In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen published “Keiserens nye Klæder” (i.e., “The Emperor’s New Clothes”). In 1949, Jean Hersholt translated the story into English. (This translation can be viewed here.)
This story is about an emperor who was obsessed about his appearance — to the complete detriment of his regal duties. The emperor spent all of his money on fine apparel. Instead of meeting with his advisers, he spent most of his time in his dressing room. To the emperor, image was everything.
One day, a pair of swindlers came to town. Claiming to be weavers, the duo offered to “weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable.” They claimed that these fabrics “had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.” Wanting to discern which of his advisers were wise and which were fools, the emperor immediately put the pair to work. They, in turn, set up their imaginary looms and proceeded to weave their imaginary cloth.
While the men were at work, the emperor sent two of his advisers — one right after the other — to check on the progress. Neither adviser could see the cloth. However, both advisers recognized that they would be branded unfit for office or downright stupid if they were to say as much to the emperor. So they both praised the “attire” when the emperor came to see the progress. (Of course, the emperor couldn’t see the clothes either, but like his advisers, he didn’t want to appear stupid; so he followed suit by praising the “suit” the swindlers were making.)
Eventually, the emperor donned his new “attire” and went out in public, with a large entourage of noblemen by his side. The noblemen couldn’t see the clothes, either. However, they also didn’t want to appear stupid. So they pretended to hold the emperor’s imaginary train as he walked in front of them.
Finally, a little boy, who was not afraid of making a scene, stated the obvious fact that everyone else was trying to ignore: The emperor was naked.
After the boy had made his declaration, people began to whisper. Soon, the entire crowd started thinking that this innocent boy was telling the truth. Even the emperor began to think so, but by then he was in too deep. Believing that the procession had to go on, the emperor “walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.”
In a political context, this story is accurate on so many different levels.
In a world where news is reported instantly — 24 hours a day, every day — politicians must maintain control of the narrative in order to survive. In this information age, perception is more important than reality.
For example, it doesn’t matter what a piece of legislation actually says; the only thing that matters is what people believe it says. Likewise, it doesn’t matter what a politician actually does for his constituents; the only things that matter are his stated intentions.
In effect, most — albeit not all, but most — politicians are simply playing a role. They are merely actors. They stand on the stage and mouth lines that are handed to them by lobbyists, pollsters, and party bosses. Like all actors, they must “dress” the part; they must wear the finest “attire;” they must appear magnificent. Otherwise, if they look the wrong way or say the wrong lines or miss the wrong photo-op, they won’t get elected. So like the emperor, the typical politician is always looking for an “outfit” that makes him look more resplendent than he really is.
Of course, this makes politicians most susceptible to the cunning wiles of swindlers.
Case in point: Let’s look at how the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) was enacted into law. You may recall that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi said:
We have to pass the bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.
I did a cut-and-paste of the ACA from this location. By my word-processor’s count, the ACA has 379,857 words. That’s about 1/2 the length of the King James Version of the Bible.
How absurd was it for Speaker Pelosi to say that we can’t read a bill — half as long as the Bible — until after we pass it!
Imagine if a lawyer were to tell his client, “You can’t read this contract I am preparing for you until after you sign it.” Likewise, what if a doctor were to tell a patient that he had to consent to surgery before he could learn where he was to be cut? At the very least, that would be gross negligence. At worst, it would be outright misrepresentation.
The ACA was the “outfit” that Democrats had been bragging about for months. It was the magnificent piece of cloth that had been woven by the liberal think-tanks. It promised to cure all of our ills — pun intended, thank you: Everybody would now have access to health care, at lower costs. No longer would preexisting conditions or other exclusions keep a person from the doctor of his choice. The ACA was going to fix all of these problems, and everybody would be happy.
Those who objected to the ACA — in particular, the Republicans (or anyone else who wanted to read the bill before voting) — were treated like they were unfit for office or stupid. How dare they insinuate that “Emperor” Obama wanted to purchase an “outfit” that left nothing to the imagination!
What the ACA said didn’t matter. What mattered was that the Democrats were trying to fix the problem. The appearance of doing good was more important than anything else. So for the Democrats to get the credit for fixing our healthcare woes, the ACA had to be passed “away from the fog of controversy.”
That was 4 years ago. We now know the mess that the ACA has created. (I won’t get into that right now; I will save it for a later post.) Suffice it to say, if there had been a bit more of a “fog of controversy,” perhaps we wouldn’t be in the mess we now find ourselves.
This brings me to the point of my whole blog. I will ask the tough questions; I will point out the obvious inconsistencies; I will stir up a “fog of controversy.”
If our politicians are too afraid to address the substance of the issues of the day, then I will do it for them.