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  • Writer's pictureRichard Murff

The Cockfight We Deserve

Circus Maximus

Polarization of Politics
Horrifying, Yet Hard to Look Away

Well, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves – we voted to watch the human cock-fight that is modern American politics, and there isn’t one of us who can say that we haven’t gotten our money’s worth. And if Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen knows her business, and she looks the sort, our little jolly is going to bankrupt all of us sometime in June.

Like Hollywood’s output, the scripted drama we’re watching is painfully high budget, but hardly original. But the stage is set: The deadline approaches; once on non-speaking terms, the president and the speaker have finally conceded to negotiate and – somehow – both side managed to say exactly the same thing they were saying when they weren’t speaking. (In full disclosure I rewrote that last sentence three time and I’m still not sure it makes sense.) Back in the House, the GOP’s berserker caucus grumbles. Across the aisle, the Democrats are trying to push through something called a “discharge petition” that would trigger a vote to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts, whether Speaker McCarthy wants to or not. For that bold maneuver to work, at least five Republicans must break ranks going into an election year. In the calming, sensible environs of the upper chamber, Senator Chuck Schumer as already avowed to kill any GOP package on arrival… because that’s the way Chuck rolls.

I’ll admit, the dramatic tension is top-notch – I just want it to stop.

A friend of mine in a state legislature swears up and down that a lot of these blowhards are perfectly reasonable when the cameras are off, and maybe he’s right. In 21st Century politics, though, the cameras are always rolling, and now these fools have talked themselves into respective corners while playing fashionably unforgiving blockheads.


Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

H. L. Mencken


Blockheads, to be sure, but we’re the blockheads that made them that way. Politicians used to act like they were above all this foolishness, and then something happened: Cable news, social media and we, the collective hiring committee for the nation’s administrators, decided that it wasn’t enough for politicians to bet on the cock-fight of democratic politics, they had to strap on razors, plume-up and peck each other to death.

Mind, I’ve worked in Latin America, so my battle-rooster metaphor was carefully chosen. And I will admit that the colorful plumage and blood flying everywhere is perversely exhilarating (local color is important is those long reads), but the truth is that a fighting cock isn’t much good for anything else. It titillates our worst natures, but it doesn’t put much food on the table.

Take, for example, the strange case of George Santos – who surrendered to federal authorities on a range of charges ranging from wire fraud to scamming everything from unemployment benefits to his own election campaign. Since his CV and life story change depending on who is asking, we are forced to scrub his provable record to find the man’s skill set. Because I’m an optimist, I’ll say that man has one apparent skill: He can sell. He was a good enough salesman (or con-man, take your pick) that the citizens of his Long Island district hired him to cast a vote in government on their behalf. Poor George’s problem was that the product that he was selling – a shiny, loveable George Santos – was otherwise useless. The voters hired him past his level of competence. Yet so divided along party lines is our government, that the GOP still needs his vote enough to let him stay.

Perhaps it is too much to ask that the voter not be entertained. And in defense of the good people of Long Island, New York, while he may not have been suited for thinking job, he was perfect for the theatrics of politics in which he was cast. It makes Washington is deadly serious on silly issues like who has been more victimized in a made-for-TV culture war, but when it comes actual issues: sovereign default leaps to mind its, well, plumage will only take you so far.


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