In Sugarland, Texas-the town in which political commentator Paul Begala grew up-there was a chicken that played the piano at the county fair each year.
The chicken would hit a key on the piano and be rewarded with a corn pellet. Her behavior was just like that of a politician, Begala told an audience during the Feb. 27 University Lecture at the Chapel.
“She didn’t know Mozart from cow dung, but every time she hit the keys she got a corn pellet,” he said. “So she hit another key to get another pellet.
“Politicians are just like the chicken, only more so,” he added. “They just do whatever we reward. They just want that corn pellet-which is your vote.”
Begala presented his chicken-politician theory during a lecture titled “Politics: Too Important to be Left to the Politicians.” During a talk peppered with impersonations of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, Begala argued that Washington, D.C., is extremely paralyzed and more compromise is needed.
“We have got to find ways to rehabilitate and celebrate the word compromise,” he said. “Obviously there’s a place we have to take a stand, but I think there are places we can give and take. It cannot be that every opinion is based on a deep-rooted principle and we shut down the government.”
Begala, a Democrat who served in Clinton’s administration as counselor to the president, said that Washington, D.C., has done very little lately. The paralysis needs to stop, he argued.
“Even at the height of the Vietnam War, America was moving forward with things,” Begala said.
One of the problems on the Democratic side that is furthering the polarization, Begala said, is that President Barack Obama made lofty promises about working together to move the country down a better path.
“Part of this is our president campaigned saying he’d fix it,” he said. “He set expectations a little too high, and in life, expectations drive everything.”
Begala said Republicans are facing a crisis on how to address a rapid voter demographic change. He cited statistics of a 7 percent decrease in white voters in the U.S. from 1932 to 1992. Since 1992, that decrease has grown by another 16 percent in a much shorter period.
“That’s more than twice the change in one-third the time,” Begala said. “We’re exponentially more diverse than we’ve ever been. (The Republicans) are watching this demographic change, but they can’t seem to get out in front of it.”
Begala added that Democrats faced a similar internal struggle in the 1980s, which resulted in the party deciding to modernize and become more moderate.
“(The Republicans) are going to adapt,” he said. “They don’t have to be liberal, they just have to be a lot more modern and moderate.”
Another issue that is furthering the paralysis in the nation’s capital, according to Begala, is the biases in media.
“We use the media like a drunk uses a lamppost-for support rather than illumination,” he said.
Begala, who admitted to watching Fox News daily and reading conservative blogs, said Americans need to seek out media with opinions that vary from their own.
During a question-and-answer session after the lecture, Begala said he thinks Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and brother of Bush, will be the Democrats’ greatest threat during the upcoming presidential election.
He also said the best way to fix the paralysis in Washington, D.C., is to reward politicians who compromise.