BY THEO ANDERSON,inthesetimes.com –
Why can’t politicians just tell us the truth?
Why would it be such a surprise if the president said that our behavior is frying the planet, that we don’t seem to care much, and that our indifference to climate change is an act of collective suicide?
Why are politicians unable to say that factory farming is barbaric; that it’s viciously cruel to animals and workers alike; that the meat it produces and the fast-food industry it sustains are unhealthy at every level; and that a culture that allows it to flourish is gripped by madness?
Why can’t politicians say these sorts of things bluntly and without hedging?
One obvious answer is that politicians don’t tell us the truth because there’s no future in it. The money to fund political campaigns has to come from somewhere, and corporations donate to political campaigns on both sides of the red/blue divide.
That explanation goes only so far. Corporate influence explains the moral bankruptcy of the GOP and the corruption of the Democratic Party, perhaps. But it doesn’t explain why it’s rare for politicians to engage in “let’s cut the bullshit” bluntness even when they have nothing to lose: whey they’re close to retiring, for example, or when they represent safe Senate seats and House districts. When was the last time Dianne Feinstein really told it like it is to the people of California?
It’s different in the movies and on television, where politicians and pundits who call bullshit on the insanity around them are a recurring fantasy. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the classic example. In the latest version of the fantasy, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, a milquetoast broadcaster who’s fed up with the pervasive lying of the political class becomes a crusader for truth. In the late 1990s movie Bulworth, Warren Beatty played a moderate Democratic senator so disillusioned with politics, and with himself, that he hires an assassin to take himself out. Freed from the burden of kissing up to voters and special interests, he becomes radically honest about his own motives and about how the system actually works. That honesty revitalizes his campaign and turns him into a media sensation.