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Why political characters thrive in fiction writing

Politicians, their egos often out of control, offer excellent models for fictional characters
Politicians, their egos often out of control, offer excellent models for fictional characters
Time Magazine

We all are growing tired of the cynicism that pervades politics, both left and right. It always has, really, but the old pros used to keep it quiet so we of the unsuspecting public could continue to believe everything is being done in our interest rather than to serve the party or individual politicians’ egos.

For the writer, and I am one of those, political figures offer terrific character and plot devices for works of fiction.

Take New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal (as though it actually rises to the level of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal – NOT), as a case in point.

Perusing the many emails surrounding the alleged deliberate jamming of the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River as political retaliation against a Democratic Fort Lee, NJ, mayor who refused to endorse the Republican Christie, I stumbled across this exchange between Port Authority official David Wildstein, a boyhood pal of Christie’s, and Bridget Kelly, the corpulent governor’s deputy chief of staff, who is out of a job over the incident.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly emails to Wildstein, who responds, ”I feel badly about the kids.” Those would have been the school kids unable to get to school because they were stranded in school buses on the jammed up bridge.

Kelly did not seem to care when she glibly responds, “They are the children of Buono voters.” That would be State Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat who had the temerity to challenge Gov. Christie in his re-election bid last November. Then Kelly writes, “Bottom line is he didn’t say safely,” an apparent reference to efforts to get the kids to school.

Did you know, by the way, that the “E” in Email stands for Evidence? Kelly, I am sure, has already lawyered up.

We pay for their campaigns and elections, one way or another. We pay their salaries and their benefits, support their families, put up with their indiscretions. We cast votes for them at the ballot box.

And this is what they do to us. They turn on us like the rabid dog did in “Old Yeller.”

No matter how many people Christie fires, the buck stops at his desk.

I used to hold politicians in high regard. I am from Illinois, currently a cesspool of political misdeeds, and have lost track of how many former Illinois governors have been consigned to making little stones from big stones with sledge hammers under the guidance of the state’s Department of Corrections because of one transgression or another.

But I still recall politicians like Ev Dirksen or Chuck Percy. They had a bit of integrity. Even their staffers did. There were Dems from elsewhere in the country you could admire. Frank Church. Tip O’Neill. Harry Truman. Sure, they played politics, and played it hard. There may be a few left, but there was something different with those folks from the “old days” compared to the politicians of today.

That is why I enjoy writing about them in fiction. Politicians and their often flawed egos will always provide solid fodder for the writer.

Should they be banned from the community? Drawn and quartered?

No way.

Unfortunately, we need them. Our system of government is designed for what are referred to “energetic” political actors. These are people whose egos are strong enough to run for office and attempt to govern this unwieldy, but the very best, form of government that we use.

Still, I just wish someone in the medical world could invent a procedure for an integrity implant, followed by an empathy implant.

In the meantime, we writers will continue to have our way with them as we put one word down after another to create our stories.


Some of Richard J. Schneider’s mystery novels, set in Colorado, feature snarky politicians. His latest book is WATER: A Vic Bengston Investigation.

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