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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “Dirty job”

In my column for the October 24th, 2007, edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I was inspired by Mike Rowe to write about an especially dirty job. You can read my column beneath the fold.

Dirty job

My family’s favorite television show these days is “Dirty Jobs.” This Discovery Channel program stars Mike Rowe, who travels the country in search of real-world jobs that are, shall we say, unpleasant.

Workers get well and truly dirty. And in each episode Rowe performs one or two of these jobs — getting dirty himself so that viewers at home can learn vividly about many of the dirty jobs that (as the show’s motto proclaims) “make civilized life possible.”

Rowe has climbed into a pit of baby alligators on a Louisiana alligator farm, helped to hot-tar a roof, collected garbage in Chinatown, swept chimneys, inseminated racehorses, worked as an oilfield roughneck and done nearly a hundred other very dirty jobs.

At the end of each episode, Rowe asks viewers to send him suggestions of other dirty jobs that he might be able to do and film for future episodes.

I have a suggestion. It’s the filthiest, grimiest, most unpleasant job that any human being can ever suffer to perform: run for political office. So, to Mike Rowe I offer the following:

To begin with, as a candidate you must eat endless lunches and dinners of nothing but rubber chicken. And while doing so you typically are seated beside people whose only interest in you is their desire to cozy up to someone who either already has, or might soon acquire, impressive political power.

Because political power in modern America means the power to take money from A and give it to B, bevies of wannabe Bs swarm to get a piece of you. It must be suffocating and morally disorienting constantly to be hounded by people begging you to assist them in their efforts to take what doesn’t belong to them.

Worse, to keep or win office, you must actually engage in such dirty behavior (or promise to do so once elected). You must determine which innocent people are the easiest marks for your grabbing hand — which people are least likely to be aware that you’re picking their pockets — and then grab fistfuls of their wealth, all the while assuring them that you’re their boon companion and great protector.

But as in all “Dirty Jobs” episodes, you’ll have help. Experienced politicians will sagely advise you of which groups of citizens squeal the least when taxed. Indeed, these old pols will likely let you in on the occupational secret that the most quiescent targets for taxation are citizens yet to be born. You can finance your boondoggle programs by borrowing money, which is a tax chiefly on future taxpayers.

Even worse, though, is the demeanor that you’re required to display throughout the entire job. When campaigning you really must kiss lots of babies (especially when photographers are nearby) and pretend to enjoy doing so. You must shake lots of hands, all the while wearing a huge, fake smile and committing to memory the names and faces of those innumerable persons who, confident in your venality, expect you to do their bidding when you’re in office.

You must also give speech after speech, each one a clump of platitudes and half-truths. You assure your audiences of your undying hostility to “wasteful spending,” of your soaring admiration for “working Americans,” and of your steadfast commitment to represent all of your constituents.

You confidently insist that no issue is beyond your comprehension and no problem beyond your ability to solve. You pretend to be simultaneously a master of foreign policy, military strategy, economics, law, political horse-trading and even environmental science. If elected, you will publicly swear to uphold the Constitution and then immediately proceed to violate it in ways too numerous to count.

In short, in this job you must soil your honor and sell your soul by behaving foolishly and by saying things that you know to be false. Without question it is the dirtiest and most repellent job that anyone with a conscience can possibly try his or her hand at.

H.L. Mencken saw clearly the nature of this dirty job. About the politician, Baltimore’s Bard wrote:

He is willing to embrace any issue, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him. I do not describe the democratic politician at his inordinate worst; I describe him as he is encountered in the full sunshine of normalcy.

To Mike Rowe I say: If you want really to get dirty, to soil yourself so deeply that soap will never wash away the grime, run successfully for political office.

That’s the ultimate dirty job.


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