It will be pointed out that this is unimportant, since people read the voting returns and learn how things turned out in any case. It will also be pointed out that newspapers, whether partisan or non-partisan, carry far more murky and lethal lies. That is true. The triumphant headlines have become a convention, like the conventional hellos and goodbyes of a social call. People expect them and pay no attention. True enough. But if I were a party chief and my party had lost, I would go around shouting it from the rooftops. For in politics as elsewhere, the truth is salutary and invigorating.
It has been explained to me many times that the rules and procedures of politics are totally different from those of ordinary human life. It’s been explained that political power operates by delicate, subtle mechanisms that are highly sensitive and comprehensible maybe only to those who control them and can peer into their depths. The desire for truth, indeed any customary expectation of the human mind, has about as much weight on the machinery of political power as a swarm of gnats.
There are people who understand nothing of politics. I am one of them. There aren’t many such people, in fact there may be very few, since almost everyone manages to master a handful of essential notions that permit them to understand the terms and structures of politics. Certain people, however, not only understand nothing of politics but are incapable of thinking politically. They are even less able to express themselves in political terms. I am one of those. The people who do understand politics cannot begin to conceive of what we, the ones who understand nothing, are all about. So I want to explain, since after all, I know.
Beyond politics, there are countless other things about which I know and understand nothing, such as economics, or chemistry, or the natural sciences, or the exact sciences. But my lack of understanding of those subjects doesn’t disturb me. I get along fine without them. They proceed far from my life and almost never cross my mind. Understanding nothing of politics, on the contrary, feels like a serious disability. It pains and embarrasses me. People I’ve confided in tell me it’s simply laziness and resistance on my part. I am aware of being very lazy, and yet I have the sense that my utter failure to understand politics is not a question of laziness so much as a real disability.
When I was young, I thought that some time or other I would read books in order to gain some understanding and background in politics. After a while I noted that whenever I opened those books, my mind would dart away like a hare. And so I have never read a single line of them. I also noted, after a while, that all the novels and other books I had ever read were read without any fixed purpose.Even though I understand nothing of politics, political events do occasionally arouse my hatred and indignation or approval and passion. But these events don’t strike me as part of any coherent, lucid, and harmonious pattern; they always seem like fragments or splinters or bits of driftwood I’m clinging to like someone left floundering in a river at flood tide.