For the past three years, I’ve been studying politics as a hobby. Reading biographies and history books, studying the combinations of political, economic and sometimes environmental events and how they impacted the world.
I can’t respect anyone who is quick to dismiss the past. And believe me, I know people who have tried. “You can’t change the past,” they would say with some truth, without mentioning that you can at least learn from it. Or, “It’s in the past!” As if it were completely absurd and not worth any consideration.
Of course, I notice that these same people often get into the same personal problems time after time, reoccurring like a techno beat.
When people aren’t even learning from their own personal history and subject themselves to the same misery again and again, I cannot help but wonder if there’s a missing link.
When it comes to politics though, I certainly notice one pattern. And interestingly enough, that same pattern seems to happen both personally and politically. The emphasis that is placed strictly on the now.
Not the past, not the future, just here and now. You try to bring up the failures of the past and they’ll say, “These are different times!” You try to talk about future risks and they’ll assure you, “If things go bad, we’ll change them,” or, “It’s only temporary!”
There’s an amazing biography I once read about Lyndon Baines Johnson, by Unger and Unger. LBJ had a technique that was named “The Treatment.” The picture above is LBJ administering it, and you can see a few more if you like. Just looking at those pictures makes me want to say, “Back off.”
Exactly what “The Treatment” was isn’t easy to define, but can best be described as a kind of emotional overload.
One summarized description was something to the tune of a tempest, powerful and thunderful shouting followed by rainy tears. It would be a whirlwind of dizzying emotional highs and bottom-of-the-sea lows. He would shake his fist violently at you before gently touching your arm like a dear friend. Statistics would pour out of his pockets. Smoke would come from his ears. Threats and compliments, praise and malice would all come from his mouth.
It’s similar to books on applied psychology, akin to business or dating/pick up. But the difference between the businessmen and players against LBJ here is the fact that you could not ignore LBJ. In a business meeting or bar setting, you could always say no and walk away, so often these businessmen and players learn to be more subtle and cautious. But LBJ was always in a position of power, sandwiching Senators and Congressmen between a rock and a hard place.
The purpose of “The Treatment” goes right back to the same pattern I’m talking about. It is an emotional power play to get the “patient” of “The Treatment” to focus strictly on the now.
I’ve heard pundits on both sides explain with a snobbish tone how the facts and reasoning rest on their side. But politics is about a system whose changes hinge on relatively few, key moments. We vote for our leaders but once every few years. Given the difficulty of removing one from established power and the relatively long term gains from short term work, is it any real surprise that the most politically successful seem to be those who can create enough emotional charge to blind us from our reasoning and logic?
I have heard a phrase once that goes, “You can’t fool everyone all the time.” But in politics, you don’t have to fool people all the time. Just any time.