Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Some thoughts on politics and craziness

On the heels of my post on Sarah Palin yesterday, I am compelled to wonder aloud: what is going on with U.S. governors?

I used to have a theory that batshit insane people in politics tended to concentrate themselves at the mayoral level—that mayor was about the highest office you could hold before craziness became an impediment to moving up the political ladder.

I arrived at this theory through the serendipitous conjunction of three things I saw/heard in the space of a day or two a while back: (1) New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin’s notorious “chocolate city” speech; (2) Rick Mercer’s “Canada’s Craziest Mayor” contest; and (3) former St. John’s mayor Andy Wells haranguing City Council. This serendipity got me thinking: sure, there are lots of batshit insane people in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as a couple of wingnuts who get elected to our own House of Commons, but there seems to be a definite tendency towards loopiness in mayors.

One is tempted to dismiss the wingnuttery that surfaces in legislative politics for the reason that it tends to have less affect; the vagaries of day-to-day life, however, are far more influenced by municipal considerations, so one would think we’d be more concerned to have mentally stable mayors. Crazy-ass congressmen or members of parliament can spout off with little effect at the level of parking tickets or property taxes, but we still seem to elect—consistently, and repeatedly—municipal chief executives whom I wouldn’t trust to house-sit for me.

Seriously, I think—or used to think—that there was something about the nature of the job of mayor that allowed (or even encouraged) not just the election of narcissistic, sociopathic, paranoid, bellicose and/or reality-challenged individuals, but their re-election again and again (for some reason, Mel Lastman springs to mind here). Honestly, I think this deserves serious study. What is it about the office of mayor? Is it something to do with the parochial nature of municipal politics that enables this phenomenon? Is the talent pool at the municipal level simply that shallow? Is it a combination of limited voter turnout and pay-to-play politics? Or is it a tendency to look at mayors less as leaders than mascots, so that we see their insanity as endearing rather than worrisome?

At any rate, this was my theory, and while I think it still holds water, I’ve been watching in horrified fascination as a string of U.S. governors prove that you can be batshit insane at the gubernatorial level as well. If there is any cause for befuddlement these days, it’s that Arnold Schwartzenegger has emerged as a model of stable, moderate, reasonable governance while numerous governors in states-not-California (which further compounds the weirdness—if you figured on a crazy governor, you’d think California would be the ideal place for it) have been proving themselves booby-hatch-worthy. Nor is this limited to Republicans, given that Exhibits A and B—Rod Blagojevich and Eliot Spitzer—are both Democrats. Blago I would have thought took the cake—you weren’t likely to find another person so narcissistic and politically tone-deaf as the chief executive of a major state. An aberration, many said, a product of the morass that is Illinois politics.

And then along came Mark Sanford. Where to even begin?

He just doesn’t stop—he’s like the Energizer Bunny of crazy. What should really have been an open-and-shut adultery scandal, his “Appalachian Trail” disappearance notwithstanding, has turned into the Saga of Sanford’s Great Love. You know, when members of your own administration start saying loudly and publicly that you should really just shut up, you have to wonder how far from the fold you have wandered.

And in a turn almost beautiful for its symmetry, the governor staying in office when his resignation seems a no-brainer is followed by the governor who suddenly resigns with eighteen months remaining in her term, presumably as a scandal pre-emption. If you haven’t seen or listened to Sarah Palin’s goodbye speech, by the way, you should:

It’s a veritable classic of Palinese, filled with the kind of contradictory sentiments, elliptical allusions and logical cul-de-sacs that make George W. Bush seem like Cicero by comparison. (For a great parsing of the speech’s absurdities, see Maureen Dowd’s column in it). Perfect, really, for her departing word—though as I said yesterday, it’s unlikely to be her last. The big question for me is is: who’s next? And will it be another Republican presidential hopeful? And come 2012, will Mark Sanford still be holding forth on the saga of his Great Love? My bet is for yes.

**EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENT: Is Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial craziness merely an extension of her mayoral craziness, or is there a qualitative difference between the two? Discuss.

1 comment:

Lesley said...

Personally, I think Palin's craziness has more to do with the fact that Alaska didn't even make it onto the media map until she was given the VP nod. But that's just my opinion.

Also, the mayoral thing...I think it has more to do with the fact that not much interest is given in municipal politics since so many people get confused by the levels of government. They tend to blame one level and continue to do so and it's normally focuses at either the provincial or federal level. Added to that, most of the media in a municipality is easily influenced by the local mayor and say what they want them to say thereby confusing people and making them believe that the mayor is doing a good job. In which case, there is no unbiased opinion to allow people to formulate their own thought. Unless you dig deeper, you really don't see what is out there in terms of what is going on in the municipality.

Which is really sad because a) they keep getting reelected unless a mass campaign allows fresh blood to come in or b) a major scandal brings them down.

It's interesting though...and in my municipality there is lots going on surrounding this issue. It's playing out in a very humourous way.