Politics of Night

Recently on NPR Robert Siegel interviewed professor Philip Freeman about timeless political advice, discussing a letter written by Quintus Tullius Cicero to his brother in 64 BC.  Over 2000 years later, in 1964, Frederick Pohl writes just as aptly concerning politics, in a theme very appropriate to current campaigns:

“The classics of public relations clearly show how little reason has to do with M/R, and yet I had allowed myself to fall into that oldest and most imbecilic of traps set for flacks. Think of history’s master strokes of flackery: ‘The Jews stabbed Germany in the back!’ ‘Seventy-eight (or fifty-nine, or one hundred and three) card carrying Communists in the State Department!’ ‘I will go to Korea!’ It is not enough for a theme to be rational; indeed it is wrong for a theme to be rational if you want to move men’s glands, because, above all else, it must seem new and fresh and of such revolutionary simplicity that it illuminates an enormous, confused, and disagreeable problem in a fresh and hopeful light. Or so it must seem to the Average Man. And since he has spent any number of surly, worried hours groping for some personal salvation in the face of bankrupt Germany or a threat of subversion or a war that is going nowhere, no  rational  solution can ever meet those strictures… since he has already considered all the rational solutions and found either that they are useless or that the cost is more than he wants to pay.”

As he says, “If there is an area of human endeavor in which I know a specialist’s kind of knowledge, it is politics. I spent 20 years in political work, have written one book (Practical Politics) on the subject and a lot of shorter pieces, have ghost-written speeches, run campaigns – the lot. At least a dozen times I’ve tried to write a science-fiction story about politics, and every time I’ve abandoned the effort – every time but one. “The Children of Night” is the one.

Who can hear the insane ramblings of any of the GOP candidates today and not agree with Pohl’s observation that rationality is counter to effective campaigning? The more extreme and irrational a candidate appears to be, the better they seem to do!

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