American Politics (11/19/07)
Posted Nov 18, 2007
Last Updated Apr 12, 2008
An American Political Perspective
In our federal government, at present, there are two basic kinds of political action. One is government action—executive, legislative —by elected officials and their agents hired and appointed. The other is action by people outside of government, action to directly influence those officials or the public at large.
"Okay," you say, "so what's your point?."
We're experiencing a presidential campaign featuring debates between candidates for the parties' nominations: Democrats vs Democrats, Republicans vs Republicans. In the process they're giving the broad public food for thought —not only that part of the public that watches the debates live, but at second and further removes via TV, the press, blogs etc. All of which is how it should be.
"Okay," you repeat, "so what's your point?" What does this tell us about elections and campaigning and politics in the early 21st century? Actually that's why I'm writing this: to sort it out for myself. And if I post it, that'll mean I've come up with something I consider worth your looking at.
To some extent the presidential candidates are trying to "educate" us — to their point of view. But their basic effort, certainly in most cases, is to get elected, so they can undertake, as president, to do what they think is best. Best, perhaps, for their financial future, or possibly for power or prestige or self-esteem, but hopefully for their country's future as well, and for the rest of the world. I doubt that any of them, in either party, is blind enough, or stupid enough, to think the USA can thrive in a world that is crashing and burning, or sinking into despair. So I'll assume their core reason is the benefit of country and the rest of the world.
At any rate, what the candidates say, educational or not, is spun to get votes and donations. Of course, what they'll do if elected may be quite different from what they say on the stump. Consider Bush-2's first campaign, in which he ran on a promise to bring people together, working for bipartisan solutions. I was skeptical but hopeful. As it rather quickly turned out, bipartisan solutions had little part in the president's plan. The most we could hope for then was that his policies would turn out well, or at least without catastrophe. To many of us, that he seems to have blown it is more a disappointment than a surprise.
I suspect we needed B-2 as our president, needed the experience, costly though it's been. He was elected, and election "irregularities" or not, enough of us voted for him that he became president. There have always been voting irregularities, often unintended; that's unavoidable. And if there were no "irregularities," there is still the Electoral College, which has foiled the voters before. So, change the system or live with it.
I also suspect the problem's been due as much to the American public as to our government. Politically we tend to get what we've earned, the bad as well as the good.
Meanwhile, what have we learned in the last seven years? About our government, our politicians, Americans, the world? And about solutions? Or actually what have I learned? What you learned may be different.
Like the rest of us, politicians can be honestly mistaken. And of course most people can lie (though not you or me of course). And there are lies and there are lies. Some lies can be rationalized as being in a good cause. ("You look gorgeous tonight, my dear.") "Rationalized" being the key word. And there are truths coupled with things not mentioned. Politicians are good at that, as are many others. (Would you believe most of us?) That's common in human relations. People who feel compelled to tell the whole truth cause needless grief, pain, even calamity—though sometimes to keep silent does the same. Whether to tell or keep silent is best guided by the foreseeable results.
Politicians get a lot of practice. The key process is evaluating those foreseeable results, the good with the not so good. Sometimes instantly, intuitively, with an internal calculus relying heavily on—Principles! That's the word. Some politicians use "principles" in lieu of thinking. Commonly citing the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, or Marx. Or Darwin, or Saint Augustine, or the current scientific consensus (where there is one). Often with genuine sincerity. But principles are also widely used as a fudge factor. (About which, more in a later post.)
Principles can be sound, with broad application or narrow. But they tend toward "one size fits all." And some principles are foolish: "never step on a crack in the sidewalk" principles. To work in politics, your principles need to make sense to enough voters. To work for the nation, at least in the long run, principles need to reflect objective reality as well as the possible; being written in holy scripture is not sufficient by itself.
Really, that's what democracy is about: it is based on —what else? A principle! The principle that an informed electorate can judge what principles are most in tune with reality. While, in the face of continuing change, allowing minorities to think / speak / write / sing / live "outside the box," if they wish. Because most of the adjustments to those continuing changes grow from outside the box. (More about that later, too.)
And now, at last, my point! If you're a potential voter (more about that later), be careful about what claims and arguments you believe. Sincerity, actual or apparent, is not enough. Osama bin Laden is almost certainly sincere, but are his principles and recommendations valid? Sane? George Walker Bush seems sincere, but how good is his judgment? (Something else to expand on later.)
If you're ever a political candidate, be as honest as you dare. Please. Because you just might get elected, and the responsibilities you'll shoulder then won't care how sincere you are. What matters then is how good your judgment is, measured by results.