Will we ever get politics right?
The reason is simple - politics is a reflection of human nature. It brings out the best and worst in ourselves.
Think of it as a big amplifier - like in one of those obnoxious boom cars. Up close you can hear the "music", but if you back off - all you can hear is THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. Same with politics, there is something in it that dampens the best in us and allows the worst to carry the furthest.
It doesn't matter how big or small politics is, or even the system. The worst will always rise.
Call it The ENRON Principle. Capitalism gave us ENRON, socialism gave us ENRON as government and Communism gave us ENRON with nuclear weapons. No matter what, we always wind up with an ENRON.
Why is this so? What's the physics that drives the amplifier of politics?
Again it is simple.
We all want things. We all want politics to give us those things and we are far more vocal about our frustrations than our gratitude.
This is hard on good people. They are on the reverse end of the amplifier. Instead of hearing the sweet music of "thank-you", all they hear is the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of angry citizens.
Good people can't handle that for long, but jerks are used to being yelled and cursed at. They are simply more fit for positions of power. The bigger the jerk, the faster and higher they rise.
But forget about that.
Forget about our unpopular President or less popular Congress. Forget about the ambulance chasers who populate our legislature or the plaid-vested hucksters who inhabit City Hall. Let's get down to the real rot in the bones of politics - the Townhouse Association.
One would think if democracy were such a great idea it would work best at the lowest levels. Quite the opposite, the lower one sinks into the pool of politics, the murkier it gets.
Case in point, before we closed on our townhouse, I spent an evening at the kitchen table reading through the document titled: Lexington Estates Townhouse Association Rules and By-Laws.
Soon I was spewing coffee all over the kitchen.
I yelled for my wife and before long I had her giggling uncontrollably as I read aloud the section, affectionately known as, The Ten Commandments:
Rule 1: Dogs may not bark after 6 PM.
Rule 2: No pet shall be in a public place without its master on a leash.
Rule 3: It is forbidden to consume peanuts in the common areas after sundown on Wednesdays.
Rule 4: Clowns are banned from the commons, and all other areas, always, and no exceptions, ever.
Rule 5: Women cannot wear pants, curlers and a house-coat to association meetings.
Rule 6: Smoking while swimming in the pool is prohibitive.
Rule 7: Decorations may not be attached to windows where people can see them with suction cups.
Rule 8: Six-year-old girls may not run around without being fully clothed.
Rule 9: Breaking the Rules and By-Laws of the Lexington Estates Townhouse Association is strictly forbidden.
That sealed it. We could barely wait to become members of an association with such an outrageous sense of humor.
Trouble is - they were SERIOUS and we soon we found ourselves living in an enclave ruled by the mob.
When I say the mob, I don't mean a sanitation company from New Jersey, it's worse than that. We live under the iron heel of The Gang Of Four (GOF).
The GOF is four old harpies who constitute the board of our townhouse association. They exemplify and personify everything evil in human nature, and by extension - politics.
Meet the Gang Of Four.
Cathy (the secretive one).
A little hawk of a woman who is the power behind the power.
Cathy is the Dick Cheney of Lexington Avenue.
She lives aloof and is never heard above a whisper. Her appearances are rare, and the only reliable Cathy-sightings are before association meetings when she huddles in a corner with her wings around her co-conspirators as they plot in sinister tones.
Everything directed at Cathy comes back through one of her Lieutenants.
Gayle (the information hoarder and fanatic for details).
Gayle is also small, but dark and round like a spider. She constructs arcane networks of knowledge that only she knows how to navigate.
Anyone foolish enough to wander into her web will find themselves bound up by details - and served for lunch.
Patty (the social enforcer).
Patty is pretty and popular.
Her Nordic blond hair, bright blue eyes and perfect figure turns every man's head. When she approaches people, they stammer to themselves like high school freshman, "Oh My God, is SHE going to talk to ME!"
But She is no snob.
She's the friendliest person you will ever meet. You can always count on her for lunch and the latest gossip.
She is the welcoming committee, the party organizer and the association social director. She schedules the party room, hands out parking permits and is the person to call if you loose a key.
Everyone is Patty's friend - if they know what is good for them.
Juanita (all things to all people).
Juanita is plump and overly cheerful.
She works well with absolutely everyone. She is the consensus builder as well as the tar that gums up the gears of anything the GOF wants to stop.
At Lexington Estates, the word CONSENSUS is an acronym for the phrase - Consider Only Nominal Subjects Everyone Not Stupid Understands as Silly - and it is Juanita's job is to involve everyone in something and thus keep the tenants busy arguing over trivia like the new wallpaper patterns for the clubhouse - so Cathy can work unimpeded, striking secret deals for snow-removal, garbage collection, insurance and maintenance.
And these ladies play mean. Take the case of Roger Hamstead.
Roger was your typical happy hamster of an accountant. He shared Gayle's love for details and after spotting a few he did not like in an association report, he took it up with Cathy, who deflected him to her detail person.
Gayle arranged to meet with Roger in the comfort of his living room.
They had a fine chat - which left Gayle beaming and Roger utterly befuddled. The man had over forty years of forensic accounting experience, but he had never encountered anyone quite like Gayle. It made him grateful to be retired.
Gayle was also happy, but for a reason having nothing to do with accounting. She had carefully documented the fact that Roger employed a small suction cup to attach a glass butterfly to the inside of his entryway window, a violation of Rule 7 and an offense punishable by The Lexington Estates Townhouse Association equivalent of death.
Gayle informed Cathy about this transgression and in a rare moment of compassion, the two decided that in lieu of having Roger eaten by eels in the association pool, they would fine him $50 for every day the offending butterfly fluttered against the glass of his entryway door.
The only thing was - according to the association by-laws (written by Gayle, of course), the board had no responsibility to inform a tenant of the violation.
There was something about the symmetry of time that appealed to Cathy; she waited until the anniversary of the day when Mr. Hamstead insulted the board by questioning their judgment - before presenting him with a bill for $18,250.
He fought the fine in a protracted and increasingly nasty court case and lost. The association counter-sued of course to recover its legal fees and won. The court awarded the association $42,677.
Within the year, the association gleefully seized the townhouse owned by Roger Hamstead for unpaid fines and legal costs.
And oh yes, - that last commandment?
Rule 10: Do not mess with the Gang of Four.
© Greg Schiller, 2008
Author: Greg Schiller
Feel free to rummage around my collection of essays and stories at Greg's Garage