Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Washington, Rule by Unlikable Jerks

The two key legislative players in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations ended up being two of Washington's most powerful but least loved men: Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. I find both of them repellently fascinating. A friend of mine's sister was once McConnell's neighbor on Capitol Hill, and she described him as the nightmare neighbor from a movie, regularly yelling at her and threatening her with lawsuits. So far as I can tell, nobody likes the man, and he is so unpopular in Kentucky that last time he ran he was very worried about a primary challenge and engaged in lots of back room maneuvering to prevent one.

Reid exudes anti-charisma; listening to the man speak is like watching freshmen give oral reports. He barely managed to win re-election last time, after he undermined the most dangerous Republican candidates and helped insure that a Tea Party nutjob won their primary. Nobody seems to like him, either, certainly not Obama. Or John Boehner, who was so infuriated over comments Reid made about his leadership in the House that he told Reid to "go fuck yourself" in front of dozens of witnesses. And you have to think, knowing Reid, that he made those comments knowing exactly how Boehner would respond.

And yet the two of them lead their parties in the Senate. As to why, you have only to look to what happened this week. When everyone else had given up and gone home, they and Joe Biden were still at it, hammering away until they came up with a deal  that everyone could accept.

Politics is a strange business.


Unknown said...

You're right--and yet Biden seems like someone everyone likes, partly because he seems sort of goofy.

What do you hear about Boehner? I have trouble forming an opinion about him, perhaps because he looks like a villain from 24, or X-Files, or some such ("You're out of your jurisdiction, young lady!!").

John said...

I don't have any personal anecdotes about Boehner, but he doesn't come across as likable and he certainly commands little personal loyalty in the House. They would throw him over in a minute if there were an alternative. He and Obama seem to despise each other.

The presence of so many people with very little charisma at the top of our politics is fascinating to me. Of the top leaders of our time, only Reagan and Clinton have had the whole range of political skills.

Unknown said...

How many of our presidents have been genuinely charismatic? In the last century, other than Clinton and Reagan, I can think of only JFK and the two Roosevelts. Perhaps most charismatic types prefer to become entertainers, business leaders, or preachers. And I'm tempted to say that only FDR, LBJ, and maybe Nixon count as truly dynamic, titanesque leaders (regardless of what one thinks of their agendas or legacies). Perhaps political power carries too much responsibility with it to be attractive to most of those who have elsewhere to go. In any case, all this is fodder for the question you raise so often, of what sort of person becomes president, or wants to.