I can’t visualise myself writing about an important political issue, real or imagined.
John, Jamie’s brother in Fishing in Foreign Seas, wants to be a politician. He gets elected and eventually ends up as a US senator. Gary, in Sin & Contrition, wants to be a politician, and moves up through the ranks to become a senior member of the US House of Representatives. But, neither character faces a real political challenge, other than getting elected. Both of them are motivated primarily by ego. In fact, Gary vetoes the opportunity to be a well-paid lawyer so that he can gain political power. John is a likable, devil-may-care character, and a bit of a skirt-chaser until he (at Caterina’s urging) meets a comely French nurse.
Gary is a darker character. The product of a broken family, he is a selfish bully, who commits adultery, misappropriates campaign contributions, becomes an alcoholic, and abandons his ill parents. It’s hard to like Gary, but one wonders how he can get so many things wrong and still land on his feet with a devoted wife and two normal children. I think we all know people like Gary.
Perhaps my attitude toward politicians is influencing my selection of political characters. At the moment, in both the US and the UK, it seems to me that the number one objective of politicians is to get (re)elected, and that number two is toeing the party line. Whereas, I feel that the number one objective should be doing what’s best for the country and number two should be looking after the interests of constituents. What do we have to do to change their priorities?
Interestingly, here in the UK, about half of the MP’s (Members of Parliament) who voted against the directives of David Cameron (the Prime Minister) and in favour of a referendum on the relationship between between the UK and the European Union were newly-elected MP’s. They said they voted the way they did because their constituents are very much in favour of a referendum. They hadn’t yet been contaminated by the system.
When I worked for Westinghouse, I got to know a Congressman named John Murtha very well. He died a few years ago; he was a long-serving Democrat in the House, who became chairman of the Armed Services Committee. When I knew him, the coal gasification plant for which I had responsibility was in his constituency. We were working on a new technology to give the US energy independence. We could always depend on John to set aside the funds we needed to keep our research project going. But it wasn’t just money, he believed in what we were doing and he gave us his time and attention. He was a down-to-earth, likable guy – a family man,with a good sense of humour. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a lot better than many of his present-day colleagues.