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July 8, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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July 8, 2007

Inside The Politician

Since hardly anyone reads blogs during high summer, the blogger offers his unfounded opinions on the behavior of elected officials

Yes, I am personally acquainted with quite a few of our local elected officials. And yes, thank you for asking, most of them know me all too well.

I am not known in City of Albany political circles for my polite deference to political authorities. As a matter of fact, some people say that I “have a problem with authority.” This is absolutely not true. The real story is that I have no respect for authority. There’s a big difference, you know.

You see, I have known from an early age that all people are exactly equal. There are no exceptions.

There’s no such thing as one person being “better than another.” That’s a widespread illusion, it’s all in your head. You can degrade yourself by believing that you’re better or lesser than your neighbor, but equality is the reality that never goes away.

The Blogger's Self Image
The Blogger's Self Image
Thus armed with this attitude, I feel that I am in an excellent position to observe and pass judgment on the subspecies of human known as the elected official. I do not automatically look up to them, they have to earn my respect. And if any of them earn my contempt, as more than a few of them have gone out of their way to do, then as far as I am concerned they are dog bait.

Here for your pleasure I present four political principles that I have concocted out of thin air. Perhaps they may serve to help the reader understand this common but elusive creature, the elected official. If they don't, then oh well.

More than likely, however, this posting will earn me the further enmity of several more local politicians. Again, oh well.

Rule #1: All politicians want to be loved.

This is why politicians run for office. The power, the status, the envelopes bulging with bills passed under the table, these are all secondary considerations. Ultimately, they want to earn your unconditional approval.

Nothing fills a politician with joy and validation more than a roomful of constituents presenting him or her with some meaningless certificate of appreciation followed by a standing ovation. This is the ultimate payoff for all the electoral campaigns against mud slinging challengers, the vapid sucking up to the chronically lying corporate media, the late nights with sweaty advisors trying to make sense out of senseless policies.

Another way of putting it is that they all want approval. Certainly, we all do to some extent, some more than others. But politicians need it more than most of us. That’s why they’re politicians. They want a lot of approval, all the time and everywhere they go. They want it to never end.

For some politicians, it’s an addictive drug. That’s why some of them never want to leave office, even when it’s obvious that they oughta hike up their dignity and move to Florida and perfect their tans.

Look at State Senator Joe Bruno, for example. He wants his miserable machine-numbed constituents in Rensselaer County to continue putting statues of him in airports and naming sports centers after him. How could he walk away from that into the cold heartless sunshine of Florida?

Steven by Doug Allen 1995
Steven by Doug Allen 1995

Not every politician is that lucky, or influential. All too often their constituents don’t even notice them. Most of the voters can’t even remember their names. So as a substitute for public adulation, the lesser politicians often settle for approval from secondary sources.

And indeed, there are a lot of calculating people ready to dole out approval to hungry little elected officials. Lobbyists, for example. Give us what we want, you spineless Congress Critter, and we will be your friend and help you get reelected. Let’s exchange scratched backs. We need you to advance our agenda. You want to be needed, don’t you?

And there are bigger, more powerful politicians who are willing to give their approval to the little ones. The big politician can offer the little politician protection, but the kids have to earn this umbrella of love. Always do what the big boss wants and you will have your position and all sorts of benefits for as long as you want.

Call it politics the easy way. For elected officials, nothing beats the sheer pleasure of public adulation, but earning it takes hard work. It’s a lot simpler to take orders and let the boss run the show. It doesn’t take any thinking, no ethics, no responsibility. Anyone can do it. Look at the majority of the members of the Albany Common Council.

If you ever get a chance, watch Common Council member Jimmy Scalzo (10th Ward) when he’s in the presence of The Mayor. I’ve often watched him shuffle behind the man afraid to look right or left, like a scolded schoolboy terrified of messing up. Like, pathetic. This is a guy who knows that nothing can go wrong as long as daddy is happy. But if daddy gets mad, watch out.

And of course, the universal substitute for love is cash. For elected officials, all too often corruption comes from looking for love in all the wrong places. Plus it’s dangerous if you get caught. If a little politico wants to make some cash and benefits on the side, he or she needs to have protection against public exposure.

Rule #2: All politicians want attention.

In a sense this is similar to rule number one, the craving for love. But I can certainly sit up and take notice of you and not like you one bit. Sometimes I have no choice, I have to pay attention to you.

Watch Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings enter a room full of people. Suddenly the entire atmosphere is altered, conversations are interrupted, all eyes are glancing sideways toward the man. Soon a circle gathers around him. When he clears his throat, activity stops and everyone turns to listen. All attention is on The Mayor as long as he wants it.

