Over the weekend, I was thinking about the story I told you last Friday about my short, accidental (almost) foray into politics in relation to Representative Anthony Wiener’s (D-NY) recent debacle – along with those of the politicians who came before him and those who will be caught out in the future doing icky sexual things.
As I was writing it, that story was getting so long I omitted some salient points I would like to make today, points that contributed to my backing away from those political overtures and that, I think now, may have sunk Mr. Wiener.
When that state senator spoke at our block association meeting – as was true of other politicians who later visited our little group – it was one of several stops he was making that evening at three or four organizations in his district.
Over time with the block association, I learned that these people who held elective office at state, county, city and district levels spend many evenings and weekends glad-handing constituents. It was a constant, in-person outreach, week in and week out, never ending.
For that brief time, I had a small, but up-close window into some of the personal toll involved in being a politician.
Initially, I had been surprised that the state senator would bother to speak to just 120 or 130 people, shake some hands, listen to complaints and make notes about people’s concerns.
Actually, their aides did the note taking, but attention was paid and I know from that experience there almost always were followups. (This up close and personal stuff at the local level pays off a bit better than the emails and phone calls we make to Congressional representatives.)
It further surprised me to learn that more often, it was just 25 or 30 people at the gatherings they attended. That is a lot of time-consuming effort from these guys, it seemed to me, for a small return.
And that’s just at the lowest political level. Further up the ladder, there are more meetings – with party executives, political colleagues, business leaders, campaign staff, phone calls to potential big donors. There are committee meetings, speeches, study groups etc. – all in addition to doing the actual job the politicians are elected to do. (No wonder so little gets done for we the people.)
They would not be doing all this gallivanting if there were not a payoff in volunteers, donations and votes at election time. But until meeting some of these people due to the block association 20-odd years ago, I’d had no idea how busy the lives of politicians and their support teams are.
Certainly, I was intrigued and flattered when I figured out why I was suddenly so popular with the political types. But in the end, the enormous amount of time I was being pressured to contribute from the get-go made politics, even at that low level, a non-starter for me.
I would pretty much always rather spend evenings with friends or at home reading a good book and, as naïve as I was then about the non-stop effort behind public view in politics, I knew that if I had joined up with that political organization, they would never stop asking me for more time.
Which brings me back to Anthony Wiener and his fellow politicians in high places who get themselves into this kind of trouble.
By the time any of them work their way up to Congressional office, they have been doing all that I described above for many years. The higher they go, the more there is at stake and the more the work expands. They hardly have a moment for their families; less for themselves.
But their psychological makeup is different from mine. I need a lot of time alone; they are needier of attention, acclaim, influence and money and these are powerful drivers. So to fulfill their kind of need, they are highly motivated to forgo personal time – the kind that refreshes and grounds the rest of us.
With their success come sycophants who indulge their whims, large and small. They get their pictures in newspapers and on the internet. They are interviewed on television and their every utterance – even the most inane – is taken seriously. They know too that if, perchance, they should lose their office, someone among all the contacts they nurture at all those meetings will provide a lucrative job.
Their needs are being fed. They become more powerful. More people clamor for their attention.
Soon, except for the ones who manage to remain grounded in the real world, they believe they are entitled. To anything. Plus, power itself it an aphrodisiac but I suspect they are too busy shaking hands to indulge that most basic urge with any regularity.
So when a politician at this level of public stature, who has almost no time to himself, sends dirty emails to young aides or cheats on his wife or tweets lewd photos in off-moments of privacy, he thinks he is invincible. I doubt he even recalls those who have been brought down before him for similar acts.
And here’s the not-entirely-silly reason I think so many high-level, male politicians’ misdeeds are sexual in nature: anatomy.
The organ in question is a dual-use tool so on the few occasions he is alone for brief periods during the day, the politician is holding it in his hand. The mind wanders then to the other thing he could be doing with the tool and well – coupled with a belief in his entitlement and power, a politician is caught by surprise when someone leaks his own photo of the organ in question.
So given anatomy and the constant, long-term time pressure on politicians, I think there will always be, depending on personal proclivities, a certain number who just can’t help themselves. I’m betting on at least two more before the 2012 election.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: A Visit to the Recycling Company.