Dan Rattiner's Stories

The Other Guy Stinks: Are Any Candidates on the Up and Up?

Last week, all around the country, and especially here on the East End where the people running for the First Congressional Seat engaged in a multi-million-dollar mudslinging campaign of the first order, we got to see and hear just how vicious and crooked our politicians are. So-and-so gave tax breaks to the rich. This man, while in office, gave special treatment to a businessman in exchange for huge wads of cash. This woman voted to shut down abortion clinics. This fellow wants to use your tax money to give do-nothing jobs to all his friends.

These accusations have all come from the Republicans talking about the Democrats and the Democrats talking about the Republicans. I have seen candidates on TV who look like they have a bad case of eczema, look like they just got done yelling at somebody or just look guilty as hell. Vote for the other person, a voice says.

Certainly, it is hard to know which one is less bad. Is anybody fit to hold office? And it shakes your faith in democracy, this precious way of running a government that we hold so dear. Is this really the best way of doing things?

It seems to me you can make a pretty good case that a country would be better run if it were run like a business. China does that. They have what is essentially a congress meet and select a new president of the country once every five years. There is indeed a lot of back-room stuff, just like there is here, but they tend to find men who are fairly cautious and conservative, interested in moving the country ahead and measure success in the same way that we do—the quality of the education of the children, the level of technology, the number of roads built, the keeping of law and order. On Friday, the Chinese successfully recovered a rocket they sent up to circle the moon.

Running a country is a messy business. Certainly those running China don’t do everything right. But if this century is to be theirs like the last one was ours, I think they’ll do pretty well. I don’t see that they have any interest in sending armies out to conquer the world. But they are not a democracy, as President Obama publicly pointed out when he chastised their President Xi Jinping not so long ago regarding the protests in Hong Kong.

What’s going on in Egypt is another lesson. Egypt held free elections and the Islamic radicals, the people who murder their neighbors in the night, won. The military overthrew that government and took over. And though they had free elections last May, the former Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won. And the Islamic Brotherhood leaders were neither on the ballot or even free to walk around—they were in jail.

You know there are vicious people around, and when we find them, even when our democracy finds them, we kill them on sight as we did with Osama bin Laden, or we put them in Guantanamo, where we torture them. (Don’t turn away.) Turning the other cheek does not work with people who get pleasure in cutting other people’s heads off.

Certainly, democracy works here. And we take pride in it. But half a century ago, in Florida, a candidate for Congress named George Smathers spoke to a crowd of rednecks in a local hall. According to a report in Time magazine, this is what he allegedly said.

“Are you aware that [my opponent] Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapien, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.”

Smathers won.

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