Politicians are not cardboard cutouts: they’re humans

Politicians are not cardboard cutouts: they’re humans

by Steve Meissner

Politicians are people. I know – it’s hard to believe!

Sure, they’re weird. As a longtime friend of mine likes to say, a good politician needs to be Meissner graphic10 to 15 percent crazier than the general populace; any more, and you’re Evan Mecham or Richard Nixon; any less, and you’re boring and unelectable.

But they’re people, motivated by the same things that affect all of us: wealth, power, sex, and popularity. They’re even influenced by their own sense of right and wrong.

It’s just that popularity will always win their moral tug-of-war, sometimes at the expense of anything else – well, except for money, power, and sometimes sex.

I’ve chosen to write about politicians because I’m a political junkie. When I was 10, I got into a schoolyard fight with a kid who liked Nixon because I liked Kennedy. On the day I turned 21 (OK, I’m old – and this was before the registration age dropped to 18), I registered to vote before I sought out my first legal drink.

But politicians are fun because they’re weird, eccentric, and colorful – and they have so much power over our lives. They tell us not just when to vote but whether we can vote (do some research about the voter-suppression efforts in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, etc., that impacted the vote totals in the Nov. 4th election).

They tell us whether when we can drink, how (and even whether) we drive our cars, and even how we can own property. They tell us how to worship (ever notice the philosophical similarities between ISIS and certain Bible-thumpers?), the quality of our schools, and whether we can afford a college education.

Heck, they even control our bodies – especially female bodies. They’re interesting and relevant, a force for something wrong, or something good. But they’re still people.

In my first book, The Cactus Caucus (available on Kindle for $2.99, he shamelessly noted), I write about the Arizona Legislature. It’s a place that’s sometimes described as the “meth lab of democracy,” or “a Klown Kar of Krazies.”

But you need to understand something. State legislatures have more power over the lives of the average American than any other layer of government. It’s just that their priorities are screwed up. They fret about preserving the right to practice religious bigotry; whether someone else in a bathroom has different plumbing; whether the United Nations or the E.P.A will take over and put all Christians in a vegetarian concentration camp. Silly stuff, really.

Budgets? Funding education? They’ll get around to those after they pass another business tax cut.

But there’s another aspect to Arizona politics. Personal relationships. No one talks about it, but it’s a major factor in passing laws.

For example, there once was a staunch conservative who used to offer a cheery “Hi Commies!” every time he passed the press table. One of his best friends was a wild-haired leftie from Tucson who loved to point out legislative stupidity. There once was a debate on a bill that outlawed the sale of dildos. Someone noted that doctors occasionally use dildos in exams or treatment, so they were exempted. The guy from Tucson offered another amendment that allowed legislators to possess dildos, and it passed – with support from his anti-Commie pal. And that killed the dildo bill.

In another example, a gay Democrat became the best friend of a woman who was virulently pro-life, staunchly Christian, and passionately Republican. Their friendship eventually softened her opposition to gay rights.

So when you’re writing about politicians, remember one thing: They are people. Don’t turn them into two-dimensional good guys or bad guys. They are complex human beings.

Politics is always affected by interpersonal relationships. That becomes a crucial factor in my plot. I make fun of right-wing nutbags, but two conservative women become heroes. It’s reality. It happens all the time.

I firmly believe that no one enters politics to do bad things. They want to make the world a better place. They just have different, sometimes eccentric definitions of a “better” world. I covered Evan Mecham, and I liked the guy – and not just because he provided so many great stories. He was sincere. He told you what he thought without worrying about how it would play in the press. He used to call me an “honest liberal.” We got along.

So maybe corporations are people, my friend, but so are politicians. Get to understand them if you’re going to write about them.

For more than three decades, Steve Meissner has watched the Arizona political scene Steve Meissneras a journalist, lobbyist, bureaucrat, and even as a legislative staff member. For nearly 20 years he was a reporter, editor and columnist for several publications, including the
Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Most of his newspaper career was spent at the Arizona Daily Star, where he was a reporter, editor and columnist, and taught journalism for more than a decade as an adjunct at the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. He is the author of Cactus Caucus, a novel about Arizona’s legislative politics, which is available in Kindle format. He is currently working on a second novel about Arizona politics.

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1 Response to Politicians are not cardboard cutouts: they’re humans

  1. Liz Marshall says:

    Excellent piece, Steve (although I think a lot of Arizona legislators have a way higher percentage of crazy than recommended)!

    Liked by 1 person

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