An old column elaborating on the ‘politicians (like Soylent Green) are people’ theme

Following up on this post earlier today, here’s a column I wrote on a similar subject, back in 2007.

The point, then as now, was that politicians are generally neither devils nor angels, which can be easy to miss, since the parties are all about painting everything in black and white terms. Here’s the pertinent part:

… Rent a movie, and watch it. Specifically, this one: “Journeys with George,” a documentary about George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign for president, made by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter.

No, really, it’s good. I was worried, too. I had ordered it from Netflix in late November, thinking it was something I ought to see. Then I let it sit on top of the TV until last week.

Bush according to Pelosi, I thought each night. Too much like work. Tired. Watch “House” episode for third time instead.
I broke down last week, at the behest of one of my daughters. Two minutes into it, I called another daughter who was upstairs, told her she had to see this, and started it over. It was that good.
What was so good about it? Well, certainly not the production values. It was shot with a camcorder by Alexandra Pelosi as a home movie of her year as an NBC producer, traveling with the Texas governor as he sought the presidency. You’ve seen YouTube? Like that, only longer.
What was good about it was that everybody in the film came across as a human being. If you don’t find that surprising, you need a quick unreality check: Put this down, watch a couple of hours of TV “news,” then visit a few of the more popular blogs.
See what I mean?
In this movie, the president-to-be is neither the warmongering demon nor the stalwart defender of all that’s right and true.
He’s just this guy. The joshing, never-serious, somewhat condescending uncle to the young woman who keeps sticking a camcorder in his face for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent. A little on the goofy side, but no idiot.
And Ms. Pelosi is neither the Spawn of the Liberal She-Devil nor what you think of when you say “NBC Nightly News” either. She’s not the former because, brace yourself, Nancy Pelosi is actually a human being, too. She’s not the latter partly because she’s a producer, not the on-air “talent” you’re used to. Producers are the ones behind the scenes who get actual work done — arranging travel, lining up interviews, soothing hurt feelings — while the ones you know are checking their hair. Think Andie MacDowell to Bill Murray’s weatherman in “Groundhog Day.”
She comes across as what she apparently is — a bright, friendly young woman who is very tired of getting up at 6 a.m., herded to airplanes and fed turkey sandwiches all day.
The two of them are practically friends. When she gets interested in a smiley guy from Newsweek(who later turns out to be a cad), Gov. Bush teases her, then offers semiserious advice. When she reports a little too accurately on her fellow media types and they all refuse to speak to her, George steps in to make peace.
In other words, they act like people. Likable people, no matter what you think of their politics. So do the others on the bus, including some familiar faces. Nobody took the camcorder girl seriously, so they forgot to put their masks on. Sure, the candidate is deliberately trying to charm the press. What will surprise his detractors is that he’s so good at it. Karl Rove still comes across as a creep, but that’s because it’s real life.
This brilliant little ditty of a film reveals a deep, dark secret: Like Soylent Green, politics is actually made of people. Real people, whom you are not required by law either to hate or to love. You just hang with them, and see them as they are in the tedium of daily coexistence. People, living their lives. Not symbols, not abstractions, not caricatures.
I ordered the movie because Columbia attorney Jim Leventis, a perfectly normal guy who belongs to my Rotary Club, is Alexandra Pelosi’s godfather. He describes the speaker of the House as “just a wonderful mom and just a wonderful friend.” Really.
You should see it if you can, and remember the lesson it teaches. It might ground you enough to preserve your faith in people over the next 12 months.
I’ll try to remember it, too, as those 18 candidates posture for the extremists in their respective parties. If I forget, remind me.


21 thoughts on “An old column elaborating on the ‘politicians (like Soylent Green) are people’ theme

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I wonder if our media nowadays has prevented us from actually getting out and seeing politicians more than in the past. By past, I mean before WWII.

    As with anything, I find that when I actually meet people in the flesh, it’s hard to dislike them.*


      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Part of what I’m talking about here is something I realized early in my career, back in the 70s.

        I spent my first couple of years after college as a copy editor. I came to know all of the main newsmakers in West Tennessee. But I knew them in a two-dimensional way. I knew them as the headlines they had generated.

        Newsmaker A was that stupid proposal before the city commission last year. Newsmaker B was that awful speech in the Legislature that had made me groan. Newsmaker C was the guy who had done something that raised ethical questions. Newsmaker D was was just a constant fount of ideological nonsense.

        Then I finally got off the desk, and got out into the world, and spent time interacting with all of these people. And saw them as three-dimensional people who were far more complex than the pictures I had of them. Almost without exception, my opinions of them rose considerably.

        Of course, the ones who were real jerks — well, I had that confirmed beyond a doubt. But at least they were more interesting jerks that I had thought previously…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    One reason all of this matters is that the deliberative process that is ESSENTIAL to the proper functioning of representative democracy is impossible unless the participants can respect each other enough to really LISTEN to each other.

    If everyone comes into office brainwashed by the binary partisan paradigm — in which everything that members of their party say is wise and good, and everything members of the other party say is stupid and evil — then this form of government cannot function to the benefit of the country. Legislative bodies are meant to bring together very different people with very different worldviews. If they won’t listen to each other, which is essential to real, productive debate, then the situation is hopeless…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I also appalled Will Folks during the broadcast when he was complaining about vote-trading, and I told him that’s not only how government works, but to a certain extent how it SHOULD work.

      If you come into office with your mind made up — and Will’s kind of pol has his mind made up, or he gets criticized as a corrupted RINO — then representative democracy can’t function.

      You have to listen to the next member’s arguments in favor of his bill, and be willing to have your mind changed if you can see merit in it. And you need him to be similarly flexible. You sometimes have to be willing to vote “aye” on something you’re lukewarm about so that you can pass the think that you are passionate about.

      You don’t have to sacrifice your principles, because to a sensible person, most votes aren’t about core principles. You just have to be open to working with other people in good faith.

      1. Doug Ross

        Some people feel about taxes and the size of government the same way that you feel about abortion. How much compromise would you allow in that area?

        1. Barry

          If someone is so screwed up that they see their belief in low taxes equally as important to someone’s belief that abortion is the murder of a human being – they have more issues than can be solved in one lifetime.

  3. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    In a world….where Lindsey Graham is a far left puppet, only ONE MAN can save the country….

  4. Barry

    I worked at the state house for a senator for 2 years.

    As should be obvious, it’s easier to dislike a politican – or just write them off – or call them names, etc when you don’t know them personally.

    The state senator I worked for couldn’t have been nicer to really anyone and everyone. He had friends on both sides of many issues.

    I knew he respected a lot of different viewpoints because we had discussions about some of those issues, and discussions about people that disagreed with him. I didn’t always agree with him- but I tried to understand his viewpoint and why he voted the way he did. He wasn’t just flipping a coin. He had his reasons.

    He voted with his party most of the time- but sometimes he opposed them – especially when his own voters would call or write about a specific issue.

    He was always intersted in what his voters were calling in about- or writing about. He would quiz me – and others in the office- often about what issues were causing the phones to ring. Sometimes he would need to call someone back personally- and those calls were always important to him.

    Like anyone, some issues were very important to him – other issues weren’t burning issues for him.

    He wasn’t in it for “the money” or the limelight. He rarely gave interviews. Instead of renting a hotel or condo, etc. he actually lived with a family member who lived in Columbia – when he was in Columbia.


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