The Truth About Politics In One Passage
What I love about All The King’s Men to this point is its brutal depiction of backroom politics.
For a guy, like me, who doesn’t trust a single politician, this type of book is right in my wheelhouse.
Politics is all about marketing and appearance. It’s very little substance.
Here’s a great passage from All The King’s Men that illustrates that. It’s a discussion between Willie—the “boss” who is running for governor—and Jack Burden, his right-hand man.
Willie has just finished giving a speech with lackluster response from the crowd:
“They didn’t seem to be paying too much attention tonight. Not while I was trying to explain my tax program.”
“Maybe you try to tell ‘em too much. It breaks down their brain cells.”
“Looks like they’d want to hear about taxes, though,” he said.
“You tell ‘em too much. Just tell ‘em you’re gonna soak the fat boys, and forget the rest of the tax stuff.”
“What we need is a balanced tax program. Right now the ratio between income tax and total income for the state gives an index that—“
“Yeah,” I said, “I heard the speech. But they don’t give a damn about that. Hell, make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em think you’re their weak erring pal, or make ‘em think you’re God-Almighty. Or make ‘em mad. Even mad at you. Just stir ‘em up, it doesn’t matter how or why, and they’ll love you and come back for more. Pinch ‘em in the soft place. They aren’t alive, most of ‘em, and haven’t been alive in twenty years. Hell, their wives have lost their teeth and their shape, and likker won’t set on their stomachs, and they don’t believe in God, so it’s up to you to give ‘em something to stir ‘em up and make ‘em feel alive again. Just for half an hour. That’s what they come for. Tell ‘em anything. But for Sweet Jesus’ sake don’t try to improve their minds.”
This novel was written in the 1940s, but doesn’t that sound exactly like modern politics as well?
It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on—liberal, conservative, whatever—you can sure bet that any politician’s speech you hear is written with all the above in mind.
Tell ‘em anything. Just stir ‘em up.
Man, I love literature.