Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

Right Angle Club, 2018
New topic 2018-02-03 03:54:38 description

Admiral of the Ocean Blue

The Right Angle Club had a mystery guest the other Friday, except every person in the audience recognized mystery man at sight. The mystery may have had something to do with the Pyramid Club, which the Right Angle rents from a law firm whose leader was Ed Rendell, former Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania. Or it may have had nothing to do with that. Everybody was certainly familiar with the feud between the Guv and Joe Sestak, formerly an unsuccessful contestant for Senator Toomey's seat. All politicians are egotists, but grudge fight was how it was generally described. Joe had worked himself up to two terms as a congressman from Delaware County, and before that to Vice Admiral in the U.S. Navy, which also involves a dozen or so highly contested promotions and elections.

In politics, you never know who will catapult himself into becoming your boss or your opponent, or a supporter of someone else who does, so an elaborate facade of fake friendship may thinly conceal the bitterest of enemies. The pretense is generally maintained that all members of your own party are chums, and almost all members of the other party are bitter foes. It's much like the pretenses of Harvard and Yale alumni, except sometimes it's real enough. This rivalry is at its very worst among paid election workers (generally called consultants) when they aren't being described as lying, no-good skunks who always look to advance their services for some worse candidate. They operate knowing losers generally get fired immediately, tarred as scapegoats. As far as the dumb public voter is concerned, it's simply conventional for candidates to pretend to love all party members, hate all opponents, and maintain total secrecy of the truth from the press. So when you encounter a candidate who actually speaks his mind, it's a surprise. A surprise which generates still more enemies, because it exposes rival candidates as hypocrites without actually saying so.

As a consequence, party bosses usually follow the advice of Machiavelli, depending on brute force to keep their troops in line, insisting on the pretense of "team player" , while holding the candidate himself in line with the promise he won't win election should the party apparatus hold back on campaign funds and the obedient service of real "team players". Ideally, the candidate just reads nice speeches for the teleprompter, while the party boss really wins the election by fund-raising and patronage. In more extreme cases, the party boss even votes the way the boss tells him to, and the only acceptable excuse for "bolting the party line" is he might lose the next election if "the party" insists on an impossible mandate. Attempts are usually made to allow such conflicted votes to go one way in the House and the other way in the Senate. In close districts. Almost none of this is often feasible, so party bosses thrive in one-party districts. Since party power has been rather close in the past few national elections, circumstances encouraging bossism have weakened, with the paradoxical effect that the party often becomes desperate and applies brute force even more strongly, before it ultimately collapses. The memory of such "betrayals" can unexpectedly resurface, decades later. Since a military man is accustomed to giving orders to pliant team players, he becomes accustomed to giving orders, not taking them. And the Navy is somewhat worse than the Army, since sailing out to deep water usually puts the former captain in unchallengeable charge, reacting to unspoken traditions of that effect.

So, when Senator Schumer told Sestak to do something "or else", the response was not that of a team player. When legislation hung by one or two votes, it's not surprising that the Clintons, Rham Emanuel, Pelosi, Obama and other names you would recognize applied the whip in ungentle language. When Senator Specter was induced to commit to the unpardonable sin of switching from Republican to Democrat -- it was not unexpected for millions of campaign dollars to shift to Sestak's opponent, at the direction of his own headquarters. In listening to an hour of Sestak's speech without his identifying what office he was running for, I tried to surmise if he was pushing for anyone else, but the only favorable mention was young Kennedy, in the right circles a word synonymous with ruthlessness. If that's the ball game we are playing, Trump may have a better chance than I would have guessed. This time, it's probably going to be any name but Kennedy, Clinton or Bush.

Originally published: Saturday, February 03, 2018; most-recently modified: Monday, May 13, 2019