Crossing their hearts … and their electorate

There was a time I paid very close attention to politics.

I read the New York Times cover-to-cover, daily and religiously.

I studied every new development, every new candidate, every new promise, and almost simultaneously, every new lie that came with them.

As a teacher I thought it was my duty to stay abreast of politics for my students’ sakes.

Finally, after 15 years or so, I quit. First, for the most part my students were politically ignorant and happy — if not, proud — to stay that way. They couldn’t have cared less who was running the show. If I’d told them that a breakthrough in medical science had just rejuvenated Huey Long and he was running for president, any reaction I’d get would probably be a dismissive, “Whatever.”

So for the sake of classroom tranquility, I followed politics no more. Plus, to be brutally honest, by then I was sick of the political scene. It seemed populated by pathological liars and thieves, each one smarmier than the last, with no end in sight — to either the lies, smarminess or thievery.

But since I’d followed politics so long and closely, I became hypersensitized to it. It’s like developing allergies to bee stings. The first few times you get stung, your reactions are like everyone else’s. But after more successive stings, more successive hell gets raised until, finally, one sting from one li’l ole honey bee and you’re sent into anaphylactic shock, if not The Sweet By and By.

That’s where I am now with politics: I see some small item about some election or candidate or committee, and I have the same negative extreme reaction, namely: What are those schmucks up to now?

And on last Friday’s front page of the Enterprise there was a sub-heading that about put me in a coma.

It was: “All Congress candidates take pledge not to lie.”

A promise with little promise

To clarify, it wasn’t all candidates, just the three from our district. (Presumably, all the others still have no obligation to be honest about anything.) The rest of the article was straightforward. Mses. Cobb, Stefanik and Kahn have sworn that from now till the election, they will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Or at least they’ll do it in public, about political issues. I’ve no idea if the promise applies to their personal lives.

And while I guess this is something to be delighted about, it sure doesn’t float my boat.

For one thing, it shows just how bad things are with politicians … and us. Do we need to have them promise to be honest because they really are the cons most of us think they are?

And as for us? Have we become such losers that we just accept as fact that our leaders lie, cheat and rob us blind as a matter of course?

Of course the promise also raises a nagging and unanswered question: When, exactly, did the promise go into effect? If its start date was immediately after it was made, was the promise itself exempt? If so, they could lie out both sides of their mouths and it’d be A-OK, as long as they didn’t get caught? In other words, they could then act like all the other politicians.

But as far as I’m concerned, the real issue is that none of this should’ve happened. The candidates shouldn’t have been asked to promise to be honest, nor should they have even responded to the request.

Why not?

How about some analogies?

1. I belly up at the Downhill Grill and tell Kenny I want a shot of Johnny Walker Black.

He then says, “I just want you to know I’m gonna pour a full shot, and it is JWB. I haven’t watered it down or filled the Johnny Walker bottle with Old Mr. Boston scotch.”

1. I just had a brake job done at Evergreen Auto, and before Dave Smith hands me the bill he says, “By the way, we used all new parts, right out of the box. We didn’t take the brakes off that wrecked Accord in back of the shop and put ’em in your car.”

1. I’m in the Post Office Pharmacy getting a prescription filled.

“Here they are,” says Jim Bevilacqua, handing me the pill box. “These are the pills the doctor prescribed. I didn’t give you placebos or Pez.”

Whatever …

Of course if we heard any of those peeps say those things, we’d freak. The very nature of their jobs is doing what they’re supposed to do — without them having to say it.

We trust them.

But it’s the exact opposite with politicians. All too often they either don’t do what they said they’d do, or they do what they said they’d never do. Either way, we accept their behaviors as a “Boys’ll be boys” dismissal, except in this case, it’s “Amoral swine will be amoral swine.”

A case in point: A while back I was talking to Brother Jack Drury about a candidate in an upcoming election, and he said he’d be voting for X.

“X?” I asked. “Why you voting for him?”

“I like what he says he’ll do if he’s elected,” said Jack.

“Nice,” I said. “But if he gets elected, do you think he’ll really do any of them?”

“Well,” he said, shrugging, a sheepish grin on his mug, “He is a politician…”

What he didn’t say, of course, was the odds of X, or any politician, keeping his promises are about the same of me winning the Powerball, without buying a ticket.

In the mid-’70s there was a guest editorial in one of the national magazines called “Adjustment to the Abnormal.” I can’t remember who wrote it or any of its specifics, but its thesis is obvious — that as things get incrementally worse and weirder, we just keep accepting them as the way things are, if not as the way they should be.

Today when I think of that editorial, I do so almost nostalgically. From this distant vantage, abnormal in the mind, ’70s looks a helluva lot more normal than it is today.

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