Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As always, this appears here a week after its newspaper release, per the syndication deal. Tge latest one is in the paper, or if it’s not, feel free to bug the editors to start carrying it)

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The political pros call them real people — a contrast, probably, to the phony people: the candidates, officeholders and their handlers who use human beings to fill their stage and their camera shots and reduce humans to mere props.
You’ve seen them before, standing behind the star of a particular news conference or photo op. Maybe you’ve even been one. Your assignment is simply to stand there and appear (concerned) (sad) (pathetic) while said star waxes eloquent about your plight.
Usually, they/you are displayed as victims, and one or two of you may even get speaking roles, telling your tale of woe to help the luminary further his or her ambitions.
It can get mighty cynical or at least contrived, particularly when you/they are there in the service of someone who otherwise would have nothing in common with you.
Imagine if he or she was being candid. What if the “real people” were real rich people, friends of the candidate or more likely contributors? They would be there to plead for help, supporting something to reduce their suffering.
Can you see it now? The plutocrats would shuffle on the rostrum as their bought-and-paid-for champion made a pitch for further reducing their taxes. How touching it would be if one by one they came forward to talk about the wrenching difficulty they had paying the help or how it would be so tough choosing between that sixth vacation home or country-club membership without a new lower effective rate.
Our eyes would well up as they talked about the difficulties of boarding the private jet for trips to the Caymans or Switzerland. There also would be the staff of domestics so necessary for such visits to the hoards of money they have hidden away so they are walled off from the Internal Revenue Service. And their special advantages don’t just happen without a huge amount of effort spreading payments around to the politicians. Without such favored treatment, they would have to pay their fair share to the government, just like the riffraff do. Oh, the horror of it all.

Actually, this scenario would be a bit different than normal. They guys in the background are puppeteers; they manipulate their own prop — the guy out front doing the talking. We all know him as Mitt Romney. One would think that such a message of selfishness would stink up the joint because it is so obviously self-serving that the audience, in this case the millions of American voters, would head for the doors and reject such an attack on their own well-being.
But that overlooks how easily manipulated one can be when he or she is consumed by antagonism toward Romney’s opponent. In fact, what we really have here is an election in which nearly everyone is already a true believer, or more accurately, a true disbeliever, ready to reject rather than support.
The question is, Which side can more effectively get out the vote? How many can be turned out, not for one candidate or the other, but against. All the pieties about fulfilling one’s responsibility as a citizen by casting a ballot overlooks the sad reality that the great bulk of Americans are simply fed up and disgusted by their choices.
Almost nowhere is there a “Vote No” alternative, and even if there was, it wouldn’t mean anything, given the reality that somebody from the Hobson’s choice would still win. The obvious solution is to have more meritorious leading citizens willing to enter the political fray.
There’s the rub. What smart, qualified person in his right mind would risk drowning in that sewer? The process is so controlled by unprincipled hucksters of destruction that anyone who volunteers is certain to be ripped to shreds. Who but the shameless needs that? Actually, we as a nation must do better, unless we all want to be props filling an empty democracy.

© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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