E.J. Dionne nailed it in his column recently when he asked, “At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?” The very word “decadent” raises the spectre of gross decay, a kind of voluptuous descent into putrescence, a swarm of maggoty things crawling all over the once-magnificent facade. Consider the media swarm trailing the Palin bus all over New Hampshire as serious political discourse and debate fades to something even less than demagoguery. Think about the obvious fact that we now know more about Anthony Weiner, in sordid detail, than most of us probably know about the war in Afghanistan.
Behold the ruins of once lustrous-leaders lost in their uncontrollable lust — for what? Love? Hardly. Power makes men mad. See an interesting New York Times article today about why we’re not reading much about powerful women sexting photos of themselves to young men.
Dionne’s column has triggered some interesting responses. Harvard Professor Steven M. Walt writes in his blog in Foreign Policy that
“…the underlying cause of all this decadence is America’s remarkable structural position in the international system and the wealth we accumulated over the past century or more. If we were facing an imminent threat of invasion, we’d be looking for our Lincolns, Marshalls, Roosevelts, and Eisenhowers, and we wouldn’t be wasting our time with the Palin circus, which is nothing more than a “reality TV” version of real politics. Back when another Great Depression was looming in 2009, you actually saw the political system work, precisely because even head-in-the-sand politicos dimly understood that we were in Big Trouble and needed to do something. But once that immediate crisis was over, it was back to gridlock and grandstanding as usual.
“What makes political decadence possible is the luxury of a secure international position, which makes it possible both to meddle in various global problems where our vital national interests are not really at stake (Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, etc.) and permits Americans to think that it’s perfectly OK to put climate-change deniers, religious fanatics, former bodybuilders turned actors, and other unqualified individuals in high office. But the most embarrassing aspect of all this is that we’re surprised by the results.”
Walt correctly notes that this nation’s slide into serious trouble will continue unabated unless and until we decide it’s time to get the grown-ups back in charge. Actually, there are some serious grown-ups trying to do the hard work of this democratic form of government, but their efforts are undermined, belittled, betrayed and opposed by the carneys who run all of the sideshows. Ultimately, the most important grown-ups in the room are not the politicians or elected officials, important though they may be, but the voters themselves — We, the People — who must insist on an end to the circus.
The media sells what the public buys. So long as the public buys tabloid trash, once-serious news outlets will continue to pander because their bottom lines are hurting so badly.
By the way, speaking of grown-ups, perhaps a small sign of hope for more seriousness of purpose in governing, or aspirations thereto, came last week when Newt Gingrich’s entire campaign staff walked out en masse while Newt and Callista were on a Mediterranean cruise. Good for them for enjoying life to the fullest. And good for the staff for liberating the presidential campaign from one more sideshow.