Always Have Something to Say

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

In our modern political system, Edward Banfield says, the politician, like the TV news commentator, must always have something to say — even when nothing urgently needs to be said:

If he lived in a society without problems, he would have to invent some (and of course “solutions” along with them) in order to attract attention and to kindle the interest and enthusiasm needed to carry him into office and enable him, once there, to levy taxes and do the other unpopular things of which governing largely consists.

Although in the society that actually exists there are many problems, there are still not enough — enough about which anyone can say or do anything very helpful — to meet his constant need from program material. Moreover, the real and important problems are not necessarily the ones that people want to hear about; a politician may be able to attract more attention and create more enthusiasm — and thus better serve his purpose, which is to generate power with which to take office and govern — by putting real problems in an unreal light or by presenting illusory ones as if they were real.

The politician (again like the TV news commentator) can never publicly discuss an important matter with the seriousness that it deserves; time is short, ifs, ands, and buts make tedious listening, and there are always some in the audience who will be confused or offended by what is said and others who will try to twist it into a weapon that they can use against the speaker. Besides, the deeper a discussion goes, the less likelihood of reaching an outcome that the politician can use to generate support.

(From The Unheavenly City Revisited.)


  1. Borepatch says:

    You’d think a politician would have more message discipline. There are only three or four things you can get across to people (so say the Marketing Professionals), and so you’d think that a smart pol would stake out the 3-4 biggest issues that will get him re-elected.

    Then, every time some TV personality sticks a mic in his face, he could reply “You know, that does sound like a problem, but I haven’t studied it closely because people are worried about W, X, Y, and Z, and this is what I will do about them …”

    After the (infuriated, or resigned) TV personality drags him back to the subject at hand, the pol can always pull the “Well, I’ll certainly keep my ears pealed for other people asking about this, but the voters elected me to handle the biggest issues first. If this keeps coming up, then maybe it will be one of the biggest issues.”

    The press will hate this, but the reason you need message discipline is because of the press …

    Here via Aretae. You have a lot of interesting stuff!

  2. Borepatch says:

    Gah. Too many open tabs in Firefox.

    Yeah, you have a bunch of interesting stuff. Duh! ;-)

  3. Isegoria says:

    Borepatch, given your choice of name, you might especially enjoy the weapons posts.

Leave a Reply