I never realized how much politicians and cats have in common until I saw one standing sideways the other day with his hair on end.
A cat, I mean. Politicians hardly ever stand around with their hair on end unless they have just seen a poll that shows them running second in popularity behind Saddam Hussein.
But cats spend a lot of their time standing sideways with their hair on end. Cats have a built-in blow dryer. They just flip some internal switch and it's instant punk hair-do.
Cats don't do that because they want to look like a teen-ager. They don't do it because they want to be fashionable. When a cat is in a cat fight he blow dries his hair from the inside because he wants to appear larger than he is.
Balding guys like me do something similar. We take the few hairs we have, let them grow out to 20 or 30 feet, pile them on our heads, inflate the pile with a blow dryer and lacquer it into place, creating the impression we are even taller and handsomer than we are in real life.
Politicians, like cats, also try to look larger than they are or smaller. Cats and politicians spend most of their lives trying to look larger or trying to look smaller. They hardly ever give you an honest, accurate impression.
For instance, when you see two cats posturing fearfully toward each other, as I did in my own home the other day for a few horrifying moments, they stand sideways with their hair on end, trying to appear as huge as possible.
But when a cat is creeping up on a mouse, it comes toward the mouse head-on, slithering on its belly, its chin dragging the ground, presenting as small a silhouette as possible, trying to look like a lump in the ground rather than like a killer hunting for a meal.
In short, a cat can look half its size when attacking and twice its size when bluffing. Hence a cat looks four times as large on defense as on offense.
The same is true of politicians. The more trouble they are in, the louder they yowl and the larger and more terrifying they try to appear.
It is when a politician is most seriously on the defense that he is most likely to call a press conference or issue a windy press release. It is when he feels most vulnerable that he will become most aggressive, denouncing the charge as a concoction of those perverts in the press who have always been out to get him.
In other words, he stands sideways on television with his hair on end, looking tough and righteous and trying to appear huge to those who would do him in.
If a politician is accused of voting against an appropriation for better schools, that is such a routine and minor slander in politics that he doesn't even take the trouble to respond.
But charge him with a felony and he will call a press conference, puff up and stand there sideways to the world telling you that the FBI has videotaped him with a savings and loan president stuffing money in his pockets because he has always been such a tough critic of the president.
But when a politician is sneaking up on the voters, you hardly see him. He tells you during the election that he would never vote against an appropriation to feed starving orphans. And later, when he he votes against the orphans, he calls no press conference. He issues no press release. In politics, it's called "presenting a low profile." In cat life, it's called the same thing.
The senator creeps forward on his belly, every fiber of his fur sucked inside his body, looking like a little lump in the ground. Most of the time, when he's voting his true feelings, you would never know he was there.
But threaten him with the huge bulldog of re-election and he puffs up again. His hair stands on end and he turns sideways to the cameras, hissing at opponents and reporters. The small cat who attacked orphans on his belly is suddenly huge and terrifying.
And bluffing. The bigger they appear, the more hot air they contain.
In our fashion, we all have an internal blow dryer.
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