I am enjoying this political work very much. However, I think my real home is, and always will be, in the world of fiction.
Politics is a fiction as well. The world is essentially out of control, with people doing whatever they feel like and only the vaguest skeins of accountability to be thrown over the smallest and poorest of thieves. Politics is the art of closing an infinite number of doors after an infinite number of horses have left the barn, and the few triumphs are so sparse as to be accidental.
People really like working with me on politics. It’s because they think I have the ability to get people excited, to bring new people in. I do not. I most certainly do not. Nobody can bring new people in. The number of people who are interested in politics is essentially fixed, and it has not been affected in the slightest by this much-vaunted “radicalization of the left.” The people that it has brought in are generally not that interested in politics, they’re interested in fiction and fashion that uses the labels of politics to seem important. They want to be in a local production of the West Wing, they don’t actually want anything to do with politics.
I know this, but others don’t. They seem to think that I can bring people in, but what I can actually do is convince a certain type of person that I am representative of a vast group of people who they don’t know and wish they did. I’m not bringing in new people, I’m impressing the same old people.
That’s the game.
Now, since I’m in on the joke, I’m free to accomplish certain things, and that’s what I’ve been doing with local politicians. Since I understand that it is all so laughably small, predicated on such a minuscule number of people, I’ve been treating it like a local promotional campaign and doing quite well at it. For me, a speech that doesn’t go over with a crowd is as meaningful as a band that plays to an empty bar. An unpopular fringe politician is not bad or wrong, they are just not playing to the right venues. The basics of promotion are not superseded by the Holy Calling of Important Issues; people are till more likely to go to the show if you put fliers under the windshield wipers of their cars. I can reach across party lines because the parties are both ridiculous. These groups and processes are not Right or Wrong, they are tools, and I am not frustrated when one tool is insufficient to every task. I simply switch tools.
But there is one thing that bothers me.
Everybody hates amateurs.
Example: professional comic book artists have a strict unspoken hierarchy, and it’s entirely based on money, influence, sales, and connections. At the heart of it all is still the money. The artist who makes a million dollars is better than the artist who makes a thousand. But We have no idea what to do about rich dilettantes who just muck around, spending money on bizarre promotions, driving up the costs of conventions, not making any money or anything worth reading. They’re a serious problem. They crowd out real hard-working artists.
I don’t know any industry that doesn’t feel that way. Think of how an air conditioner repairman feel when they show up and somebody tells them, “Oh, my friend who works on air conditioners for fun did some stuff to it.” They’re not worried about being crowded out of their business, but they are grimly certain that they’re about to have to fix some horrible mistakes. How do doctors feel about people who aren’t doctors giving medical advice? How does a professionally trained musician feel about competing with a fifteen-year-old who plays blues guitar? Nobody likes it. Professionals hate amateurs, and they’re not necessarily wrong.
So what are we doing here?
One of the candidates here has a million dollars. It all came from small donations. Practically none of it came from Kentucky. The candidate made a national TV commercial which featured her and a fighter jet, and people outside Kentucky watched it and sent her money, and now she has a million dollars. Who are we to argue with that? She’s just making a living selling something that people want.
What a lot of people outside Kentucky want is the appearance of political transformation in Appalachia. They don’t actually want the change, they couldn’t care less what happens around here. They just want to believe that something they like might happen and, most importantly, they want that feeling of virtue and self-sacrifice that comes from sending their avatar an irrelevantly small amount of money. Is there anything wrong with that? It’s no less delusional than the usual claptrap about “voting can change the world.”
So this woman has a million dollars, and over here, we’re doing it for free. She’s making money hand over fist in the exact same industry that we are in, when we’re making practically nothing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We are not virtuous because of poverty, she is not craven because of donations. What we are is amateurs, and she is a professional.
Interesting fact about political campaigns: that which you don’t spend, you get to keep. So even if she runs the best campaign in the world, running for all the rightest things, which she most certainly is not, she’s still doing very well off of this. She doesn’t have to worry about paying rent this year. She’s a pro. She makes the big bucks.
So what are we doing here?
The metaphor is inescapable. Name any industry where amateurs are preferred to professionals. There is none. There aren’t even any industries where amateurs have a place beside professionals; the best that is expected of them is that maybe, if they’re patient and they try real hard, they can convince a professional to agree with them, or someday become a professional themselves.
If you subtract our motives and higher goals from this, we are only amateurs who are telling professionals what to do.
That bothers me.
And we say things like, “Get money out of politics,” but I don’t see anything else in the whole entire world that we’re trying to get money out of. As a general rule, people are trying to get money into things.