I had to turn my back on a couple of long-time acquaintances and walk away from them this week. An attempt to talk reasonably about politics (in one case) or religion (in the other) turned into shouting matches filled with cliches, stereotyping and anger.
Others tell me that such things happen more and more often nowadays. Emotions run high in today’s society and the anger and hate are driven too often by strong hysterical emotions about those elected to serve us as government leaders or what one might believe or not believe about a deity.
In most cases, those who get carried away by politics lapse into stereotypes and start calling someone liberal or conservative, right-wing or a leftie or Republican or Democrat.
Politics is a sideshow, a carnival extravaganza with all its sleaze, mimicry and illusion. I worked inside that world for half of the 23 years we spent in Washington, electing some candidates for the House, Senate and President; destroying others; selling snake oil to a willing populace and exercising far more control and influence in ways that never served the needs of the people but did serve those who paid handsomely for my services.
As a political operative, I lied as a matter of course. I destroyed careers and reputations. I used hyperbole and propaganda to promote candidates who did not deserve support or respect. I used any dirty trick available to help those who paid or punish those who did not.
I walked away from the madness on the same day that I walked into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Arlington, Virginia, and took the first of the 12 steps that have kept me sober for 20 years, nine months and 18 days.
That rebirth came some 10 years after I spent most of a year on the road for the Reagan-Bush campaign, writing the daily “Voices for Victory” message that went out to campaign operatives, media and others each morning. Often, I would sit in a hotel room, in an airport phone booth and at a coffee shop writing about 1,500 words of political hyperbole that would be credited to Ronald Reagan.
Did I believe what I wrote? Not for a second. I was a paid political operative who had the skill to put words out as those of a candidate — in this case the President of the United States. I was paid well.
After that gig, I took a cushy job as a “special assistant to the ranking member of the House Science & Technology Committee,” a plum position that allowed travel to various parts of the globe, work on special investigations that included the Space Shuttle crash and other jobs until the next political assignment — a five-year tenure as Vice President for Political Programs for The National Association of Realtors, then the largest political action committee in the nation.
People in positions like this have far too much influence in Washington. I dispensed millions in campaign contributions to candidates, ran an “independent expenditures” program that helped determine the outcome of dozens of elections and served as a spokesman on political events in the nation’s capital and elsewhere.
I worked on other political operations. The garage at our condo in Arlington had two Porsches. I flew first class on commercial planes or in private jets. Amy and I spent one New Years’s Eve in London. She joined me on trips to Rome, Israel and elsewhere. We sat in reserved seats for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade one year, at an inaugural ball and at more than one President’s Dinner.
I had no training or expertise in government. I was a newspaperman on a sabbatical from journalism. I originally planned to spend a couple of years “learning how government worked.” Those couple of years became a decade.
I left politics as a drunk, a disillusioned man who learned far more than he needed or wanted to know about how government really works in America. Government today is a cesspool controlled by political operatives who, like me, are in it for the money and the power. Political agendas for both the right and the left answer only to the monied special-interest groups who pay the way.
Some of the crap I wrote as a political operative is still around and shows up in the hyperbole and propaganda distributed by the parties. The right-wing has the Kochs, super-billionaires who control serious right-wing agendas. The left has George Soros, also rich with his own agendas.
The “ordinary people” (if such even exist now) too often spout the cliches and stereotypes of their bias of choice without even understanding what the words mean or the goals of those who control the con.
In the end, the losers are those who buy into the act and promote the fantasies. Neither side has the upper hand or the high road. Both sides are unworthy of leadership or support.
I know. I was one of them. I walked away from the madness more than two decades ago. I still regret the part of my life and will spend whatever time I have left on this earth to make amends.