Politics is the new playground for the super rich. It has always been a kind of ego-driven, rich man's business. Today, it's still ego-driven, but now it's not just for the rich. It's for the extremely, ultra-rich: billionaires.
It's hardly for folks who just get by. But, if you're one of the lowly, can-hardly-pay-your-bills type in these troubled times, there is one little sliver of hope. You are the one who can really make a difference. You can vote for the poorest rich man. Or woman. Women are rich now, as well.
In the old days, politicians shook your hand, patted your back, and pasted a sticker on the back of your jalopy. Today, politicians are seen only in 30-second TV spots dismissing former crimes and insisting their opponents are (gasp!) politicians! How dare they?
"Politician" is a dirty word, but somehow today every chairman of the board is eager to become one while knocking the name.
When I was a skinny young man, I became an office boy in a Boston law firm. As part of my job I would deliver papers to the courthouse. One sunny day in Pemberton Square, I came upon the famous Mayor James Michael Curley, who, at one time, was re-elected from his jail cell. He was regaling a lunchtime crowd and I stopped to listen. Jail cell or not, he had the gift. He was hilarious, charming, sly, deep into his last hurrah. No. He didn't win that election, but the crowd loved him. He was the mayor who said during a terrible winter storm in which he refused to pay men to plow, "The good Lord put it there, and the good Lord will take it away!" And, he did.
The files are full of stories of politicians who made mistakes, refused to resign, famously lied, fought with the press, and then often times were re-elected. We've voted the rascals out, only to vote new rascals in. That's the story of politics, and still, today, a man with a billion can't wait to get his turn at bat, while calling it "service." Sure.
It was a politician who famously said, "I am not a crook!"
"I did not have sex with that woman!" was said quietly and very sincerely by a politician.
A politician talked and talked about his hiking up the Appalachian Trail when that appeared not to be the case.
Politicians are known for making wives stand silently by their sides as they confess they have sinned. And still, today, the ultra-rich want so badly to stand there with them.
Maybe it's the power. To make a bipartisan deal with Barney Frank or John McCain. To appear on Morning Joe or Meet the Press and to avoid The Rachel Maddow Show. It could be the sheer joy of apologizing to an oil company and then apologizing for the apology.
It could be talking on an open mike and saying your opponent's hair is retro. "So yesterday!" Power. That must be it.
Yes, today, the playground for the extremely rich is the world of politics, where unsuspecting corporate bigwigs go to find what the meaning of "is" really is.
Jim Aylward of New Port Richey was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City.