Junk Politics

No I’m still here, I haven’t run off with the minstrels. It’s just that there’s this deadline for TPM (The Philosophers’ Mag, you know) and I’ve been taken up with that. But I was reading an old Harper’s the other day, from November 2003, and found a lively article by Benjamin DeMott on ‘Junk Politics’ (excerpted from an eponymous book published a couple of months later). It’s not online, unfortunately, so I’ll give you an extract or two.

The case is that both the essential planks and the elaborating tropes of today’s junk politics are troublingly underexamined, yet they’ve been functioning for some time as major agents of public confusion…Junk politics introduces new qualifications for high political office…It tilts courage toward braggadocio, sympathy toward mawkishness, humility toward self-disrespect, identification with ordinary citizens toward distrust of brains.

Check, check, check, check.

Quiet accents of candor bring a sense of closeness between speaker and audience…The impression strengthens that heart – heart alone, not records of accomplishment, not positions on issues, not argued-for priorities, not expressive, persuasive talents – must be the electorate’s pivotal concern…Leaders need prove only that they can feel…[DeMott’s elipse] a child’s or parent’s or stranger’s pain. Problems aren’t as difficult as Phi Bete wonks claim.


And…there’s the diffidence-show implicit in leaders’ own mucker-posing speech, rich in solecisms, truculently stubborn mispronunciations [Eye-rack, anyone? OB], non sequiturs, plain absurdities…By intent or otherwise, such speech reflects lack of anxiety about appearing stupid to colleagues or constituents and thereby disses the political calling. The American democratic ideal called for universal, informed participation in the public square: acquaintance with skill of argument, familiarity with standards of coherence, brains. The embrace by those in high office of dim-bulb diffidence tropes – macho brandishings of ignorance – trashes that ideal and draws down added contempt on political vocation.

Check. Bad, bad, very bad.

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