Fearless Reason

Fearless reason in an age of frightened absurdity.

Tag: politics

Dually Damned

Every election cycle our respective political parties wage holy war on one another, and do their very best to convince the electorate that the other party’s victory would be a calamity of doom’s day proportions. This dualistic version of the two party system has caused our political discourse to devolve into the broadest and most fundamental ideological propositions possible, with each party painting the choices as an all or nothing proposition.

As the race for the White House heats up, the political discourse is entering the familiar contour of a basic choice between justice or liberty. The just, it is said, will vote Democratic, while the free will vote Republican. Therefore, depending on your perspective, a vote for one or the other will lead to tyranny and/or injustice.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this false and dualistic picture of American politics is that the candidates and parties both seem to encourage this farce. Every election is portrayed as a mortal struggle of good versus evil, and each time, the parties and candidates ask us to chose or forever be damned, between right and wrong, and freedom or justice.

There was a time in our political history, when the welfare of our country and people was the paramount concern of politicians and parties alike. Politics still had the element of duality seen today, but there seemed to be an understanding that once the election was over, the farce would be put aside, and everyone would undertake the nuanced task of governing. While elections may be portrayed as referendums on good versus evil, governing is compromise, nuance and consensus building. Our leaders seem to have forgotten the most fundamental rule observed by conmen and hucksters alike – and that is, never believe your own lie.

Political duality is no longer just the rhetoric of the politician trying to mobilize his base, it is the political reality of our dysfunctional and gridlocked political system. Regardless of who takes the White House, don’t expect anything to change. Obama and Romney have each defined themselves and this race in terms of duality – of good versus evil, and wrong versus right. Yet what few seem to acknowledge is that what may be virtue to one man is vice to another, and that calamity of voices and opinions is expressed in the body of our congress and senate. One party will never capture all three branches of power, nor should they. This dream of total control, which has become the obsession of both parties, has no place in this Republic.

We are a nation of different interests, opinions and values – each with a voice in deciding how we should be governed. We are a nation of many, all with different values and idiosyncrasies that cannot be expressed in a black and white picture. Our choices are limited, but we as a people are not. The electorate must reject the childish and false dichotomy in which our political choices have been painted, and instead, demand nuance, variety and compromise.

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union, must remember that we are both a just and free nation.

The State of Things

What kind of America do you prefer, one of diversity or homogeneity?  Though debates over the proper relationship between states and the federal government are a staple of American politics, substantive discourse is often lacking. The opposing positions of the two parties are clear, but only as slogans and soundbites. Republicans deride big government as being invasive and inefficient, while Democrats cast the argument in terms of universal principals and rights that all are entitled to. What goes unnoticed is that these two things are not mutually exclusive.

For me, the strongest argument for states’ rights is the idea that state governments are a marketplace for ideas. When states are allowed to make their own decisions, we have an opportunity to see how that decision plays out in practice, and whether it is a good or bad idea. If a way of dealing with a problem is particularly effective, it will be adopted by other states and may eventually achieve universal acceptance. Though people may never universally agree, at least the other ideas will have had the opportunity to fail.

Another neglected merit of state autonomy is that a defeated minority can vote with their feet. If an individual finds a state’s laws oppressive or incongruous with their values, they can move to a state that better reflects those views. Under a system where most decisions are made at the federal level, short of ex expatriation, there is no escape from an oppressive or incompetent government.

For too long the Federal government has tried to be everything to everyone. As the guarantor of national morality and steward of the national economy and personal well being of every man woman and child, the Federal government is intimately involved with every aspect of our daily lives. The federal system we currently have puts our collective fates in the hands of a small number of people. Now gridlocked, their failure to solve the nation’s problems will be everyone’s failure.

There is something to be said for the survivability of diversity. Where power and decision making is spread out, the bad decisions of a handful of people are less likely to have catastrophic consequences for everyone. Moreover, when power is dispersed, a minority is less likely to capture the government and force everyone to accept their values.

I’m not proposing abolition of the federal system. There are many things that only the Federal government can do. However, most things can and should be left to the states. The Tenth Amendment envisions a limited Federal government. It is only through strained interpretations of the commerce and spending clauses that the Federal government has gained almost plenary authority. The result being political disengagement by the American people, a bankrupt nation, and a political system that has ceased to function.