjoy it? Everyone likes to be seduced, which is why ugly romantics do unjustly well. The alternative is that the sociopaths rule without interruption, allowing them to bullcrap humanity into Armageddon. This is what they mean when they say, “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to vote Democrat.” (Joke.)

Politics is a sad duty. The best politicians are those who enter the profession reluctantly and leave it enthusiastically. Those men don’t have to deliver good speeches. They just have to do good … and then they go home. They don’t get big bounces in the polls or flattering reviews on television, and Chris Matthews will never say he loves them. But, thanks to the common sense of millions of voters who don’t like politics, they do occasionally win.

 


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