Start by setting aside your cynicism. Admit to yourself that everyone who gets into politics feels called to serve others. Your politician loves America and wants to create a bright, prosperous future for every constituent. Like the Founding Fathers, your politician believes in your right to freedom, justice and the pursuit of happiness.
You must next concede that the political climate in a democracy is toxic. Partisan politics is an ugly business. Your politician has enemies simply by virtue of being a politician, let alone the ones he or she has earned. Your politician must make deals with these enemies while alternately stabbing them in their backs and warmly embracing them at celebrity golf tournaments, chicken dinners and luxury-sky-box grip ’n’ grins.
Keep in mind that your politician must meanwhile appeal to voters across the political spectrum, not just on Election Day but every day. American electoral democracy is a game of compromise. Think of health care. Think of guns. Only when nobody is happy will everybody be happy.
Your politician must also build on 235 years of American governance. If your politician could start from scratch, he or she wouldn’t have to contend with a 5 million-word tax code or a legacy of racism or a co-dependent military that serves as the world’s police force, but your politician is stuck with them all and must now endeavor to renovate a master bathroom of democracy inside a double-wide trailer of freedom.
Like it or not, your politician must also contend with corporate money. Large companies fund our elections now, so if your politician wants to appear in the television commercials that influence the tiny percentage of Americans who aren’t clever enough to fast forward through television commercials but who somehow still determine the outcome of our elections, he or she must be mindful of the wishes of those large companies when it’s time to pass important legislation.
Your politician must also keep in mind the special interest groups who want in on the action. By banding together, persons of like minds can form powerful groups that hold sway on your politician in a way that far exceeds their actual representation among the population, in much the same way that a relatively small population of teenage boys has ensured that 90 percent of all Hollywood movies have at least 20 flatulence jokes. Of course, your politician loves America and wants to create a bright, prosperous future for every constituent and believes in freedom and justice and your right to pursue happiness, but those corporations and special-interest groups didn’t pay all that money just to look at a high-quality toupee on the Sunday talk shows.
Amidst this maelstrom, your politician must also keep a watchful eye on traditional and new media. Traditional media are still the most important because they reach elderly voters who respond well to fear-based attacks from your politician’s political enemies. But new media are also highly problematic because they aren’t bound by truth or integrity. Your politician must manipulate both forms of media, while disguising that manipulation — no easy task!
It’s also important to keep in mind that your politician likes sex. A lot. And why not? It’s quick, it’s often available in public bathrooms, and it’s offered quite frequently, by a wide variety of people, as if your politician were a professional golfer or a Sheen. You would not believe how often your politician gets offered sex. Recent statistics show that 73 percent of the time when your politician speaks about “jobs,” that’s what he or she means.
But if there’s one thing your politician likes better than sex, it’s money. Money is really handy because in addition to buying expensive homes and cars and vacations and, in a pinch, sex, it also buys elections. Money is especially handy for sticking it to your politician’s enemies. And your politician has discovered that it’s really, really fun to stick it to his or her enemies. Fortunately, everybody wants to give your politician money, as if your politician were a preacher or a Kardashian.
Finally, you must keep in mind that very few people with actual talent, intelligence, courage, fortitude, wisdom, compassion or ethics want to be your politician. In fact, if your politician can walk upright, avoid drooling and keep his or her genitals off Twitter, you’re a damn lucky American. So really, when you think about it, you’ve got to be pretty happy with your politician.