Guest Article: An Analysis of Homo Electus

My good friend Roscoe Mathieu is most comparable, perhaps, to Dr. Gonzo of HST’s infamous Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Though physically the opposite of the hulking Samoan attorney, being that he’s a short, skinny white guy in a fedora, his impassioned approach to life, women and the pursuit of that ever-elusive happiness is second to none. He is also proof that even in this era of whitewashed suburban ennui, the call to adventure still resonates deeply with some – he has adventured abroad the Lady Washington, taught English in China, and has gotten into more scrapes and romantic misadventures than is believable, if you’ve never met the guy before.

I’m not exaggerating. Somebody had cursed Roscoe to live an “interesting life” in the Chinese sense of the phrase, and for good or ill, he’s embraced his fate. Too weird to live, too rare to die.

He, like many of my acquaintances, is a political junkie – that most terrible of addictions. For today’s guest article, I present you his analysis of the various flavors of the players of the American Body Politic – the scums and earnest rubes that populate the columned buildings of our government centers. Enjoy it – I did.

I’ve been kicking around local politics since I ran a box of fixed votes at age of six. That was the election when the new mayor purged all the appointed councils, commissions, and boards and then repeopled them with his own batch of Honorable Citizens. And from those first few council meetings, and all the others that followed, it seems there’s five and only five politicians in America…they just wear different bodies. They all fall on a dedication axis, how hard they stick to their guns. I split it up like this:

The first breed of homo electus is the one I call the Knight Templar. He came in riding a high horse on one issue or a bunch of them…saving the shoulder-band snail, saving our children from the ravages of the demon reefer, bringing in Law’n’Order and beating up black guys, it really doesn’t matter. The Knight Templar will not bend, will not break, will not compromise his ideals…at least, not the ones he thinks are important. What he will break are all the rules of decency, he’ll bend all the laws of kindness. He’s not opposed to taking money from the Right sort of people, or hypocritically flying to Washington to complain about the carbon footprint, or even sabotaging another politician’s campaign out of petty revenge when the other fellow voted No on their item just for the honorary minority. I’ve seen all three. A lot of times, these people see themselves, and can be, the voice in the wilderness or the one member on staff of the opposition. Usually, though, they’re loathsome, godawful cancers tearing up the government’s insides.

The second breed is what I call the White Knight. Like the Knight Templar, the White Knight’s motivated by an ideological position or issue…but he’s also bound by decency. He’s willing to swap votes and play ball, he keeps his word whenever he can, but he never, ever loses sight of his issue…not until it’s settled, and then he keeps a sharp eye to keep his gains. The lower you go, closer you get to the bottom-feeders of the pyramid of government, the more White Knights you see. You see most of them on the minor advisory councils and boards and commissions of your town, wherever you are, or your county. Don’t let them filibuster, you’ll die of boredom, but they’re otherwise pretty good people. The biggest danger for the White Knight is that he’ll take his fall and turn into the Knight Templar, corrupted by bitterness at being alone and outgunned, or by a cheap fix to a hard problem, or by a jilted love life.

The third is on the other end of the dedication scale, a man I call Captain Renault. Captain Renault is a reasonable man, following reasonable ends by reasonable means. He’s trying to do best by himself and his constituency, usually but not always in that order. His operating principle is self-interest, usually enlightened. He trades votes and peddles influence, he plays the game, and he offers stability and rationality in the often hot-headed game of thrones. He’s the centrist that keeps getting elected, the one who quietly raises taxes when it needs to happen and the one who loudly lowers them when that needs to happen. He’s also, much like his namesake, very fond of crying that he is shocked, SHOCKED, to find gambling going on in this establishment. Don’t hate him too terribly much, you need him…you know where he’s coming from and you can always guess what he’ll do. And besides, he’s the most numerous kind.

The fourth, on the far end of the line, is the man I euphemize as being Bought For Bacon Grease. He’s been bought and paid for, by some special interest, by a machine, or by anything that wanders in front of him and smells like cash. It’s rare he keeps his word, and rarer that he stays bought. But he’s so useful to so many people that he keeps getting kicked around, and he’s got to have some base cunning in there because he manages to hide his nature from his electorate or keep them in lock-step to vote early and vote often. This is the man who asks for a five minute break before a big vote, “to consult with his advisors.” He’s affably corrupt and, if the Knight Templar is a cancer, this man’s a bad case of herpes…incurable, painful, prone to bursting open on the surface, but treatable.

The last kind is a special creature. I call him Jefferson Smith, after Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jeff Smith reads the staff reports, drives out to the land under discussion to have a look for himself, and votes according to his conscience. His conscience is generally simple, straightforward, almost dumb: What’s the right thing to do here? Does this smell funny? The needs of the many. Don’t be selfish. Everything he learned about voting, he learned in kindergarten. He’s a tricky customer like that, and tends to frighten other members of homo electus. His voting goes all over the map, wherever he generally thinks the right thing to do is. He loves to pull tricks like “just one more question…” or a filibuster or the old Socrates, “I don’t quite understand this, could someone explain it?” If you find one, and they’re neither rare nor hard to spot, keep an eye on him…he’ll be the most entertaining and most heartening. I’m proud to say that, when my father was appointed to sit in a Planning Commission chair, he was a Jefferson Smith.

Now when voting season comes around, which is when most of you are actually paying attention, any member of homo electus starts acting funny. It’s their estrus cycle, their mating season, and they all go into a frenzy. They can pass themselves as another kind of politico entirely, and usually do. The more amateurish pretend to be Jefferson Smith, always a crowd pleaser…but no help at all to him if he actually makes it. And it’s the same mating call all the others are making, and they’re all doing it badly. More experienced or canny politicians tend to assume the guise of the White Knight of some vague ideology (“the environment,” say, or “public decency,” or “law and order”) as the Man With A Plan. A lot of Captain Renaults don’t bother to disguise themselves at all,  presenting themselves as middle-of-the-road types who’re making no grand promises but can keep the ship afloat. But any good politician eventually learns to present himself as any or all of the above, depending on the occasion.

So how can you tell out one race of homo electus from another when they have this fun color-changing gimmick right around mating season? By watching the voting record and their behavior in their natural habitat, in the chambers. Jefferson Smith will vote his conscience, Captain Renault his constituency, the White Knight his ideology, the Man Bought for Bacon Grease himself, and the Knight Templar his fanaticism. White Knights and Templars would seem hard to tell apart, but the ones who are brokering deals on other issues, compromising on some votes, but still making passionate stands on the things he cares about are the White Knights. The ones who refuse to play ball on anything and won’t give an inch are the Templars. As to the others, if you find yourself saying “I don’t like it, but that’s fair,” he’s Captain Renault. If you can see the strings, he’s the Man Bought for Bacon Grease. And if you see Jefferson Smith, vote for him.

(copyright 2008, Roscoe Mathieu)


~ by Gonzo Mehum on February 24, 2009.

One Response to “Guest Article: An Analysis of Homo Electus”

  1. You sir are a dumbass stop Polluting the minds of our nations youth you are one of the many reasons why there a psychos you needy

    h bu a quick way to,fix yourself is suicide thanks for reading

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