Mark Steyn explores Gov. Mark Sanford’s desire to break out of “the bubble” — the cocoon of aides, handlers, associates and the like that the modern working politician finds himself trapped in, which is expanding exponentially alongside, not coincidentally, government itself — by indulging in extra-curricular activities in Argentina:
Of course, being nominally a republic of citizen-legislators, we have inaugurated the post-modern pseudo-breakout from “the bubble,” in which the president and his family sally forth to an ice cream parlor in Alexandria, Va., accompanied only by 200 of their most adoring sycophants from the press corps. These trips, explained The New York Times, enable the Obamas to “stay connected” with ordinary people, like White House reporters.
The real bubble is a consequence of big government. The more the citizenry expect from the state, the more our political class will depend on ever more swollen Gulf Emir-size retinues of staffers hovering at the elbow to steer you from one corner of the fishbowl to another 24/7. “Why are politicians so weird?” a reader asked me after the Sanford news conference. But the majority of people willing to live like this will be, almost by definition, deeply weird. So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits. It’s just a question of how well they disguise it. Writing about Michael Jackson a few years ago, I suggested that today’s A-list celebs were the equivalent of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria or the loopier Ottoman sultans, the ones it wasn’t safe to leave alone with sharp implements. But, as Christopher Hitchens says, politics is show business for ugly people. And a celebrified political culture will inevitably throw up its share of tatty karaoke versions of Britney and Jacko.
I was asked the other day about the difference between American and British sex scandals. In its heyday, Brit sex was about the action – Lord Lambton’s three-in-a-bed biracial sex romp; Harvey Proctor’s industrial-scale spanking of rent boys; Max Mosley’s Nazi bondage sessions, with a fine eye for historical accuracy and the orders barked out in surprisingly accurate German; Stephen Milligan’s accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation while lying on a kitchen table wearing fishnet stockings…. With the exception of the last ill-fated foray, there was an insouciance to these remarkably specialized peccadilloes.
By contrast, American sex scandals seem to be either minor campaign-finance infractions – the cheerless half-hearted affair with an aide – or, like Gov. Sanford’s pitiful tale (at least as recounted at his news conference and as confirmed by the e-mails), a glimpse of loneliness and social isolation, as if in the end all they want is the chance to be sitting at the bar telling the gal with the nice smile, “My wife, and my staffers, and my security detail, and the State House press corps, and the guy who writes my Twitter Tweet of the Day, don’t understand me.”
Small government, narrow responsibilities, part-time legislators and executives, a minimal number of aides, lots of days off: Let’s burst the bubble.
Related: Further thoughts on the all-enveloping political bubble from Orrin Judd, Steyn’s fellow New Hampshirite, who reminiscences about his days in the mid-1980s on the staff of a candidate running for the governship.