We all know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The same principle applies to politics. If your point or cause is too complicated to squeeze into a slogan, you’re going to lose. Think of the best-known slogans from past elections: “Read My Lips, No New Taxes!” “Drill, Baby Drill!” and now there’s Newt Gingrich’s $2.50 per-gallon promise. The reality is governing is a lot more complicated than slogan-ing.
My favorite way to explain this is to draw on the example of the George Clooney movie, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” If you haven’t seen it, Clooney plays the slightly brightest bulb among three friends who are bumbling their way through life. (If you haven’t seen the movie, think Moe of “The Three Stooges”). Clooney’s character, Everett McGill, along with his buddies Pete and Delmar, are running from the law. They “hole up” with Pete’s cousin, who secretly turns them in to the local sheriff for a reward. Prior to this happening, Everett steals a pocket watch from their host — Pete’s cousin. Pete discovers it — after the fact, and confronts Everett. Everett escapes the awkward moment — what he calls a “tight spot” — by confusing his friend into submission.
Here’s the script:
Pete: “You miserable little snake, you stole from my kin!”
Everett: “Who was fixin’ to betray us!”
Pete: “You didn’t know that at the time!”
Everett: “So I borrowed it until I did know!”
Pete: “That don’t make no sense!”
Everett: “Pete, it’s a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”
Nearly 12 years after this movie premiered, my son, Adam, can still make me laugh, simply by saying the words, “You stole from my kin!”
How does this apply to politics? Take any of the real problems we face as a nation. Tax reform: Someone proposes a solution, say the FairTax, an idea where everyone would pay a consumption tax equal to 23 percent of everything they spend. The idea isn’t perfect, but in my view, it’s a whole lot better than the current tax scam run by the IRS. It will never get close to becoming law, though, because opponents (Democrats and Republicans) know how to “Oh Brother” it to death.
Politician: “I’m for the FairTax.”
Opponent: “He wants to hurt poor people.”
Politician: “How in the world do you think that I want to hurt poor people?”
Opponent: “Warren Buffet’s secretary pays a higher tax rate than her boss!”
Politician: “What does that have to do with the FairTax?”
Opponent: “See! He won’t address the issue; he just wants to take care of his rich buddies!”
Politician: “That don’t make any sense!”
You can play out the same scenario with health care reform, entitlement reform, education reform, energy development, you name it. No matter the idea, there is a group who will oppose it and a television commentator who will give that group an unbridled platform to “Oh Brother” it to death. Why? Because “Oh Brother-ing” earns great ratings! Meanwhile, we continue to meander down the road of being a shadow of the nation we once were.
Want to reverse the course? Good luck. As Everett said, “…it’s a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”