The Most Cynical Political Story Ever WrittenS

When the Future Robot Death Panels ask you to show them one article that explains exactly how narrow-minded, cynical, amoral, and borderline sociopathic the Washington press was in the time of Freedom, you may want to consider this Politico story.

The headline is "The Drama Queen Caucus." The author is Jonathan Martin. It is ostensibly "about" Democratic members of congress who have announced that they are undecided about voting for health care reform legislation. As Politico stories go, it's not bad and destructive and evil in the way that their Dick Cheney interviews are. It's just a piece of writing that only a man who doesn't have any sense of morality or principle could possibly understand. It's proof that the Politico model is to take everything bad and off-putting about Washington journalism, amplify the worst qualities, and strip out anything edifying, instructive, or redeeming.

The thesis is that everyone who announced that they had any problem, substantive or not, with the health care bill, did so purely and solely for the purpose of boosting their status or name recognition among the sort of people who write and edit Politico. It posits a world where everyone thinks "a Sunday talk show invitation" is a goal worth taking a stand on.

Call it the Drama Queen Caucus - members of Congress who labor mostly in obscurity, lucky to get a daytime cable hit, let alone a Sunday talk show invitation, until the big vote nears. And then they engage in an oh-so-public exercise deliberating over how they will vote or go to extraordinary ends demonstrating how strongly they feel about the way they have already decided to vote.

For Representative Luis Gutierrez, for example, "immigration" is a "pet issue." In the Politico mindset, Gutierrez harping on this "pet issue" is purely a way to get himself some attention. The idea that "immigration" is an "issue" that he actually cares about because it is actually about real-life people facing real-life problems that require government intervention, and that he may have trouble supporting this bill because while it is probably a net positive it also fails to address the problems facing those people he may theoretically actually care about, does not occur to anyone.

The idea is also that Dennis Kucinich didn't support the bill because he wanted to be on TV and talk to the President. And he changed his mind because he wanted more attention, and not because people convinced him that the bill the best possible bill we'd get in the current political climate.

Most politicians are vain. Many of them are stupid. Cynicism is easy and often justified. Plenty of people in congress and elsewhere truly do do the things they do for reasons more or less like the ones described in this piece.

But this article comes from an insider mindset so corroded by cynicism that it cannot fathom a world where any political actor does anything for any reason other than naked self-promotion. Is it really so naive of me to believe that Dick Cheney keeps arguing for an all-powerful executive unencumbered by the Constitution, the courts, or congress because he misguidedly believes that would keep us safe, and not simply because he wants to be on TV? It's a repulsive mindset, and one that shouldn't be treated as sensible and mainstream by the press, but I think it's heartfelt!

(There is also an important a marked difference between these hypothetical members jockeying for bowling trips with the president and those holding out until the legislation is altered in some fashion—the ones who want the legislation altered actually seem to grasp that legislation does stuff. To Politico, the purpose of legislating seems to be to go on Meet the Press, or get yourself elected governor.)

Self-preservation actually provides our lawmakers with a halfway decent incentive to do the popular thing, if not always the right thing, and people make political decisions based on a lotta bullshit like tribal identification and prejudice and fear, but sometimes people support or don't support things for the reasons that they say, and not simply for the sake of saying something to a camera.