Political circuses

By William Q. Brunson
Posted 10/9/18

Our political system, including both the Democratic and Republican parties, has been described at various times as a circus. And for many years the late Drew Pearson penned a popular syndicated column whose title, "The Washington Merry Go Round," …

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Political circuses

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Our political system, including both the Democratic and Republican parties, has been described at various times as a circus. And for many years the late Drew Pearson penned a popular syndicated column whose title, "The Washington Merry Go Round," was apparently inspired by the popular carnival ride. Neither is a perfect metaphor here, but like carnival rides and circuses, both political parties have their share of clowns, two-headed animals, fire breathers, illusionists and contortionists who too often go around in circles while actually seeming to go nowhere. Their sideshow barkers, hoping to draw voters into their respective political tents, frequently make vague promises crafted to be interpreted by individual voters to suit their own hopes and fears.

When attending the democratic circus, the first thing one notices from the parking area is how large and colorful their tent is. Inside this spacious tent are not three but four rings of performers. To the right is a small ring of conservative performers going through their usual time-honored traditional acts. Just to their left, a ring of moderate performers is staging their delicate balancing acts with quiet precision. And to the left of the moderate ring is a larger ring of liberals going through their progressive acts. I usually try to sit somewhere between these two rings. Finally on the far left side of the tent is a ring of noisy, un-compromising ultra liberals who delight in trying to drown out all the other performers. They're getting lots of attention these days due in part to their volume which would awaken an ancient mummy. But it's a large tent, and one can sit where he or she chooses. So there's a lot of variety in this Democratic tent that attracts a very diverse audience from the richest to the poorest, believers and doubters with virtually every hue in attendance.

When the Republican circus comes to town, one is first struck by how small their tent is now. Given their money and storied history, seems they could do better. Inside there's only one ring of un-compromising ultra-conservative performers, and their loud clanging and honking along with their amazing contortions actually reminds one of the Democrats' ultra-liberals. Their orange-haired tweeting ringmaster wields his whip with menacing skill while packing a side arm just in case. Off to the side in this one-ring Republican circus is a small seating area marked "Reserved for Moderates." While most of the seats there are empty now, one can make out Gov. John Kasich, Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and one or two more. Sen. Lindsey Graham can be seen running back and forth between this small seating area for moderates and his ringmaster apparently not sure where he's most comfortable.

There was a time when reasonable performers from both circuses would often join together and put on a performance called "bipartisan legislation" which usually required some compromising on both sides. These performances were usually well received. But in recent years the "bi" is usually jettisoned, and we're left with plain ole "partisan." As a result, both circuses have taken to vilifying the other, which leads to continuing polarization, which leads to even more vilifying! It goes around and around, but it's not merry.

Accounts of Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill and Republican President Ronald Reagan sipping scotch together in the White House after work or liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg attending the opera with her then close friend the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia ring of ancient fiction today. For the most part, both circuses attract good and deeply patriotic folk who sincerely love our country while having disagreements about issues they are passionate about. Reagan, O'Neill, Ginsberg, Scalia and others have proved we can passionately disagree and still be good friends.

Anyway, given the choices and my concerns for our democracy and the rule of law, our environment, Social Security and Medicare along with an out-of-control budget deficit and reasonable immigration reform among others, I plan to attend the Democratic circus this year. I'm hoping my favorite moderate performers show up, but like the Republican moderates, I'm sadly afraid they're also a dying breed. The Democratic circus will be a bit tumultuous as usual and far from perfect, but they often represent my concerns better. And their two-headed calf probably won't bite me. Just sayin'.

William Q. "Billy" Brunson is a Sumter native whose family's brick home is 10 miles south of Sumter in the Concord community. Since 1971, he has lived in New York's East Village where he makes, exhibits and sells colorful abstract art. He recently retired as assistant building manager at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He can be reached at brunson81948@gmail.com.