"Pointless Policy Punditry"
Published 15 February 2004
(word count: 750)
Since nobody has ever asked me why I don't write spellbinding analytical commentary on policy issues I'll be happy to answer. It's pointless. Oh, there was a time, when I was facile and feckless, that I thought policy matters were a Really Big Deal. Expanding political perceptions meant one was growing up and becoming a Mature Adult. So I watched presidential speeches and state of the union addresses and political debates and nominating conventions and election eve returns and public affairs TV shows that featured haggling heads like Bleat the Press and Deface the Nation and Pointless-Counterpointless and felt very cool.
But it's a slight-of-mouth game. Words are the shells and the pea is a promise. Politics is the practice of manipulating people. Candidates are masters of the con and you'll never find the pea. Just playing the game with them marks you as a mark. What difference does it make what policy politicians espouse when they'll do what they have to do to preserve their power anyway? Words are meant to win your vote. Actions are meant to massage the money mongers. The two seldom coincide.
What matter if Republicans oppose socialized medicine? They'll still give us Hillarycare piecemeal – for the votes. Who cares if Democrats champion civil rights? They'll still keep giving us politically correct group entitlements – for the votes. Both parties have the same ideology: grab the baseball bat of coercive government and drive their own agenda down the gullible gullets of everyone else. Policy issues are window dressing for voters: do you want a lefty or a rightie at the plate? That's the only choice we're offered.
Creeping libertarianism began ingraining my brain one day while crouched on my couch watching one of those conservative versus liberal flapping lip-off programs. Raise taxes five percent or five point two percent, they shouted at each other. "Neither!" I shouted back. Send one regiment or two into the country that doesn't threaten to attack us, they argued. "Neither!" I argued back. Violate the First or the Fourth Amendment, they bickered. "Neither!" I bickered back. But those where the only kinds of choices being debated.
A friend recently joined the Republican Party "because I'm a conservative." I pointed out that the ideologies of Left and Right are the same, only the details are different. He couldn't grasp the concept. He believes that the details are the ideology. Conservative yak show hosts make the same claim. It's crucial to re-elect the president, they obsess, because the nation's future hangs in the balance. Well, no, it doesn't. Left or Right, the government will keep growing, taxes will keep growing, the deficit will keep growing, our rights will keep shrinking, and all the same politicians will keep lining up at the same pork barrel. The only difference will be a leftie or a rightie at the plate.
I can understand political junkies, even the libertarian kind, if they peer at politics like a spectator sport. Just as partisan football fans agonize over every dropped pass and first down measurement, so election watchers are fixated on every debate point won or lost and every political poll percentage point rise or fall. It can be fun to keep score. But I don't, because I know that without me even watching somebody will still win the Super Bowl and somebody will still win the Presidency.
As long as the ideology remains the same – Resolved: it's legitimate for government to intimidate and use physical force against its own citizens – it simply doesn't matter who occupies the White House or Congress or the judge's bench.
The recently concluded redistricting fight in Texas was no different than drug gangs fighting over street corners, except that gangs do it with their own money while politicians do it with our money. Congressional districts long ago carved up to guarantee Democratic wins have now been gerrymandered to guarantee Republican wins. Same ideology, different gang in power.
The difference between policy and ideology is simple. Should the government punch you in the left eye or the right eye? That's a policy question, because the assumption has already been made that government has the right to punch you – it's only a question of which eye gets the fist. But as soon as you ask whether the government should have the right to punch you at all, that's when you've asked an ideological question.
So, aside from the sport of sideline heckling, I won't be doing any policy punditry. It's ideology, not policy, that matters.
- by Garry Reed