Politics - (2008)
for medium voice and piano
(To Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, Socialists and other Jackasses)
Politics, the servant says,
is how I serve the nation.
Just how it ticks, this politics,
in my interpretation,
Is best unsaid and best unseen,
for all is in relation
To how the nation best serves me,
[ 2 pages, circa 50" ]
That politics [ 1 ] so easily becomes corrupted is not news, nor that it continues to be corrupted a surprise. The surprise is that there are those few whose standards are unimpeachable and whose love of freedom continue to serve. For all the others, who may be best and most easily identified by the riches which they accumulate in "public service," is this poem and song setting dedicated as per the above. The graphic comes from the era of "Boss Tweed," an American politician [ 2 ] who was convicted for stealing over one hundred million dollars from taxpayers through political corruption; Tweed was a leader in the Democratic Party in 19th century New York. His ilk in all parties live on to "serve" -- above all, themselves.
Watching recently a German reporter's coverage of an Irish MEP (Member of the European Parliament), I was struck by her anger as the reporter queried her on her high salary and very short work week. Her response to him was angry, threatening him with a legal suit for simply asking the question or daring to report it. In my lifetime of observing politicians in the US and indeed across the Western World, I have been repeatedly amazed and saddened at the massive numbers of self-serving, pompous and narcissistic politicians of all political stripes whose public stance was supposedly patriotic and populist, but whose more hidden agenda has been consistently to aggrandize personal, private wealth from their supposedly "public service." That wealth comes from such public service is a fraud to the very notion of public service, for indeed there is no service which transfers public monies well above the average tax payer to the elite of the political, chattering class which may rightly be called "service."
During this year's presidential primary, there surfaced again a humorous motto which reads, "Don't steal. The government hates competition." But before this moment in history, others have noted the "problem" of government. General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) said, "I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within." A century earlier Abraham Lincoln noted, "As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
And yet near to the founding of the nation, George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address of 1796, "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."
A nation might win a war, but it cannot withstand massive avarice and greed sucking at its own public teat and trough, which so many politicians across centuries have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate today. Becoming wealthy through "public service" demeans the word, "service." To this end, I suggest such a "servant" serves himself or herself, and of these men and women we have many examples in our own time. Therefore my dedication is to them all.
The accompaniment is a simple set of melodic snippets, the most obvious trimmed from "America the Beautiful," surrounded by scales and parallel triadic harmonies in scalar gestures, over which the lyric sings out.
The climax of the song sings out "me," for the single character of so many politicians, especially those in the public eye today -- narcissism. The last rapid-fire quote refers back to a rhythmically inaccurate citation of the melodic form and lyrical reference to "My Country 'tis of Thee."
The score for Politics is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
[ 1 ] Ambrose Bierce gives us this understanding from his The Devil's Dictionary: "POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage." See also my settings of Bierce's A Rational Anthem and Sandburg's Government.
[ 2 ] Moreover the astute if crusty Bierce further notes from the same dictionary: "POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive."