I brake for politicians.
I have that thought today because of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's announcement that she is resigning. I have no idea if she is, as NPR's Politics blog so nicely headlines it, "Retreating Or Reloading" and guess from the outside that perhaps she doesn't know yet, either.
But then, I brake for politicians. I've known enough of them — Chicago city aldermen, who are considered at the low end of the food chain, if not human evolution — as much as any national names you might recognize. As a group, I like them.
Politicians are human. If you prick them, they will bleed. If you pet them, they'll lick your hand. They're filled with anxieties, contradictions and duplicities, but I wonder what groups, including journalists, salespeople, hammer dulcimer makers or Franciscan priests, are not.
A friend who is a politician told me that he once complained to an aide, "Why are there so many phonies in this business?" She said, "My brother sells shoes in Manhasset. He says the same thing about his shoe store."
I suppose I've been fooled many times by politicians. But many times, being cynical about them fooled me just as badly.
Years ago, Vice President Al Gore canceled an appearance with us. His office said he had "family business." We speculated, with much authority, that Mr. Gore was reluctant to take questions that would call on him to defend President Clinton when there were so many allegations about the president's extramarital conduct.
The next week, Vice President Gore's father, Sen. Albert Gore, died; his son had gone home to be with him, and had wanted to keep his visit private.
One weekend in 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell canceled a Mideast trip for what his office described as "personal reasons." We speculated that he had lost some squabble with White House neocons, and might soon resign.
Days later, Secretary Powell had cancer surgery — which didn't stop us from speculating the next weekend, with unhumbled authority, that Mr. Powell would soon cite his health to resign from office.
He announced his resignation a year later.
It's very hard for most of us to appreciate the pressures under which politicians live.
Every word they utter can be quoted. Smart people know they can advance their careers by bringing them down. Their lives get X-rayed like diseased spleens, making beauty marks into warts. Their families become fair game. If most of us make a lame joke, people groan. If politicians do it, or don't know the name of the leader of Andorra — Jaume Bartumeu; we looked it up — they're portrayed as idiots.
I can understand if sometimes, one of them just wants to get off the merry-go-round for a while.