Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why I avoid politics

I was spoiled for political scandals at an early age, for I was a child of the Watergate era. I was seven when the congressional hearings blanketed the evening news and dominated the adults' conversations. A precocious reader, I had already progressed to adult novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and Sea Wolf. My tastes ran to mystery, even then, and I was familiar with Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner and Ellery Queen.

Hearing the grown ups speak of "Watergate" in hushed and scandalized tones, I was fascinated. Surely here was a mystery of the first order!

I already knew what a watergate was. My second-grade class had studied the Panama Canal and seen pictures of the big locks raising and lowering enormous boats. Of the scandal itself I was ignorant, but I could -- and DID -- imagine. I pictured sinister men meeting in the shadows of a derelict barge, knives glinting in the muted glow of a tiny flashlight. I imagined blood spilled on the towpath at midnight and shallow graves dug in the black earth by the dark of the moon.

Anxious to learn (as Paul Harvey said every day on my parents' old kitchen radio) "The Rest Of The Story", I began approaching the various adults in my life and asking them to tell me about Watergate.

"Well," they'd begin, "there was a big hotel and someone left a door open . . . ."

As lurid beginnings go, this leaves a lot to be desired. Still, if everyone was talking about it there had to be something interesting going on. So I'd sit quietly, eyes glazing over, and listen to endless recitations about burglaries and lying politicians, about G. Gordon Liddy and Deep Throat and what the president might have known when. Eventually they would wind down and I would finally get to ask the all-important question that had inspired this conversation in the first place.

"But what happened at the canal?!?"

I got told to go play somewhere else a lot. And I came to the conclusion, by the time I reached my eighth birthday (two days after Nixon gave in and resigned) that political scandals were largely boring and fiction is a lot more fun.

Since then I have, for the most part, avoided being drawn into the various scandals. There's almost never a body and I have yet to hear a legislator say, on the floor of the senate, "you're probably wondering why I called you all here together tonight." And when something unavoidable erupts, I still seem to look at it from a completely different angle than the rest of the world.

With this current flap over Senator McCain, the first thing that struck me was the way they responded by slamming the New York Times. I read the article in question and while the suggestion of sexual misconduct may have been flimsy, the bulk of the story recounted instances of questionable ethics on the senator's part that seem to be a matter of record. I am reminded of A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge, "these are but the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me."

The second thing that struck me was the wording of the McCain campaign's initial reply to the Times, which concluded, "there is nothing in this story that suggests the senator [misbehaved -- I can't find the exact quote right now. Sorry!] Anyway, if there's nothing in the story that suggests the senator did something wrong, what are they getting all upset about?

But the main thing that struck me about the whole business was a comment that a poster left at the end of a news story firmly declaring that the whole thing was a "temptress in a teapot".

A temptress in a teapot? Really. Surely he/she meant "tempest" in a teapot? Because a temptress in a teapot would be a whole 'nother scandal altogether, and probably a far more interesting one too. Certainly I would expect it to include blood spilled on the towpath at midnight and shallow graves dug in black earth by the dark of the moon.

1 comment:

M. G. Tarquini said...

What scandal? I have to start watching the news more often.