The bad people

There’s a line uttered by a dying character, a partisan fighting the Nazis along the Eastern Front, in Alan Furst’s The Polish Officer: “The bad people want it their own way, my friend. And how badly they want it is the study of a lifetime.”

This has become the story of American politics. Broadly speaking, they used to be about a strong set of disagreements by mostly unidealistic and often venal people who were nonetheless somewhat constrained by a certain sometimes vague set of democratic principles. Both sides had their cretins, criminals, and buffoons (the Republicans inherited many when the Democrats decisively backed civil rights in the ’60s). For decades now, though, from Nixon, through Reagan through the Gingrich-led Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, it’s been more and more about the bad people wanting their own way and the rest of us not studying seriously enough how badly they want it. The dark-of-night eight years of the criminal Darth Cheney debacle have finally caused at least some Democrats to go to school. The press? With a few exceptions (gradually increasing in number, but still a small percentage), it believes that it’s such bad form, darling, to call public officials bad people. Besides, they were so charming at the party the other night.

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