I’ve never written about bowling or Manichaeism in this column. It’s difficult to relate knocking down pins with a ball to the apostle Mani’s belief in a completely dualistic universe—one where everything is either completely good or completely bad–but I may try some day. I have written enough about politics in this column so I can no longer pretend I don’t ever do so. I don’t lay out policy prescriptions except in the most general ways—immigration is good for the country when the immigrants have skills to contribute to the common good, providing kids with access to health care and education makes sense, free trade is best as a general rule, criminals should be prosecuted, dogs should be licensed and picked up after. Generally, my politics follow my heart and my head—I want compassion with consistency. Because I am neither hot with conservatism nor cool with liberalism, I am lukewarm and my friends spit me out of their mouths.
What a horrible image. Let me begin again.
When I was first getting interested in politics—say 1970—I was also in my pre-contemplative stage of drug using, which is to say I hadn’t started getting high, but I was definitely seeing the possibility of better living through chemistry. Because of this confluence, I was drawn to the radical left, particularly the Yippies. Abbie Hoffman, in particular was an entertaining clown-prince, a writer whose style grabbed me and whose paranoia about the government seems not to have been completely unwarranted. He thought the FBI, CIA and any other alphabetical government organization was out to get him—and his 4,100 page FBI file is evidence—and that they were corrupt, rotten from J. Edgar Hoover to the lowliest FBI intern.
Abbie Hoffman was wrong. I believe in my heart of hearts most law-enforcement folks are slightly boring bureaucrats lacking both intellectual curiosity and evil intent. While Hollywood has taught me the glamor of police work, my experience has been most cops—mall security up to Robert Mueller—are trying to get all the information they can so their reports will be complete. The life of Abbie Hoffman may have fascinated 11-year-old Keith, but the FBI agents putting things in his file were just following protocol, even if protocol didn’t suggest how to record someone throwing dollar bills into the air at the New York Stock Exchange.
It used to was true that questioning authority—political authority in particular—was a hobby-horse of the left, while conservatives pushed for as law and order, good and hard. My dad, a Rockefeller Republican, placed as much faith in J. Edgar Hoover as he did in Richard Nixon—and was willing to renounce that faith when evidence made him do so. Today (literally today—always subject to change), the left is decrying any questioning of the FBI’s motives and actions. Skirts up in the air, hands over their mouths, my friends on the left are shocked anyone would suggest federal law-enforcement agencies would ever make a mistake. Republicans, though, led by President Trump, ask us to believe a “deep state” is conspiring to undermine our way of life. A pox on both their houses, I say.
Forty-five years ago, as a far leftist with a hankering for political theater, I believed Abbie and thought the FBI, the local cops or any manifestation of The Man was bad. Over time, I arrived at my current take on the matter: the FBI is not populated by conspiracy-mongering right-wing fascists, nor is it in the control of an anti-Trump cabal set to undermine our president. It’s a group of fallible human beings who need to be closely monitored by the legislative branch, lest their access to our lives lead them to undermine our way of life.
So . . . my policy prescription is that all of us support the work of the FBI while still holding the fruits of that work up for inspection. The men and women of the FBI are, for the most part, neither saints nor villains, any more than the members of your bowling team are. Let’s just focus on converting that 7-10 split, making sure there are more sausages on the way, and stop living in a Manichaean world.