2009.08.06: Writers like Kinky Friedman who enter politics have an inauspicious history, with almost no exceptions

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malaysia: Special Report: Author, Humorist and Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Kinky Friedman (Malaysia) : 2009.08.06: Writers like Kinky Friedman who enter politics have an inauspicious history, with almost no exceptions

By Admin1 (admin) (98.188.147.225) on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - 9:19 pm: Edit Post

Writers like Kinky Friedman who enter politics have an inauspicious history, with almost no exceptions

Writers like Kinky Friedman who enter politics have an inauspicious history, with almost no exceptions

"In April, Friedman announced that he was planning a second run in 2010, but this time he had decided to throw his lot in with the apparently no longer corrupt Crips (or maybe Bloods) in the hope that a combination of Democrat and independent votes would lead him to victory. Recently, I caught him on late night TV, speechifying to a roomful of nice, white-haired middle-class people about his desire to run on the Crip (or Blood) ticket. Curious, I stayed on the channel. It was the saddest thing I ever saw." Author, Musician, and candidate for Governor of Texas, Kinky Friedman served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia in the 1960's.

Writers like Kinky Friedman who enter politics have an inauspicious history, with almost no exceptions

Kinky Friedman's political journey - the outlaw turns sheriff

Country singer/author Kinky Friedman should take note. Writers who enter politics have an inauspicious history, with almost no exceptions

In 2006, Kinky Friedman, the wise-cracking, cigar-chomping country singer turned author ran for governor of Texas against the impeccably coiffed CEO of the state, Rick Perry. Comparing the traditional Republicans v Democrats Punch and Judy show to a gang war between the equally corrupt Crips and Bloods, Friedman ran as an independent. The campaign was amusing, colourful, provocative – and a failure.

In April, Friedman announced that he was planning a second run in 2010, but this time he had decided to throw his lot in with the apparently no longer corrupt Crips (or maybe Bloods) in the hope that a combination of Democrat and independent votes would lead him to victory. Recently, I caught him on late night TV, speechifying to a roomful of nice, white-haired middle-class people about his desire to run on the Crip (or Blood) ticket. Curious, I stayed on the channel. It was the saddest thing I ever saw.

I exaggerate. But it was depressing to see how achingly on-message or indeed non-message Friedman was. Nothing provocative escaped this former non-conformist's lips. Particularly uncompelling were his thoughts on Obama. "He's inspired people," said Friedman. "If he does nothing else, he's inspired people and that's a good thing." Personally, I think a president needs to be more than Norman Vincent Peale with nukes; inspiration without follow-through leads to greater cynicism than before – see the file marked "Tony Blair". Nevertheless, this was precisely what Friedman's crowd of Wholefoods-shopping old folks wanted to hear. On this showing, I doubted that Friedman would attract the same level of independent support he'd got last time. Why would Texans alienated by the Crip (or Blood) party line suddenly embrace it because it now wears a cowboy hat and spouts funny wisecracks? Besides, in Texas the state legislature meets once every odd numbered year for 140 days only, with the occasional 30-day emergency session. The system is expressly designed so that politicians' powers are severely limited, and as little as possible gets done – and whether you run for governor as a Crip, a Blood or an independent there's not a whole lot you can do about it.

Anyway, this set me thinking about authors and politics and whether too close a connection between the two ends in humiliation and failure. I don't mean when authors write satire, or enjoy a good rant in their books. Nor am I talking about individuals whose primary talent is politics but who also have a facility for writing, such as Winston Churchill or, for that matter, Obama. I'm thinking about people who are primarily authors but then attempt to cross over into the "real world" of politics.

Here, the track record seems to be exceedingly poor, which is no surprise, as being an author requires you to spend most days alone, inside your head, which isn't good for anyone's sense of reality. Consider the case of George Bernard Shaw, who willingly transformed himself into Stalin's lapdog at the height of the Ukrainian famine, or the embarrassing spectacle of Jean Paul Sartre endorsing Mao as he calmly engineered the deaths of some 40 million Chinese – and they are but the tip of a disgraceful list of writers who hymned the praises of the master butchers of the 20th century. However, as Shaw and Sartre and co were not bold enough to participate in the actual slaughter, they appear frivolous and irresponsible – like wizened, monstrous children. But what about when authors become involved in the actual, grimy decision making process – as Friedman hopes to do in Texas? Are the results any better?

Well, Mario Vargas Llosa ran against Alberto Fujimori for the presidency of Peru – but he lost so we'll never know if he would have been any good or wound up in the slammer like old Albert. Radovan Karadzic abandoned poetry for leadership of the Bosnian Serbs – and now he's in the Hague awaiting trial for war crimes.

Then there's Karadzic's friend Eduard Limonov, who traded his status as the Henry Miller of Russian émigré literature for leadership of the radical National Bolshevik party in the 1990s. When the grotesque Yeltsin was in charge, Limonov regularly led his army of spotty teenage punks through Moscow chanting Stalin, Beria, Gulag. However, after two years in jail under Putin, he apparently turned respectable, joining Garry Kasparov as one of the leaders of the opposition Other Russia movement. In fact, what few Russia watchers will tell you is that The Other Russia actually takes its name from Limonov's fantastical manifesto for a new country, in which he advocates polygamy, forcibly removing children from their parents and raising them in a "house of youth", the withdrawal of the right to vote from pensioners, not to mention the worship of sperm and the planet Saturn. With leaders like this, perhaps it's unsurprising that The Other Russia fails to attract widespread popular support.

Oh, and here are two words for you: Jeffrey Archer.

On the more positive side I suppose there's Václav Havel, whose most eccentric decision while president of the Czech Republic was to invite Frank Zappa to act as some kind of ambassador for something or other. But Havel was a figurehead; professional politicians kept the real power out of the playwright's hands. A true exception to the rule may be Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th-century British novelist who was twice prime minister. One Liberal-Labour MP declared in 1879 that under his leadership: "The Conservative Party have done more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals have in 50." From a political enemy that's high praise indeed. But then again, Disraeli probably belongs with Churchill in the category of politician-author and not author-politician.

Author + professional politics = load of old cobblers at best, disaster at worst. So the signs are not good for Friedman – even if you do align yourself with the Crips (or the Bloods).




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Headlines: August, 2009; RPCV Kinky Friedman (Malaysia); Figures; Peace Corps Malaysia; Directory of Malaysia RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Malaysia RPCVs; Writing - Malaysia; Humor; Texas





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PCOL has asked five prominent RPCVs and Staff to write a memo on the most important issues facing the Peace Corps today. Issues raised include the independence of the Peace Corps, political appointments at the agency, revitalizing the five-year rule, lowering the ET rate, empowering volunteers, removing financial barriers to service, increasing the agency's budget, reducing costs, and making the Peace Corps bureaucracy more efficient and responsive. Latest: Greetings from Director Williams

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