05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What's Really Wrong With Our Politicians

It has become a recent, lamentable fact of American civic culture that some of our finest public officials find themselves, like many of their constituents, contemplating the jobless rolls. This turn of events is due to the increasing number of scandals that have made several esteemed members of the legislature objects of disdain.

As usual, several prominent cultural commentators have linked this state of affairs to a surprising and unprecedented climate of corruption at the center of our culture, which by all accounts, is undergoing a decline as swift and monumental as that of the Roman Empire.
The question on everybody's lips: Why are so many public officials getting themselves canned?

But this question seems a bit misdirected. It's not that we are experiencing any higher incidence of Senators going down in flames. Rather, what is truly alarming is that these so-called "flames" are sad, pale, sputtering shadows of the conflagration that should rage before us.

Americans love a good defrocking. And our minds hold a lust for imagining all the details of an indiscretion. Who doesn't feel the titillation of imagining yet another bobbing head underneath a mahogany desk? What's a bribe if it can't engender a rant? A trip to an exotic island with hookers on a lobbyist's jet? We've seen this before. We are ready, eventually, to forgive. But, dammit, give us a good show.

The recent flock of public officials who have appeared on the public stage are letting us down when we need them most. They approach the whole business of public humiliation as if it were simply besides the point. It's as if they don't care. It seems that they don't understand the grand tradition from which they issue. This new crop of politicians: They're just phoning it in.

What happened to the good old days when gray-haired men in conservatively cut jackets stood before a podium and performed the catharthis of a crying jag? What of the halcyon days of ritualistic months-long coverage -- encores, reprises and returns to the podium -- that lent an element of high drama to any fall from grace? What of the spectrum of emotions that began with shock, denial, contrition, anger and shame?

There is something wrong, all right, in American politics. And, I think, I can put my finger on it: We have lost sight of our priorities. Our public officials have no sense of the pomp and majesty of their office. They have no vision of what they are really here to provide. This is why we are going to hell in a handbasket. This is why Americans will be left this weekend, clamoring at the movie theaters in unprecedented numbers to watch a lack-luster animated 3D movie about a girl and her assortment of Talking Animal friends who are off to reclaim the glory of a lost Wonderland.

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