Some 10 years ago my kids asked me why every November people put up signs along the road and hung out in front of the ferry terminal wearing funny hats, and so I explained politics to them. As a public service to other parents, I offer this transcript of my explanation of politics to my children.
Well kids, politics is a lot like any business, except it doesn’t produce anything useful, especially not a profit. “Politicians” are the people we select to make the hard decisions for us about how best to misspend our tax dollars. People get to be politicians because they are good at making yard signs and because they can believe that they have more and better ways to misspend our tax dollars than the rest of us.
Politicians are “elected,” which means that they ask people to vote for them during November so they can quit their real jobs and start working full-time misspending our tax dollars. Political elections are run just like the elections you have in preschool and kindergarten to decide who gets to help serve the punch and cookies at snack time, except grown-up elections are not as dignified and last a lot longer.
During elections, “candidates,” who are in the larval stage of politicians, make long, boring speeches at candidate forums, exchange witless barbs about each other’s background at “debates” and occasionally stand outside the ferry terminal wearing funny hats and annoying commuters coming home from real jobs.
Candidates say awful things about their opponents, some of which are even true, but nobody really cares except the newspapers, who say they care, right after they’ve printed the latest untrue awful thing. Mainly candidates spend their time claiming their opponent will not do a good enough job of misspending our tax dollars.
The other things candidates do is ask people for money so they can buy more signs and funny hats. People who give money to political candidates are called “enablers.” People who give money to your candidate’s opponent are called “lying scum” or “special interest groups.”
After an election is over, successful candidates are called “elected officials” or “public servants,” and their supporters are called “The new U.S. ambassador to Tahiti,” “chief justice” or “special assistant to the president in charge of movie night at the White House.”
Newly elected public officials spend most of their time being photographed with supporters, telling their staffs to “handle it” and riding around in parades. They also make lots of speeches and do lots of research on how other countries misspend their citizens’ tax dollars, research that often takes them to remote and dangerous places such as Paris and Hong Kong and private golf courses in Barbados.
Most of all, politicians like to get their picture on TV. Politicians who are successful in getting their picture on television a lot sometimes stop being “local” politicians and get to be “national” politicians and move to Washington, D.C., where they get to misspend the tax dollars of people from all across the country.
To be a good politician, you have to plan early. If you steal a classmate’s milk money or draw an unflattering picture of your teacher on the blackboard, someone in your class will remember it, and when you grow up and become a candidate, they will tell your opponent, and you will have to do “damage control” instead of doing the things that candidates are really supposed to do — ask people for money, put up yard signs and think up new and better ways to misspend our tax dollars.
You will also need to build up a “base” or a “constituency,” which is a large group of people who like you despite the milk money and bad picture incidents, and who will invite their friends over to their house for a fundraising barbecue where everyone gets to feel uncomfortable, eat burnt chicken and make small talk.
That’s about all there is to politics, kids.
Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper. This is from his “Classics Files.”