Rudy Giuliani & Carnival Politics

The interesting feature of John Oliver’s piece on Rudy Guiliani is it exhibits why so much of the political discourse in the United States is so incredibly stupid.

Politics has become indistinguishable from the pitch of the carnival barker. Grab the mark’s attention, and sell, Sell, SELL. You won’t believe your eyes!

Freak shows? Politics attracts everyone with an agenda. The relatively normal ones do it for the money. Horrible in its way, but less so than the zealot who wants an aggressive foreign policy to hasten the Rapture, thinks vaccines cause autism, or wants to square the circle of global war fighting capability and “small government”. Or, on the other “side”, there are the true believers in government as the solution to every problem, from guns to sugar consumption.

Rigged games? What could be more rigged than a right/left, conservative/liberal dichotomy. It’s bunkum. These mental models might be a way to talk about the true believers with an agenda. People love the freak show. It brings dramatic tension to the spectacle. But, even at its most engaging, it is still only a side show.

Where’s the dichotomy on non-interventionalism, which used to be the one of the hallmarks of Rockefeller Republicanism? How is it that neither party is interested in criminal justice reform, serving the interests of both small government conservatives and liberals concerned about institutional racism in our justice system?

When there is universal agreement of this sort, it’s always instructive to ask: who loses their lunch with these changes? Time and time again, money trumps ideology.

Most carnies have no philosophy or policy positions beyond: Does it sell? Does it get people through the gates or asses in seats? Or, more crucially, is there money to be made?

Politicians are the same. It’s comes down to money and clout. Get them, or get out. Did you contribute to their reelection fund, represent a sizable voting block that can get voters to the polls or have a measure of fame and can influence people? Then, step up and play.

When the game is done, they close up their booth and move on — whether as professor, lobbyist, consultant, executive vice president, or a new shingle with their name on it — just like a carnival rolling into a new town. Living with consequences of what they have done while in office rarely is a game they have to play.

But, there are consequences. We are all left holding an empty bag at the end in a park littered with garbage and debris. Fine, and not uncommon, for a night’s entertainment. But, for a life, or for a state or a country? Well, that’s another matter altogether.

John Oliver shows the outline of this problem, how Guiliani will say anything — the more controversial, the more unbelievable, the better. It sets the agenda, where the marks argue about whether it is “real” or “true” or not.

But Oliver treats it all as carnival fare, placing Guiliani in the freak show, when he is much more emblematic of the business as usual politics of corruption that is at the heart of the political carnival at all levels of government in the United States. The political system is filled with incentives that serve powerful interests over those of the populations they supposedly represent. Guiliani is typical, not some strange outlier.