December 06, 2011

Lowering Cain

I enjoy observing politics—that is, the politics of nearby other countries whose results I suffer only indirectly —as a venue for real-life drama, of clashing personalities and personal flaws heightened by stakes and pressure.

When it comes to men of power, no flaw is more classical than hubris. It takes that and chutzpah, too, to know that you’ve been carrying on a long-term affair and had a series of sexual harassment claims filed against you, and to think that you can run for President without either of these things coming to light. You might think that the solipsistic miscalculation of a Herman Cain is somehow off the charts. And it is, insofar as it got him hoisted from nominal front-runner to footnote.

According to this podcast interview, of controversial Republican campaign manager Ed Rollins, conducted by Alec Baldwin, hubris might almost be a prerequisite of the mindset required to run. [Engage paraphrase engines!] Rollins says that the first thing a would-be campaign manager asks a prospective candidate is if they have any skeletons in their closet. And they all lie.

(The seasoned campaign manager, Rollins continues, knows this and hires a private investigator to dig up the truth on his own client, as it will otherwise come out from an unfriendly source, timed at the worst possible moment.)

True tragic heroes must not only be afflicted with the flaw that brings about their downfall—they must also embody greatness, lending piteous significance to the final plummeting. In an age of political cable and radio, a candidate can get close to the sun free of that pesky quality. Instead he can shape himself into a hot button cartoon character, vivid enough for TV but without the dimension for drama, and rise at least to the level of primary contender. At first blush, this seems to add entertainment value to the proceedings. But as Aristotle might tell us, it’s not as profound when the players come pre-satirized.