Political Theater

All the world is a stage and all of us who strut upon it are actors after some fashion. And in the political arena, where men and women must gather coalitions and support from a myriad of diverse points of view, I suppose that success depends upon a high level of thespian skill.

But I am so put off by blatant political theater. And at this point I can’t determine whether that is because I am at heart self-righteous and able to see the sins of others so much better than I can see the same sin in myself, or whether I am attune to something rotten in American politics.

It may be both. When it is so clear that the act of an elected official is aimed not at accomplishing anything of public value, but simply at making political points, I think I am justified to be put off by the smell.

Recently, newly elected Republicans in the US House of Representatives pushed a measure to repeal the Obama health care plan passed by the previous Congress. They pushed this knowing that it was meaningless. It would not pass the Senate. That a bill was submitted which all knew would accomplish nothing more than gain supporters “I-stood-up-to-Obama” points seemed not to bother any of them. But it was pure theater designed to amuse, if not deceive.

Monday, in similar fashion, Rick Scott, the multi-millionaire governor of Florida, unveiled the parameters of his new state budget. I was hopeful, but I should have known better than to expect something serious when Gov. Scott chose a gathering of those living under the ‘tea party’ label as the place to reveal his plan. He was playing to the house. His budget has no chance of passing in its current form. It is not realistic. And yet he can stand with a straight face on that stage and enjoy the cheers of those he is duping into thinking he is actually doing something. It is all theater. Why do we buy it?

Of course, all leadership demands drama to some degree. Henry V’s “Band of Brothers” speech is of course all Shakespeare, but something like it needs to be delivered before men head into battle, or little leaguers head into their first game. At some level, of course, it is dramatic and needs to be. And sometimes symbolic acts need to be taken. That, too, I understand. But drama and symbol must be wed to integrity. Anything else is mere play-acting.

2 thoughts on “Political Theater

  1. Eva

    I agree with so much of what you have to say, Randy, and yet I do want to point out another aspect. We live in a time where listeners do not LISTEN. We hear the first three words, and we jump to (usually negative) conclusions. So, instead of being able to deliver a meaningful speech that lays out whatever goal a politician wants to achieve, he/she must be prepared to be interrupted, berated, and belittled by the listener before even being able to make their points. In the Lincoln era, politicians were allowed to debate and discuss for more than one-minute sound bytes. No, one minute is about all we as the listener can handle if the speaker is saying something we disagree with. Then we interrupt.

    When do we shut up and listen? When it is a movie, a play, a piece of music. When it is theater in some way. Maybe that’s why politicians carefully select their audiences. So that they will actually be allowed to speak.

    1. True. The setting of the politician’s speech is a part of the communicative apparatus. In fact, it may be more important than the actual words. So I get that. And I am sorry that we do live in an era in which sustained presentations are not permitted. But when someone chooses a setting to do something that is ultimately meaningless to give the impression of doing something meaningful, that dishonesty of it pushes me over the edge. So, I suppose, ‘theater’ is not what is at issue in my mind, but fiction put forward as fact.

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