One of the interesting things about politics is the way that, despite the constant, fervent effort of politicians to make sure it does not, life, in all of its weirdness, finds a way to rear its head.
Just think of Jefferson's Sally Hemmings scandal, JFK's tryst with Marlene Dietrich (now there's a creepy story), Nixon's White House tapes which revealed his pathological hatred of Jews, Nancy Reagan's astrological readings, Clinton's unusual use for a cigar, and most recently, Larry Craig's tap routine. Although they try to keep their bosses air-brushed, consultants and handlers can't keep the odd sexual proclivities and other rough-edges of personality down. You can't squelch life.
I had a dream once, during the height of the Clinton presidency (before the Lewinsky impeachment proceedings in his second term), in which I got to have a casual talk with the man himself. We were walking across a street somewhere, on a nondescript, sunny day, and I asked him if he ever experienced moments when he just wanted to throw his hands in the air and say, "Oh well, whatever!"
Considering the enormous responsibilities of the office, it seemed to me a natural human reaction to have -- one which you would then overcome and get back to work.
Well, in my dream Clinton just fixed me with a cold, steady look. He stopped walking, so as to make his point all the more forcefully. I felt a rush and stopped in my tracks to face him.
"No, I don't have that urge, Tom. Never. I always take my responsibilities seriously."
In the dream, I knew right away that we had hit against the limits of our communication as two very different people. He was a politician to his bones. It was impossible for him to admit human foibles, irrational moments, the possibility of the absurd. It would violate his deepest picture of himself as a public servant. Whereas I valued more than he did staying alert to the weirdness of our experiences -- and trying to understand that weirdness as best we can. My outlook emphasized inquiry; his, continuity.
Both outlooks are important. But it is interesting, I think, to reflect on which we value more, which we prioritize, for our children. Do we want our child to make outlandish gestures towards free inquiry? Or would we rather that our child gains the respect of his or her peers and authority figures for the ability to fit into social groups and, if challenging their norms, doing so in the accepted languages of those groups?
This distinction will be more obvious when my children are teenagers... Do I really want him to post that hilarious but obscene video he made with his friends on YouTube? But everything we do as parents even in these early years teaches which outlook we favor in our home.
As food for thought, I'll end by giving you two poems by politicians. Both poems were written before the politicians' careers took off. Both poems were written when they were still open to weirdness, as expressed in the personal imagery of their poems, the use of rhythm, meter and juxtaposition to open windows into aspects of life (regret, sadness, fury, disorientation) which as politicians they learned to edit out.
The first is from Lincoln, written in 1844:
My childhood's home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.
O Memory! thou midway world
'Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,
And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.
As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-notes that, passing by,
In distance die away;
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar--
So memory will hallow all
We've known, but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmate loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.
The second is from Barack Obama, from 1981:
Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.
Weird, eh? Wonderful too.