I just ate up this essay by Benjamin Kunkel at n+1. Chiefly it diagnoses the two main political strains with their corresponding pathologies (Republicans/conservatives are psychopaths and Democrats/liberals are neurotics, and I just can’t argue with that) but I found this encapsulation of the practice of politics to be troublingly spot-on:
A tricky thing about this otherwise simple, not to say tedious game [of politics] is that it’s played at once by cynics and crazies, or people who are cynical one moment and crazy the next. Sometimes, in other words, my diagnosis of the other person is a deliberate and cynical misconstrual of his words (I know he doesn’t actually believe that, but it’s convenient to pretend he does) and sometimes it is a sincere exercise in politico-psychopathology (I do think he believes that, though he refuses to admit it, except by accident); and the same holds true for my opponent when he talks about me. But true craziness is fundamental, while cynicism is only tactical.
This, I can tell you from my experience, is a pretty accurate description of what we who are or were involved in politics do. It’s not just drawing contrasts and pointing out the flaws in the opponent’s position. It’s sniffing the air every moment to see if your opponent has violated a taboo that may or may not have anything to do with the office or issue in question. But that’s not all, it’s also believing that one’s opponent is just the kind of person who would perpetrate said violation. And if you don’t believe it, well, maybe that’s worse, because that means you’re lying, making a case that you don’t even accept.
And this is the case is professional politics as well as in its mere consumption as news or entertainment.
Earlier in the piece, he uses the “gaffe” as an illustration:
Politics no longer involves the public use of reason; it is instead a matter of psychopathology, and is already treated as such by politicians and the public alike. Only this can account for the political centrality of the “gaffe” or slip of the tongue, an eminence that verbal inadvertencies have not enjoyed since the early days of psychoanalysis.
Exhausting, isn’t it?