In election season, saving politics from politicians - Hindustan Times
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In election season, saving politics from politicians

Apr 20, 2024 10:07 PM IST

People may change and countries may differ but politicians and politics remain the same.

Perhaps because it’s election time I’ve received a collection of aphorisms and quotations pertinently drawing my attention to a range of thoughts and concerns swirling around us. They puncture and deflate some of the dubious concepts thrust at us from a variety of different corners. In the belief it might make you sit up and think or, at least, smile, let me share them with you.

 Perhaps Carl Schurz, a former US Senator, got the balance right when he said: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.”(M.B. Brady/Wikimedia Commons) PREMIUM
Perhaps Carl Schurz, a former US Senator, got the balance right when he said: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.”(M.B. Brady/Wikimedia Commons)

Apparently, Isaac Asimov once said: “When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent.” To which Bertrand Russell adds an important point. “The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world is the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Mark Twain goes a step further. He asks: “What’s patriotism? Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government only when it deserves it.” Perhaps Carl Schurz, a former US Senator, got the balance right when he said: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.”

But are we today prepared to accept that my country can be wrong? Or does prejudice — another word for stupidity — determine patriotism? And do we conflate and mistake the government of the day for the country we love? Is that why the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt?

Yuval Noah Harari answered these questions most pithily of all. “I am more scared of natural stupidity than Artificial Intelligence!” Being election time there’s an awful lot of the former and precious little of the latter.

So what does this tell us about politics? That, of course, is what this is all about. Here’s a selection of quotations for you to choose from: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” (Groucho Marx). “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.” (Oscar Ameringer). “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians.” (Charles de Gaulle).

And what does that tell us of politicians, who are after all the prime practitioners of the art of politics? Again, choose the description you prefer. “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.” (Nikita Khrushchev). “Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.” (John Quinton). “A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.” (Texas Guinan). “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.” (Doug Larson). “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I am beginning to believe it.” (Irving Stone).

If you are still with me — and I hope you are — you won’t be surprised by Joseph Heller’s description of “the President”. There are quite a few leaders it perfectly fits. Here it is: “This President will back you all the way until he has to. We want to move ahead with this as speedily as possible, although we will have to go slowly. This President doesn’t want yes-men. What we want is independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them.”

Adlai Stevenson, in a speech in 1952, offered the best explanation of how politicians deal with each other. Again, they’re all the same. “I offered my opponent a deal. If they stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about them.”

Isn’t all of this reminiscent of what’s happening around us? The people I’ve quoted are not Indian but don’t they also speak for our politicians and our country? If the answer is yes, can we take comfort from the discomfort they so eloquently express?

People may change and countries may differ but politicians and politics remain the same.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Karan Thapar is a super-looking genius who’s young, friendly, chatty and great fun to be with. He’s also very enjoyable to read.

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