How does one explain politicians like Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, or Mark Sanford? They’ve kept returning no matter how risible their revealed conduct. Their particular motivations are known (if then) only to their families or therapists. It’s possible, though, that a suitable political explanation is available.
In the American version of House of Cards, Congressman Francis Underwood professes that he loves his political wife, Claire, ‘more than sharks love blood.’ It’s quite the description: Underwood’s describing his bond as a feeding instinct. Nothing higher-order about it: he simply needs Claire the way predators need food.
There’s something almost predictable about some politicians expressing that need, because there’s a part of politics (for some) that’s similarly elemental, beneath policy, programs, and philosophy: an insatiable desire to advance oneself, to promote oneself.
Some politics, even small-town politics, runs on the dangerous impulse to advance not a position but a person, not an idea but a man.
On a grand scale, the damage of this impulse is easily understood – most are taught to recognize insatiable ambition at a distance. Close at hand, one’s not so good at spotting its local equivalent. Personality and familiarity distort one’s judgment, and so we foolishly tolerate unprincipled striving, an overweening sense of entitlement, and ceaseless self-promotion.
We’d be foolish, though, to think that ambition of this kind exists only in faraway places, among New Yorkers or those living on the coasts.
It’s closer than that.
Posted also at Daily Adams.