Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Modern Quagmire

I am going to break with the usual format of this blog and speak about a personal experience I had recently. Hopefully it will not devolve into a simple travelogue, but will instead shed some light on the unique place we have reached in the development of American politics.

I found myself walking into history this past weekend. I took a road trip to visit one of the other writers of this blog who had traveled to a city several hours north of where I live for business. I am absent minded enough that I was not paying too much attention to what was supposed to go on there. When I arrived, I realized I was smack dab in the middle of the presidential straw poll and that live presidential candidates were going to be speaking. This surprised me because the event itself seemed rather low key compared to what I imagined presidential straw polls being, yet there was no mistaking the hubbub of national election proceedings. I subsequently found myself taking pictures of Governor Tim Pawlenty's speech and then tabulating the voting results on my iPad at the end of the weekend. If you've ever seen the Young Indiana Jones series then you'll recall he frequently found himself interacting with (at random) a diverse group of historical figures; as I walked down the hall as part of the governor's entourage, I wondered if I too would live a life on the fringes of history's footnotes. Only time will tell. But my few brushes with the elites of our time have taught be an important lesson.

We live in a time of young, inexperienced politicians. Those with connections to the administrations of days gone by are deceased, or at best, retired, and treated by the world and those who govern as if they were deceased. Men like former secretary of state James Baker, a true statesman with a keen insight into the ambiguities of American foreign policy and decades of experience. Yet men like this cannot even dream of holding high office in America today. Is it ageism? Youthful hubris on the part of city politicians who were in college when James Baker was threatening an Iraqi delegation with American nuclear retaliation with such subtlety the words never had to be uttered? This subtlety is impossible in a world where a round-the-clock media dissects every word and every statement and asks every question and refuses to let anything left unsaid have any meaning in the national dialog.

Men like Pawlenty have a great legacy to live up to. As we clamor for them to listen to our pet ideas and to give no quarter to the pertinent issues of the day, let us not neglect the lessons of the past, and let us not allow our leaders to neglect the lessons of the past. Let us be shrewd and demanding of our leaders, showing no partiality, and showing little tolerance for failure. American politics and policy will be shaped by necessity for the foreseeable future. Necessity leaves no margin for error. Likewise, we can afford none.


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