Thankless. Exhausting. And quite the ache in the gums, if you ask me.
Been at it for more than half of close to 40 years of being a writer. Writing politics doesn’t get any easier, that I can assure you. It only gets worse when some paid hack’s idea of a pink pajama party is to deliberately misread what took you several days, without sex and merienda, to write.
And that’s scratching but the surface. In a country where airing one’s grievances is frowned upon by the State, and where Grammar Nazis of every fang and stripe flit around your piece like fly on flypaper, you can rest assured that your life will never be the same.
Let’s not even go to where most publications of even the best political diatribes find such pieces worth only the smidgen they can offer.
Which brings to mind the venerable Karl Marx, who once worked as a London correspondent for the Tribune. I stumbled on this story and others I will here mention in a book by Stephen Bates, If No News, Send Rumors: Anecdotes of American Journalism.
The managing editor Charles Dana didn’t have second thoughts of firing Marx for submitting invoices for articles he had yet to write. Marx probably thought you gotta do what you gotta do to earn a living. But that was way before Das Kapital.
And on the matter of sex, or better yet, the dearth of intimacy I mentioned earlier, I read the story of Margaret Fuller, a political reviewer of Greeley’s Tribune. Greeley’s criticism of her politics, philosophy—even diet!—did not allegedly “ripen our intimacy”. End quote.
Political diatribes do have a way of wreaking havoc on one’s hormones, if not the digestive track. That’s why I am lobbying for every political opinion piece to come with a Surgeon General’s warning.
With libel laws fixed like canons ready to fire at the political writer, political writing faces thrice the peril of walking the tight rope without a net. I recall that funny tale about the owner of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, who “hid out to sea” when President Theodore Roosevelt charged him libel. If that had been the middle of the Atlantic, Mr. Pulitzer would’ve gotten scot-free.
The 2022 presidential election is just around the bend. Expect all manner of worms and roaches to come out of the woodwork. Remember that we have the right to speak our minds by constitutional mandate. But free speech is never free. It will cost us something.
The pen, of course, is mightier than the sword. That alone ought to be the incentive for any would-be political writer. Too mighty, in fact, that Walter Cronkite, 20-year anchor of CBS Evening News, was dissuaded to run for President. “Why would Cronkite want to be President and give up all that power?” Touché.
Just to give you an idea of the power the pen can wield, take the story of my all-time favorite columnist of the New York Evening Mail, H.L. Mencken. He once set to writing a detailed account of the history of the bathtub. Yes, the one wherein you shed all your dead skin.
The published piece was so convincing that numerous reference books on the subject included it in their entries. Mencken later admitted that this “tissue of absurdities” was a hoax, and that researching the true story was “a dreadful job”.
Thank God, Mencken didn’t think of writing about the poetry, lyricism, and science that went into the invention of the toilet. It would’ve given Einstein’s Theory of Relativity a run for its money.
But then, there was Richard Adams Locke of the New York Sun who assured his readers that astronomers had discovered an assortment of plant and animal life on the moon. Yes, that’s power in a writer’s hands.
Criticism from readers, especially those who are out to make minced meat of a political writer’s reputation and integrity, comes as the greatest challenge.
I’ve had pro-administration online trolls take my words and misshape them to mean this stupid thing or that. They even went out of their way to charge me with antisemitism (imagine that!), something bordering on treason (for cryin’ out loud!), being a poser (I don’t do Tiktok), a communist sympathizer (*roll of the eyes*), and the most scathing of them all—“Who does he think he is?”
Obviously, I think of myself as a writer with something important to say when most of them were munching baby boogers for breakfast. I’d like to believe I’m a good cook, a doting father, and a sexy hubby to my wife (got rid of my enormous tummy three years ago). That’s about it. I have no literary or journalism awards in my name, nothing at all to boast of by way of academic achievement.
I practically learned to write with my tongue locked in my cheek. I’m a voracious reader. Think hungry alligator.
All I’m saying is that there’s politics to writing politics, and any and all who wish to be good at it must take all this into account. By wanting to be one, know that you’re entering a war zone where wolves, if not the Taliban, are enthusiastically salivating at the gates with you as dinner. The trick is relentless study. That puts you on top of the food chain.
The 2022 presidential election is just around the bend. Expect all manner of worms and roaches to come out of the woodwork. Remember that we have the right to speak our minds by constitutional mandate.
But free speech is never free. It will cost us something. Time, a wee bit common sense, and the effort to know the facts: these are free speech’s currency. We seize that freedom by not allowing anyone to convince us otherwise through fear and intimidation.
So, speak up, people! I agree with Neil Gaiman when he said that our right to mock is sacrosanct. See, there are better uses for the tongue than to lick someone’s… (buzz!)