INEPTITUDE

Posted in Quick Hits on January 27th, 2011 by Ed

I'm going to keep it brief today – I like Wednesday's post enough to keep it going for another day rather than bury it.

I strongly recommend that you find 20 minutes to read Jason Zengerle's "The Idealist" from the February New Republic. It is impeccably written and unfolds across seven pages like a good movie. The story concerns Jeff Smith, a young Missouri politician brought to some degree of fame as the subject of the documentary film Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?

Spoilers coming.

I absolutely love the Keystone Kops aspect of the relatively minor offense that led to the double indictment (although note that as is often the case, the attempt to cover up the crime was worse than the crime). Idealistic and book-smart people are just so bad at crime. Note the planning, which is reminiscent of the scene in Office Space in which the three nerds try to figure out how to launder money by looking it up in the dictionary. Later they base their efforts to avoid investigators on an episode of The Wire.

As Matt Taibbi's profile of John Boehner emphasizes, some people are cut out for Washington politics. Those people are almost universally scumbags. They lack any discernible positives as politicians or as human beings excepting the ability to raise money from lobbyists and get reelected. Idealistic people who enter this system – and I'm not attempting to portray Jeff Smith as an angel, but he is obviously a neophyte and somewhat naive – are skinned alive, picked over by the scavengers, and dumped on the trash heap.

Politics are much like any other form of crime. Poor people shoot each other and go to prison because they can't afford lawyers. The affluent, well connected elite hire a professional who is good enough to avoid detection to commit their crimes, and on the rare occasions that they are prosecuted their $100,000 retainer legal teams have them home by dinnertime.