But Fehrnstrom’s comment is interesting in a broader way. It captures a certain disposition to politics, a certain understanding of public affairs, that goes beyond campaigns. It expresses the view of the political class, in both parties, that governing is politics, that politics is a kind of perpetual campaign, that a campaign is mostly talk, and that talk is both cheap and changeable. The modern American political class tends to have an Etch A Sketch view of political life as a series of rhetorical resets and opportunistic restarts.
There’s some truth to this view. Politics always has something of sophistry about it. But a healthy politics in a serious country—a healthy political class and a healthy citizenry in a great country—has to realize the limits of mere talk, and especially the limits of cheap and changeable talk.
Our politics isn’t entirely healthy. Our political class in particular is more sophistic than ever—believing in the predominance of talk, the centrality of “messaging,” the power of spin, the possibility of a tricky game change. But politics isn’t simply a game. And even to the degree that it is, the political class overestimates its ability to affect the outcome by clever words and tactical maneuvers.