We are experiencing our country’s angriest political division since the Civil War, yet our politicians have never been softer. Senators should be challenging each other to duels or at least commenting on each other’s websites with such slurs as “fawning weather-bitten boar-pig,” “bawdy full-gorged whey-face,” “clouted pockmarked nut-hook” or at least (icon of middle finger inserted here – see text). Instead, our one angry, hard-assed political movement is named after a game of make-believe that preschool girls play with their dolls.
Speaker of the House John Boehner cries constantly. He has cried during a tribute to Arnold Palmer, in the middle of singing “America the Beautiful” and while watching children running around outside a school—something he says he avoids for fear of choking up, along with, I assume, Arnold Palmer, “America the Beautiful” and The Bachelor. Instead of ever taking sides, Obama invites both sides in a disagreement to the White House lawn for beers and silver bowls of snacks. George W. Bush drank nonalcoholic beer, was a college cheerleader and now paints pictures of dogs. Harry Reid is so fearful that, instead of enjoying cocaine, craps and hookers like a normal Nevadan, he continues to be a Mormon.
Maybe Richard Nixon scared us away from tough guys. Or maybe being the only superpower made us too comfortable. Countries with more insecurity are more likely to get in the globe’s face: Vladimir Putin, a black belt in karate, has shot tracking darts at whales with a crossbow, purposely taken his giant black Lab to a meeting with dog-phobic German chancellor Angela Merkel and inspired Armia Putina, a group of women who took off their shirts in support of his candidacy. Meanwhile, that dancing Obama Girl from 2007 won’t even say whom she voted for in 2012. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened in Russia. Or maybe our politicians’ lack of rage is just the side effect of 24-hour news analysis. Anytime a politician does something the least bit tough, we scamper around declaring him unfit for office, as if being in political office were like being the pope. Politics is for unpleasant, power-hungry people who get stuff done. For most of human history, you achieved political office by killing the man in that office. Which is also how you became pope.
People worried that being a POW might have made John McCain unstable, instead of realizing it didn’t even make him tough enough to control Sarah Palin. The only reason George H.W. Bush got to be president was because people thought he was a wimp; he knew not to focus on the fact that he enlisted to fight in World War II the day he turned 18 and then jumped out of a burning plane at the age of 20, which he enjoyed so much he jumped out of planes on many later birthdays, including earlier this year for his 90th, despite being confined to a wheelchair due to Parkinson’s. When John Boehner turns 90 he’ll need an intravenous saline drip to get through his birthday cards.
Sure, we like to see photos of politicians hunting and fishing, but any actual display of aggression causes us to wag our fingers in shame. When Mitt Romney said London wasn’t properly prepared for the Olympics, pundits worried he was too unhinged to represent America. Joe Biden is called crazy because he sometimes curses. If our forefathers voted by those rules, we wouldn’t have anyone on our $20 bill: Andrew Jackson married a woman who wasn’t yet divorced, said on his last day as president that his only regret was having “been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun” and, when an assassin tried to shoot the 67-year-old Jackson with two guns, the president beat the crap out of him with his cane even though Davy Crockett was right there in the crowd.
We also wouldn’t have President John Quincy Adams (swam naked in the Potomac every morning; kept a pet alligator in the White House), Vice President Aaron Burr (killed Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton in a duel; kept his job) or President Theodore Roosevelt (kept a pet bear and lion at the White House; had a brown belt in jujitsu; formed a cavalry unit called the Rough Riders that was so badass it not only has a condom named after it but a ribbed one). It seems as though we’re taking all our potential leaders and making them work as political consultants. First of all, James Carville, Steve Schmidt and Ed Rollins could never be politicians today simply because, like many other tough guys—Dwight Eisenhower, John Adams, Walter White—they’re bald. But the truth is, tough political consultants are nowhere near as frightening as the cigar-smoking party bosses who used to work the back rooms. Al Capone was a party boss. Enoch Johnson, the Republican boss of New Jersey on whom the main character in Boardwalk Empire is based, was responsible for bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, the collections racket and wearing a $1,200 raccoon coat. Do you know how many raccoons it would take to be worth $1,200? In the 1920s? That’s like raccoon genocide.
The future is bleak. As we object to tweets, leaked texts and secretly taped videos, we’re doomed to having milquetoast leaders unable to either voice our rage or strong-arm their own parties into compromise. In the post-Oprah era we may one day remember John Boehner not as the Speaker who cried but as the one who didn’t rend his clothing.