Friday, September 14, 2012

Saints, Players, and Useful Idiots

Some of the best writing to be found on the Internet is at the Belmont Club, a blog hosted by, by one "Wretchard" -- a pseudonym for Richard Fernandez, a Harvard-educated Filipino.  I know very little about him other than he is a source of profound wisdom.  There is a link to his writing on this URL, and I highly recommend reading his stuff if you want to understand anything about what's going on in the world.

Mr. Fernandez will happily mix it up with commenters, and some of his best insights are in the comments section of his blog. Here's one such gem that touches on some of what I want to talk about today...
"The population on the Left can be divided into three categories — the “useful fools”, the revolutionary saints and the players. Of the useful fools we will say no more. Then there are the “saints” for whom Marxism is a religion and whose reward is to blind them to its actual purposes. It’s there to give them the transcendental experience that mysticism once gave the contemplatives. That’s what they’re in it for. They give the revolution whatever dignity it has; they do all the dangerous and necessary things and few of them survive it. Those who do are killed off by the third category, the players.
"All Communist societies are built on the bones of its saints. That’s all they’re good for really: to dream and to die.  But the players are those who actually know what it is all about. Which is that it is about power and money. Always was, always has been and always will be. That’s why they survive and while all the saints won’t. Because they know the Big Secret, they know what really matters. As for ideology, the players know that “Marxism” is just a disinformational narrative for the useful fools. They believe in Communism in the same way a crooked preacher believes in God. That is to say, not at all."
I agree 100% with Wretchard here, but would expand his generality to include all political parties.  If the distinctions seem less descriptive of the Republicans, it is only because they are less moved by raw politics and more moved by its trappings.  (If given a choice between being Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli, the Democrats would pick Disraeli every time, but the GOP would inerringly choose being the Queen.  Democrats would much rather hold power than seem to hold it; Republicans would rather hold the position than the actual power.)
What we have here in the U.S. is a two-party system -- two liberal, free-spending, drunk-with-power political parties. But one of them has to pretend to be something else on election day because they drew the short straw and have to scrounge votes from among those who don't like liberals, free spenders, or power-drunk politicians.

But the news media provides some cover for them, so they don't have to be all *that* conservative. Just enough to lie convincingly every other October.

As Wretchard sketched out for us, every political party consists of:
  • Saints.
  • Useful idiots.
  • Players.
The Saints are the ones who stand conspicuously and bravely for the Cause, or are portrayed as such by the Players.  Sometimes they are the ones who die for it, either metaphorically or bodily. They are an inspiration to their party. The Nazis had Horst Wessel. The Democrats -- hell, they practically manufacture Saints: Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the Kennedy Brothers; Hubert Humphrey; Martin Luther King; and scores of others, even Sandra Fluke, who has managed to make sex boring. The Republicans have only Reagan. No political party can function without a few highly celebrated Saints.

The Useful Idiots, also called True Believers, are the dutiful troops who man the booths, lick the stamps, make the calls, invest their faith. They believe the Myth. No political party can function without the active participation of an army of Useful Idiots.

The Players are the organization people, the backroom deal-makers, the power brokers. They are reptiles, scaly and repulsive.  No warm blood.  No beliefs to speak of. No ideals to live up to. And they are pretty much indistinguishable from their counterparts in the opposition. Karl Rove is hated by Democrats and James Carville by Republicans, but they could easily switch sides.  And if they were to do so, so would the hatreds.

By some strange quirk of human nature, the Players always wind up in charge of the party. This is in accordance with Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, which holds that every organization contains people who work for the cause and people who work for the organization, and without exception it is the latter who always wind up in charge.

In a suicidal spiral ever since Reagan, the Republican Party has all but purged its Saints. That's why they have to keep invoking the memory of Reagan. It's a party of Players vs. Player-wannabes. It's gotten so cynical that many of their Useful Idiots have wised up and joined the Tea Party.  There's a moment in Shostakovich's orchestral tone-poem "Stepan Razin" where the Czar's goons are trying to rouse the rabble to cheer the impending execution of Razin, a Cossack rebel for whom the rabble should really be sympathizing if they had their thinking caps on straight.  It's a musical moment full full of empty, hollow, forced huzzahs.

That's what the Republican Party sounds like when they invoke the spirit of Reagan.  Nobody is buying it, and Ronnie, if his spirit is loitering nearby,  is taking one of his famous naps.

And that's why Romney is struggling just a bit. He's somewhat hard to read, though. Seems too pure to be a Player, too non-ideological to be a Saint, and too smart to be a Useful Idiot.

Once I was a Useful Idiot. As John Lennon said, it took me so long to find out. But I found out.