There has long been a notion abroad that positions of authority should be given to the best-qualified people who don't want them, as the job of "ruler," like "censor," does not necessarily attract the best kind of human being. That would, of course, kill the inherent black comedy in politics-watching. The creatures who fight and kick and bite for the right to fuck with our lives tend to be grotesques and serve as warnings. Warnings we never heed, of course, because we end up voting something in from that shallow pool of eels every time.
But, every now and then, there comes a period where that pool gets drained, and we find ourselves dealing with the dregs. I feel weirdly nostalgic for the authentic monsters of old UK politics. Even the sly, hollow hustling of Tony Blair would be preferable to the callow bafflement of Nick Clegg, the unnaturally shiny forehead and beta-male posturing of David Cameron, and the... well, whatever Ed Miliband is. There's Vince Cable, whom lots of people seem to like the idea of, but his presence, unfortunately, is that of Gravedigger #2 in one of the less successful Hammer Horror films.
Over the water, Mitt Romney doesn't even have the facility to be slippery. He just staggers down the corridor of ideology like a cheap drunk, bumping into the walls. And President Obama isn't even a tragic hero in the mode of Jimmy Carter, who struggled mightily (with himself, as much as anything else) and fell before the eerie charm of Ronald Reagan. I can admire the man's intellect and general beliefs (or "values," which is the season's buzzword) while recognizing that his main mode of operation is as a chilly functionary unwilling to take the big fights all the way.
It's kind of awful to contrast him, with, say, Lyndon Johnson, a man so frightening that to this day some people still believe the legend about him skull-fucking John Kennedy's dead head during the flight back from Dallas. Washingtonians spoke of "The Johnson Treatment," where they would discover that Johnson knew everything about them and beat their minds into submission with a welter of promises, debts, and threats. Johnson blithely destroyed South American democracies, almost started World War III a couple of times, drove civil rights through, became the first President to cause the arrest of Klan members in a century, and threw the '68 election to Richard Nixon. He was clearly unbalanced and lived to intimidate people. He was interesting. Democrats today just can't compare.
Similarly, the smarmy Cameron, who wears a suit and blue tie like a stiff political costume he doesn't quite fill out, is as nothing compared even to the fundamentally decent John Major. Major is a man who walked through more political massacres unscathed, as housecreature to the demented Margaret Thatcher, than probably any living politician. He cultivated the image of the "grey man," to be sure, but you can also be quite sure that an experienced politician knows that the recording equipment is on when he tells a newscaster about how he intends to "crucify" the "bastards" in his own cabinet. Even Gordon Brown plainly had a brain like a bucket of lizards being sprayed with gasoline.
You'll notice I'm only glancing at the famous ones, the genuine criminals and mental cases. When you, as a powerful politician, are not as interesting as John Major, well... these are the days of the dregs. Now on both sides of the Atlantic, all major political parties occupy a boggy center-right space, terrified that a turn to the left denotes weakness and afraid if they go further to the right they'll get smashed by public opinion. Given the sort of people who crave power, it is a miserable indictment that not only do our current managers not have the courage to do sweeping good works, but that they also lack the black spine for acts of authentic pure fucking evil. It is a sad day, and an insidious thing, when our political leaders aren't even worth burning.
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Image by Marta Parszeniew