Politics in the Grinder

Otto von Bismarck wisely noted that “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see either of them being made”. The obvious extension of that axiom would apply to watching the political process which serves, after all, to provide us with those who make our laws. Over the past days (which have stretched into weeks and months and seemingly years), we have, whether we like it or not, gotten to observe the down and dirty slop which passes for the making of politicians these days in the United States. These TV advertisers and debaters will be those making the laws affecting us, come January. Where is Upton Sinclair when you need him?

With all of this in mind, it occurred to me that as long as we’re being exposed to the grizzly side of the political meat grinder, we might as well work into a discussion of the parallel sausage issue. Sausage is, in a very real sense, quite a bit like politics. In politics, we find that those most qualified are frequently absent. They find themselves in employment which either pays better or allows a degree of privacy not found in the public spot-light. Perhaps the electorate has passed them by, for whatever reason. All too often we find ourselves asking, “Is this the best we have to offer” and voting for the lesser of two less-than-spectacular choices. So too with sausage – after the best cuts are served on their own, we are left generally with the scraps and trimmings and forced to make that into something which is at least palatable. And so the point for this particular missive (since I can’t offer any reasonable suggestions on making the political process palatable) is to at least suggest that since what we end up with from the sausage grinder is tasty and satisfying, perhaps the same will hold true in politics.

In politics, we have two basic types of politicians – republican or democrat (conservative or liberal). There are also essentially two basic forms of sausage, fresh or cured. Cured sausage is dried or smoked and generally in no need of further cooking. It is akin to the conservative politician. Flavors, like policy, locked in and historically wed to the time-honored recipe without need of the intervention by either chef or government. The fresh sausage, on the other hand, is raw, requires intervention of a chef or cook for its preparation, and without further preparation, can cause illness. It is akin to the liberal politician, who looks to the intervention of government for the final result. Depending upon what the chef (sausage) or government (liberal politician) does during that intervention, the end result is subject to significant variances.

 Of course, within each category, be it sausage or politics, there is an infinite number of subsets based upon regional and historical ingredients. The dried and cured hard sausages such as salamis are akin to the far right-wing: hardened in texture and predictable in taste. Other varieties of smoked and cured sausage, like kielbasa, bologna or even hot dogs are akin to the more pragmatic style of the middle-of-the-road conservative. While still predictable, both are somewhat softer with a milder edge and wider appeal. Then, of course, there is the fresh sausage which mimics the characteristics of the political liberal. Fresh sausage offers an almost infinite variety of ingredients in the hopes of piquing the interest of the mass of consumers. Thus, we have the vegetarian sausages and the environmentally friendly natural casing. The great variety of both fresh sausage and liberal causes is calculated to have wide appeal. Fresh sausage, much like the liberal politician, requires active intervention in the process of either cooking or governing, before consumption -- a recipe that will change the flavor of what is presently on the plate into something different. In the case of sausage, it is typically boiling, grilling, frying or adding to a sauce before the sausage is complete and ready for consumption. In similar fashion, the liberal politician requires that the legislator add new bureaucracy to the policy mix before the eventual final product is put on our plate. Cured and hard sausages need no such intervention, beyond simple slicing, in much the same way conservative politician decries any governmental intervention.

While the sausage can show a certain bipartisanship of further preparation and ingredients (think smoked kielbasa and sauerkraut), this bipartisan approach which would be akin to the middle-of-the-road conservative is not at all necessary before the cured sausage can be consumed. It is a finished product unto itself and with only minimal intervention, it can be turned into a complete meal or if dealing with politics, a complete policy.

Bismarck’s analogy, or though limited, the production process of both politics and sausage clearly has wider application. As we draw inexorably to the end of this seemingly endless political season, whether you agree with my analysis of the parallels between our politics and our sausage, I am certain that we can at least come to a bipartisan, across-the-aisle resolution that whether, come January we are slicing through a dried hard salami or grilling a fresh bratwurst, at least once we reach the end of this particular political season, we will be able to concentrate on what’s happening on our plates and forego the indigestion of what’s happening in our politics.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 4, Issue 21, Posted 9:57 AM, 10.03.2008