Attention is power. As a blogger I know that as long as I have your attention, I can fill you with my thoughts. Admire or detest The Mayor if you will, but you cannot ignore him. Everyone knows he is the most powerful political force in the City, the pinnacle of the system. He will have your attention if he so commands.

Robert Crumb from Mystic Funnies No.2, 1999
Robert Crumb from Mystic Funnies No.2, 1999

Politicians want your attention because it is the expression of power. One might also say, as in the case of The Mayor, that power brings attention. But once again, not every elected official is so lucky or influential. To demonstrate their power to the world, indeed to accumulate power, the lesser politicians want to get your attention any way they can.

You want to hurt or insult a politician? Pretend they’re invisible, like they’re not there. Do that a few times and they will hate you to the point of seeking revenge. Guaranteed. That’s why at public events the organizers always point out the visiting politicians. It’s an acknowledgment of their power, the least we can do.

Rule #3: Politicians respect power, and nothing else.

A politician does not care who you are or what you look like. They don’t give a damn if you are smart or ugly or short or black or neutered by a chain saw. All they care about you is how much power you have and how you intend to use it.

A politician that places who you are above how much power you wield is an amateur. The real pros understand that they can’t differentiate between their constituents unless there is some kind of power payoff that outweighs the resulting alienation.

Look at sneering Dick Cheney, currently the most powerful politician in this country. He sits at the pinnacle of a party that as a matter of policy hates homosexuals. Yet his own daughter is gay, his wife writes novels with lesbian love scenes, and he works closely with Karl Rove. Hatred of gays is not his agenda, it’s a manner of wielding power.

Politicians are managers of power, that’s their job. And an important part of their job as politicians is to manage the forces that allow them to keep their jobs. Really, that’s all they think about. A politician who is not thinking about power is looking for another line of work.

Mayor Jennings Interacting With Some Powerful Persons
Mayor Jennings Interacting With Some Powerful Persons

When you are introduced to your elected representative, he or she will immediately begin estimating how much power you possess, real or potential. Money, for instance, or personal connections. Your access to media, your involvement in organizations, your social status or how much influence you have with your family and friends. To a politician, these are quantifiable properties that can be cashed in or traded.

So if you crawl off your living room couch for the first time in your life and get in your elected representative’s face to whine at him or her about the pothole in front of your house, don’t expect to be taken seriously. Especially if you don’t bother to vote. If you have no public life, you have no public power. Thus, to a politician, you are a zero.

Politicians are terrified of voters. As far as politicians are concerned, they are the most powerful force in our society because they can take away their jobs. The simple act of regularly voting makes you significant in the eyes of elected officials. And if in some way or other you are involved with organizing or influencing blocks of voters, your significance becomes exponentially greater.

Rule #4: Politicians only do what someone tells them to do.

Politicians are puppets. Somebody has to direct and support their actions, or they will do nothing. Or, to put it the more usual way, they must have a mandate in order to enact their programs.

That being said, of course the individual elected official has free will and can choose to whom he or she listens and takes orders. They can listen to the voters or to some sleazy corporation. Some have even been known to take orders from deities.

But sometimes things don’t work out as planned. For example, consider the politician who wants to be the “voice of the people.” But what if the people are lazy and don’t want a voice? What’s an elected official to do?

As pointed out earlier, there are plenty of power brokers out there who are ready to manage the clueless elected official.

But as also pointed out earlier, the potentially most powerful political power brokers in our society are the voters. We are in the driver’s seat even when we are asleep at the wheel.

So then, having all this special knowledge about the inner workings of elected officials, you might ask why I don’t try running for office myself. Indeed, I get asked this question regularly. Seriously. I do.

Actually, I did hold an elected position for a short time several years ago. That is a story I will relate soon on this blog, it needs to be told and made part of the permanent record. The experience taught me the following about myself regarding the four rules above:

Rule #1: I do not take joy in public events and I do not want your love and approval. I’d rather be alone, thank you.

Rule #2: I do not want your attention. Stop looking at me. You got a problem, buster?

Rule #3: I don’t automatically respect your power, your position or your authority. Why would I covet these things for myself?

Rule #4: I do not like for anybody or anything to tell me what to do with my time or direct my life. To hell with all of youse.

Thus, you can see, I am completely unfit for holding elected office. So leave me alone and stop asking me.

Steven by Doug Allen 1995
Steven by Doug Allen 1995


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