My Mom and I were standing outside a Mexican restaurant one evening smoking, as usual, and talking about politics, as usual. I don’t really care about politics because I know that one asshole in charge is no different than another asshole in charge. But I like to bring the topic up because it winds my Mom up like you wouldn’t believe. Just push that politics button on her back and she’s off to the races like the Energizer bunny.
That night she was on a tear about some ridiculous bureaucratic blunder and she ended her tirade by saying she could not understand how the people who are in charge could make such idiotic decisions. I have heard the same comments from my Mom a thousand different times, whether it involved the board of directors that runs her condo association, members of her town’s city council, or one of her state representatives or U.S. senators. She’s even global, which means other world leaders can also fall under her verbal scalpel.
“I don’t understand why you are always so surprised at how inept the people are who run things,” I said to her as she fired up another cigarette and nervously paced back and forth.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“There are two reasons that crap always happens,” I said.
“Which are?” she asked, rolling her eyes.
“The first reason is that people in public office are from the bottom of the barrel.”
“As you yourself have said, those who can—do, and those who can’t—teach. It’s the same with the private and the public sectors. Those who can, the people with smarts and initiative and creativity, go into business for themselves or work for a successful private company. Those who can’t, the people who aren’t smart enough or creative enough to run their own business or get hired by a successful private company, go to work for the government or run for public office.”
“Is it? Who do you think is the CEO of the largest business entity in the city where you live?”
“Hell if I know.”
“It’s the mayor of your city.”
“Add up all those city hall employees, policemen, firemen, social workers, school teachers, licensing and zoning officials, jail workers, city attorneys, parks and recreation workers, and on and on, and your mayor is in charge of more employees than any other business in your city. Now add up all the local tax monies he collects and the state and federal funding he receives, and he will have more annual revenues than any other business in your city. Add up all the money he spends on everything from new school buses to street re-paving to meals for prisoners, and you will see he has more annual expenses than any other business in your city.”
“And your point?”
“How much do you think your mayor makes a year?”
“How much do you think the guy who owns those Mercedes Benz, BMW and Jaguar car dealerships in your city makes a year?”
“Probably a couple million.”
“That’s my point. You’ve got a guy who makes less than a gas station owner running the biggest corporation in your city. How smart can he be? So, in essence, the janitor is running your city. And you’re surprised at the decisions he makes. You’re simply getting what you paid for.”
“But the mayor does the job because he wants to serve the public.”
“Mom, get real.”
“It’s true. Not everyone is money-hungry like you.”
“What happened to your last mayor?”
Another rolling of the eyes. "He was arrested.”
“So he used his political office to line his own pockets. Proves my point. Want to hear my second reason?”
“If I must.”
“It’s because people are people.”
“Can you be a little more vague?” My Mom is no stranger to sarcasm.
“Let me paint you a picture. Think of President Obama...”
“Oh, I loved him.”
“... sitting on the toilet, with his pants around his legs, reading the newspaper and taking a big dump.”
“You are disgusting. I can’t believe you are my son. Why would you say something like that?”
“To prove a point. We put our leaders up on pedestals and think of them as these perfect super beings. We desperately need to have someone be in charge, someone to look out for us, someone to make sure all the wrongs are right. Parents are our first super beings, then it’s our school teachers and our coaches, then it’s policemen and army generals and the media, and eventually it’s the legislators and elected officials who tell us the laws we must live by every day for the rest of our lives. We don’t want to be in charge. We want them to be.”
“They are not 'super' beings. They are 'human' beings. They sit on a toilet seat every day just like the rest of us. And it’s that human part that screws everything up. They have the same faults and insecurities and self-interests that every other human being on this planet has. They lie, they steal, and they cheat.”
I lit another cigarette.
“Mom, have you ever made a mistake?”
“Do I ever make mistakes?”
“All the time.”
“Well, newsflash, the people in charge are going to also make mistakes. Let me give you the perfect example. Who is the most powerful person in the world today?”
“The President of the United States.”
“Correct, and there have only been 45 US Presidents since this country was founded. Every one of those Presidents knew they held the fate of the entire world, billions and billions of people, in their hands, and they knew their every move and every word would be analyzed, and that they would be written about in history books and their presidency would be studied for hundreds of years, right?”
“So, knowing that the fate of the free world, to a degree, was in his hands, and knowing that the world would study his legacy for centuries to come, President Bill Clinton risked everything just because he wanted a blowjob in the Oval Office?”
My Mom’s eyes popped open.
“Clinton was intelligent. He knew full well the risk he was taking for himself, for his family, and for his country, but the lure of a sloppy, three-minute blowjob overruled the common sense of the most powerful person in the world. Why? Because he was simply human.”
I tossed my cigarette into the parking lot to punctuate the point.
“And Mom, to me that’s a little scary.”
My Mom looked defeated. And depressed.
“Let’s eat, dammit” she said and opened the door to the Mexican restaurant.
Mom had cheese enchiladas.
I had the shredded beef burrito.
Hers looked better.