Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mythical Beings that Inhabit the Matrix, Part 2: Politicians

     Some of the world’s biggest humbugs are politicians, especially when they’re running for office.

     Suppose you were to ask a hundred people, “How are jobs created?” Chances are, every one of them will tell you that jobs are created when someone produces a good or a service at a reasonable price and needs help somewhere in production or sales—or words to that effect. Suppose you ask these same people, “What causes people to choose one tourist destination over another?” That’s a big more complex, but most people will give you a pretty reasonable answer.
     In short, most people have a fairly clear understanding of cause and effect. They know how jobs are created, they know how tourism is generated, they know that crime is caused by criminals, that dumping toxic waste into water causes the water to be unsafe to drink, and so on. Somehow, though, common sense flies completely out the window when political candidates make campaign promises.


     During every election year, politicians who have never created goods, services, or anything else of value in their entire lives promise to create thousands or even millions of jobs. Astonishingly, millions of otherwise sensible people actually believe them. Politicians who have never sat at the desk of a travel agency promise to attract thousands of new tourists each day to certain places without having the slightest clue as to why people would want to go there.
     Do you believe that swarms of tourists will want to descend on such places as Timmonsville, South Carolina; or Whitman, Nebraska? No? Would you believe it if a political candidate promised that he’d cause it to happen and didn’t even bother to explain how he’d do it? If you’re like most voters, you probably would.
     Timmonsville is my hometown. It was a sleepy little town of 2,100 people when I was growing up there, but it has recently grown a bit livelier. Now a bustling dystopia of 2,320 people, Timmonsville recently has had several murders; and the town council is playing a shell game with the town government’s debt. There are 100 women for every 70 men in Timmonsville, partly because 38% of the households are headed by women with children.
     The last time crowds of tourists descended on Timmonsville was July 14, 1955, during the centennial celebration. For the sesquicentennial in 2005, though, they seem to have figured that there was nothing to celebrate.
     According to one web site, there are 59 attractions in the Timmonsville area. Not one of them has a Timmonsville address, most are over 30 miles from Timmonsville, and a fourth of them are over 40 miles from Timmonsville. The town doesn’t have a movie theater or a newspaper, probably because town gossips can entertain and misinform you in real time.
     If murder, political incompetence, genealogical mysteries, and the articulate form of cannibalism are too taxing for your system, you might vacation in Whitman, Nebraska. It’s an unincorporated community situated about 100 miles from the nearest interstate highway and over 20 miles from the nearest crossroads town. It sounds like a great vacation spot for recovering heart patients.
     From one of the photos I’ve seen on the Internet, I see that there’s a hill somewhere within sight of Whitman, Nebraska. I’ve been through both Kansas and Nebraska, and I was taken aback by the realization that there was a hill in either of those two states. You could stand near the South Dakota border, look southward, and see almost into Oklahoma. If treated to the right kind of publicity, a million tourists from Kansas and Nebraska might be eager to travel hundreds of miles to see what a hill looks like. The brick-veneer, vacant storefront could be converted to provide travel information, in case hills are so unfamiliar to the tourists that they need someone to point it out for them.
     A politician wouldn’t have to give a reason for tourists to swarm to Timmonsville or Whitman. All he’d have to do is promise a field of dreams based on the notion, “If you promise it, they will come.”
     People also have the notion that politicians—particularly officeholders—are experts on every political issue. They’re not. Ideally, a politician specializes in one or two areas and tries to become conversant in other areas. Mostly, he relies on well-informed staff to supply the deficit in his knowledge.
     Most people have the idea that, if you want something done in (for example) Congress, you go to your congressman. That’s a dumb idea. He didn’t get elected because he understands the issues; he got elected because he’s a good actor and salesman—and has a more impressive head of hair than most men (assuming the congressman is a man) his age.  Senator Christopher Dodd, at left, was born in 1944.   At age 68, he has more hair than most men have at 48.
     You get things done by finding out which staff member knows the most about your issue and is likely to be sympathetic to your position. You won’t have to waste his time and yours getting him up to speed on the issue. Once you have the staff member on your side, keep in touch with him (or her). The staff member knows what the congressman knows and doesn’t know, and will save everyone time explaining the issue to the congressman.
     There’s another reason you should avoid seeing the congressman right off the bat, especially during an election campaign. To most people, every political issue is either a human need or a human desire. To most congressmen, every political issue is a public relations opportunity. This puts you and your congressman at cross purposes.
     If you don’t believe me, look at your congressman’s eyes when you try to explain your situation to him, and they’ll tell you what he’s thinking. He’s not listening to understand your point; he’s listening to locate your hot button. Once he thinks he has found it, he’ll reach into his bag of sound bites and spout one for you. Sound bites don’t help constituents, but they do help the congressman’s image in the eyes of the sheeple.
      Even when your congressman pats you on the back, he may be just feeling for a place to put the knife.
     One of my favorite quotes in literature comes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even after the little dog Toto had exposed the “wizard” as a fraud, the main characters in the story demanded that the “wizard” keep his impossible promises to them. He responded by conning them again, this time with a clock, a medal, and a diploma. After Dorothy, the tin woodman, the scarecrow, and the lion left, the Wizard of Oz said to himself, “How can I help being a humbug when people expect me to do things that everyone knows can’t be done?”

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