The show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” was never a big hit, but it was entertaining. It was all improv, driven by the audience and (in the US) host Drew Carey (who turns 50 today). The fun was set up like a contest where Carey would award “points” to each performance – but no one ever added them up at the end of the show.
These are the rules of the playground, a place where points don’t have to be added up because everyone is too busy having a lot of fun. That is, until the bullies show up and worry a lot more about the points even though they still aren’t added up at the end.
That’s what “politics” has become, sadly. It’s an improv show without entertainment, the playground without the fun, all the rules without even a squishy red rubber ball. But, like a bunch of kids on a lazy summer’s green field, no one has to get anything done.
The chattering heads who are employed primarily as entertainers rather than serious news people are usually the worst offenders. Like a street improv act they have to do something to be noticed, so the more outrageous the better. Many political blogs are no different in their approach, most of them struggling even more to be noticed.
It’s not pretty, but if you take it as pure entertainment it’s at least understandable. The mistake comes when this is confused with real “politics”, which is either the art and science of human interaction (eg “office politics” or “domestic politics”) or the operating system of a Democratic Republic.
Lately, however, the spillover from the playground of entertainment has caused some shockingly juvenile behavior in politicians – actions that suggest our ongoing crisis can only get worse, at least until it gets adult supervision.
The first is the tantrum hollered out as a press release by Newt Gingrich. The former Congressman, always a lousy politician with his enormous ego and strong intellect, did have a bad week. It started when he, rightly, decried “radical social engineering” on the right as well as the left. That didn’t suit well with those who … well, clearly want to perform social engineering. Newt tried to back peddle in grand style, and when that didn’t work released a press release that can only be called a tantrum. The performance of this press release on Colbert’s show by John Lithgow is a classic of political parody because not one word had to – no, not one word could – be changed.
Here in Minnesota, we’re less likely to have public tantrums than long screeds full of adolescent ennui. That’s what Tony Sutton of the Republican Party released in an effort to win over the press. It was a desperate cry of attention, like most entertainment that passes itself off as politics.
“Starting budget discussions with the assumptive question ‘How big can we grow government?’ is always going to yield a compromise to the left …”
As the father of a teen, I know how hard it is to argue against this kind of stuff. You have to start by saying, “Huh?” and then trying to back up the angst towards reality somehow. As if anyone ever asked “How big can we grow government?” Yeesh.
As shocking as this juvenile behavior is, it’s a natural result of the confusion between entertainment and politics. Entertainment can be run by playground rules because it is supposed to be fun. It’s when everyone gets wound up in the “points” that the playground is no longer fun and everything descends into a long and boring discussion of the rules and who wronged who.
The only thing you can do when this goes down is to take the red rubber ball and kick it around. Those who want to argue on “points” can get their own playground. That’s what my younger child has learned to do when the playground is taken over by the whiners and rule-bound control freaks.
Of course, politics should never operate by playground rules at all. It’s just not usually fun enough to sustain a lazy summer day. If only we didn’t confuse politics with entertainment we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place, of course. But as long as we do we can expect everything to operate by playground rules – the long and boring kind, that is.