Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles

It shouldn’t be a surprise that most of the publications I read have come out in support of Senator John Kerry in tomorrow’s election. Maybe my thinking is shaped by what I’ve read; maybe I gravitate to those with like minds.

But I am surprised a little, in two cases. One traditionally doesn’t take a public stance although an editorial bias can be inferred.

The other is more easily recognized as conservative, and frankly I’d thought they would support Bush. Granted, the Economist’s recommendation of Kerry isn’t a ringing endorsement — they seem to be among the “Kerry Haters for Kerry” camp — but they are plugging him all the same.

I’m glad to see big, widely read and respected publications supporting the candidate I myself think is the better bet. But overall I’m discouraged, even disgusted by the way our system of government operates.

I wish I felt proud of our political system, or at least more engaged in the process. I know I’m lucky to live in a country that offers real opportunities to participate. But when I think of our political system, I think of this passage:

The major problem–one of the major problems, for there are several–one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

(The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams, 1980.)

You’d think my mind could get itself stuck on a more respectable quote from literature: surely there’s something from Henry V on qualities of leadership that would resonate, or maybe a bit from All the King’s Men, one of my favorite American novels. Even something from Machiavelli’s The Prince (which contains some quite good thinking and has received a bad rap over the years).

But no. What sticks in my brain, what neatly summarizes my views on representative government, is a glib bit of comic science fiction.

Maybe my distaste for the political is part and parcel of the kind of writer I am. At a Kerry fundraiser in NYC earlier this year, Jonathan Lethem suggested that novelists have little patience for the absolute of modern politics, although even they can be drawn into the fray:

“I am a novelist,” he explained by way of introduction. “I’m not a musician, not a poet, not a comedian, not a funny person.” Novelists, he said, are known for their “reflectiveness, tolerance for ambivalence … their tendency to hesitate, reconsider, regret our choices.” Noting his breed’s “extreme sensitivity to sunlight and absolutism,” Lethem claimed that when presented with a petition, his colleagues are generally “more likely to revise it than sign it.” But, he said, he and his brethren “are emerging from their holes … [and] putting Kerry signs in their windows,” though he admitted that that may also be about blocking more sunlight.

“Like the Lorax, I am here to speak for the novelists,” continued Lethem, building up a head of bespectacled steam. “This time, it’s not only the poets who are filled with passionate intensity, not only the rock stars, not only the comedians. This time, even the novelists are filled with passionate intensity. And when you have roused even the novelists to the barricades against you, I am here to suggest that your days are truly numbered.”

And that, much more elegantly than I can manage, summarizes why I’ll be voting tomorrow, casting my tiny but real opinion into the pile and wishing for the best.

I hope you’ll do the same.