By John W. Whitehead
What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.
Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better. Week after week, the script changes—the presidential election, the budget crisis, the fiscal cliff, the Benghazi hearings, the gun control debate—each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.
The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle. All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.
Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward.
All the while, behind the footlights, those who really run the show are putting into place policies which erode our freedoms and undermine our attempts at contributing to the workings of our government, leaving us none the wiser and bereft of any opportunity to voice our discontent or engage in any kind of discourse until it’s too late. It’s the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.
President Obama, no different from his predecessors, is particularly well versed in how to use the theater of politics to his advantage. Consider that amidst the cacophony of the fiscal cliff debates, the president signed into law two pieces of legislation, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FISA) and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA), which further erode our most basic constitutional rights by reauthorizing sweeping police powers to be used by the federal government.