This summer, thanks to a grant awarded to study politics, literature, and theology at Cornell, I spent a good deal of time studying in the Ithaca Commons One day, while I was studying in the Ithaca Commons, about a twenty-minute walk from the campus, and reading Carl Schmitt’s seminal yet disturbing book, Political Theology, a man—balding, with gapped teeth—walked by me. He cocked his head. He said some amazing words that I will cherish forever: “Political Theology? Huh…I haven’t thought about it that way before.” I was shocked, not least because hehad absolutely no idea what was meant by political theology. What could possibly be the “it” in his sentence? Luckily, he was gregarious enough to supply his own answer.
He sat down beside me, and we shared one of the tiny benches that run through the center of Ithaca Commons. He sported a green grocery bag, a fashion that had hit Ithaca pretty hard. (If you are a New Jerseyan, acclimated to the indifference with which we encounter our environment, it would be a jolt to your system to see the compost piles and environmentally-friendly options that pervade the atmosphere of Ithaca, New York.) From his position, he told me about the Republican debate that had taken place the day before, and vented about the New York Times photo that showed the debaters posing with artificial, cardboard-like smiles. What irked him, it seems, was the facade thrown up by politicians—grimaces that attempt to mask the emotions and rivalries that mark political debate.
It may be unfair to treat this man as representative of a larger cultural inclination for the “nonpolitical” politician, but I do think I can use him to raise a question: what do Americans want their politicians to look like, and where do we want them to come from? The days of yore, when commanders and generals were simply enlisted into politics by virtue of their courage and chutzpah, are over (and thankfully so). Conversations are still being held about whether the American public desires a successful person who they find worthy of emulation, or whether it wants someone to whom it can relate. Do we want the ordinary or the extraordinary? It is about time this conversation be termed obsolete, and the stranger’s words can be used to do this. I no longer want to think about the age-old question—do we want someone like us, or someone we want to be like?—but about a newer question, do we want a politician who seems like a politician, or someone who comes from outside the sphere of politics to change everything that has gone awry? Of course, this is simply another way to think about the issues that have haunted political representation for quite some time, and I use the term “newer” in a very loose way. I insist on the point that, though readers may interject and (rightfully) say that this question has always plagued American politics, the question is still underappreciated and under-asked.
Presidential nominee Mitt Romney is about to issue a statement saying that fellow nominee, Rick Perry, cannot be the solution to political turmoil because he is part of the political machine. The somewhat new term for being part of the machine is, apparently, a “career politician.” This is an interesting angle for Romney to take, especially since he could be criticized as being a “career politician” himself. I actually find the accusation rather funny. Here is a politician who wants to kick someone out of a political race by emphasizing his political career. If we believe Romney, what matters most is not the nominee’s political record or his political platform. What matters is his political occupation. I want to emphasize how strange this is. Political success has been turned into a disadvantage. Romney’s accusation could be taken to symbolize a move towards a non-purist attitude in political advertising. The move seems to scream, “Disregard nominees because they have spent too much time in politics. Elect those who are closer to your own interests.” If I may offer my own input, this strategy makes no sense.
Though the stranger roaming the Ithaca Commons may see this as a step in the right direction—in effect, it does point out the mentality of the “career politician” who perpetuates the need for false smiles—I believe it is simply a conspicuous ploy that emphasizes the seeming naturalness striven for by political artifice. Sometimes, artifice is the most honest of political action. I mean, even the Republican nominees in the debate must have realized how contrived their smirks seemed. What worries me is that Romney probably thinks he is being heartfelt and original.
 Ashley Parker, “Romney, in Perry Territory, Faults ‘Career Politicians’,” <http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/romney-in-perry-territory-faults-career-politicians/?hp>.