Politics is not for nice people.
Sure, there are required smiles, and even hugs for those current with the fashions. Hand shakes and back slaps have been around for a long time. But the demonstrations of warmth are not likely to be genuine. The work is too hard, and most likely harder as you get closer to the top. Tough decisions are the result of having to pass out a limited number of goodies to an unlimited list of those who want them.
Last night's prime time news included two stories at the peaks of different polities. Israeli politicians finally reached an agreement on the new government, a month and one half after the election. And the Cardinals chose a Pope.
God can rest. Two of his principal regimes--in His Promised Land and our little brothers in Rome--have chosen those who will lead them until the next crises.
Ha'aretz is as good a source as any for telling us how the Israelis did it.
The morning after headline in the Internet edition reads, "Battle of knives in Likud about the division of the ministries: 'Bibi sold us out.' " The picture shows a smiling Netanyahu surrounded by a group of MKs who seem to be applauding and maybe smiling. The picture includes two ministers in the previous governments who will be moved to less desirable positions in the new government, or perhaps out of the government altogether, along with two of the Young Jews who feel entitled to ministries and are not likely to get them.
The cartoon shows Bibi as groom and Lapid as bride tearing one another apart under the chupah as the rabbi begins the joyful song that comes at the end of a marriage ceremony.
Two days ago the cartoon showed Bibi patting the back of Ruby Rivlin, the outgoing Knesset Chair. Bibi had pushed out of his prestigious position, and was urging him to join other senior and moderate Likudniks (Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, and Micky Eitan), who had lost in the party primaries.
The previous day's cartoon showed five junior Likud MK's waiting to ambush Bibi with the tools used by Palestinian protesters (burning tire, fire bomb, slingshot, and stones).
A substantial part of the nastiness directed against Netanyahu focuses on Sara. Readers wanting to ponder the details should prepare a large cup of something, and Google her name.
It is not hard to find other politicians who have been less than warm and cuddly while having to make difficult decisions.
Shimon Peres is a world hero, with Nobel Peace Prize, a Medal of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama, and most recently a warm welcome by the European Parliament on the occasion of yet another speech endorsing Middle Eastern peace. However, Peres' long record also includes the tough words and actions he used against others in his pursuit of power, as well as wounds he suffered at the hands of party colleague Yitzhak Rabin, who was anything but a good friend. Rabin's nobel rank came only after his death.
Israel has no monopoly on political infighting. American politicians may have larger cadres of yes-sayers, public relations advisers and writers of heroic biographies. Classic are the moralistic books for children written about George Washington by Parson Weems at the beginning of the 19th century that include the mythic story of the cherry tree. However, the large entourages of the Imperial Presidency also have produced "kiss and tell" books, some of them written by underlings who did not get all of the good treatment they desired.
President Barack Obama is great on the platform surrounded by smiling and ethnically mixed supporters, but has been described as a cold fish without true friends.
Even that sacred regime that selected its leader at about the same time as Israel is not free of nastiness at the top. Reports are that Pope Benedict XVI retired on account of having to deal with senior prelates up to their collars in sexual and financial abominations. While the initial comments about Pope Fanciscus I focus on his humility, the knives are already being sharpened. Critics mention his theological conservatism, and accuse him of complicity with the murderous junta that ruled Argentina in the 1970s
A lead story published by the New York Times within hours of the Pope's election questioned whether the outsider was up to
"display(ing) the mettle to tackle the organizational dysfunction and corruption that plagued the eight-year papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Bergoglio never spent time here dealing with the bureaucracy, the Curia, and after he finished second to Benedict in the 2005 voting, he expressed relief at not having to face that prospect."
Anything like the absolute truth will elude those wanting to know what really happens at the peaks of government, religious bodies, or other organizations whose power rests at least partly on public support. It is best to recognize the problems in managing difficult issues and difficult colleagues, most of whom are likely to share the overblown egos that necessary in order to reach positions of leadership.
Along with taxes, nastiness at the top and a thick skin among citizens observing politics are the prices we pay for civilization.
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