by Jack Campitelli | March 9th, 2011
A light look at Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, and Tea Party origins and historic platforms and why it is so difficult for a well-reasoned “middle” or method of decision to emerge: because it is very difficult to get real data and because we are trained to have knee-jerk reactions to the sound bites that make up political discourse today.
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. – Benjamin Franklin
I’ll declare my conclusion up front. The reason there is precious little “middle” in debate is that “middle ground” is always muddled and complex. It is a realm of no easy answers and few catch phrases crafted to fit sound bites. The middle requires thought and patience from each voter. But we’re largely an electorate of knee-jerk reactions. Thanks to a largely failed educational system, folks can actually graduate college who can’t think. In fact, given the federal funding of many educating institutions, it may be a requirement. In the U.S. every issue should be measure not with need and greed but with the Constitution which we should all know by heart.
Not only was the Constitution written by our Founders, it is arguably one of the most well reasoned document of governance ever written. We haven’t had too many minds as great as the ones that framed our Constitution and few elected to office.
And the center is always the confluence of two or more streams coming together. It is choppy waters. It’s difficult navigation. If you fish, you know what I’m talking about. Therefore, unless you can get your “argument” down to a simple phrase, you can’t win anything.
In the U.S. the common words for describing the “sides” of political debate are “liberal,” “conservative,” or occasionally “libertarian.” “Independent” carries no real meaning since it is an ad hoc definition for each person calling who calls themselves “independent” but usually means non-affiliation with either conservatives or liberals.
For many years, “conservatives” were synonymous with the Republican Party and “liberals” with the Democrat Party. The Libertarian Party which pitches minimalist government, minimalist government intrusion into our lives, minimal taxation and maximum freedom to pursue avenues of production and “wealth” has never got a foothold in the election process.
The president of Georgia (the country, not the state), Mikheil Saakashvili ran for election on this idea: We the government will promise to stay out of the way and let you achieve your own goals without the burden of us on your backs. Sounds sort of “Libertarian.” (I think he graduated from Columbia University in New York with a masters of law degree. He was also a successful lawyer in the New York when he was asked to return to Georgia and, as true many of our Founders, gave up the promise of wealth and prestige to return to a small country and become Minister of Justice – which he resigned from after publicly alleging government corruption to the core. He founded his own party and eventually became president.)
Recently a new party has emerged in the U.S. called the Tea Party which espouses minimalist federal government and strict governance under the Constitution. The Tea Party is more closely aligned with traditional Republicans but its very existence, let alone its significant success at the polls, suggests that voters to some extent felt that the separation between Democrat and Republican had narrowed to the point of being insignificant – that is, upon deplaning in Washington, D.C. – all elected politicos took on a very similar mantel of self-servedness that was not representing the interests of their electorate that paid for their plane ticket.
The hopes of a lot of voters are pinned on the integrity and success of the Tea Party. Although they have said the magic words necessary, they are unproven as of now. Whether they hold firm to the Founder’s principals or gradually coalesce with Republicans or Democrats or are revealed to have another agenda heretofore undisclosed is not known.
Republicans and Democrats have developed over the years their own rhetoric and their own myth that is passed down through generations of supporters. For example, Republicans are said to “stand” for balanced budgets and few social programs and occasionally war to save the republic. Democrats “stand” for rights of the people and social programs to make all manner of ills better through a centrally (federally) managed distribution of money and control.
None of the rhetoric or myth is real or universally true. We are dealing, remember, with politicians which by definition like to retain power and position, irrespective of true values. In other words, they become “realists” and join the giant “grab bag” of money that the taxing authority collects and sends to Washington, D.C. for redistribution. Getting as much of that money for their constituents becomes a be-and-end all of their value in Congress.
In reality, Democrats have, in one form or another, been “progressive socialists” – they get elected by promising to use the power of government to make things better for “the people.” They do this by taking, via regulations and taxation, from one part of society and re-distributing it to another group that “needs” it. Since life if full of inequality, there is no end to the groups and causes that need this money or “programs” whose members are quite willing to trade their vote for a chance at the government lottery. The challenge for politicians seeking office using this formula is to make sure the group knows who they are (or even create the group if they have to) and make sure the group knows their lives will be better if they vote the “Democrat ticket.”
Little discussed by Democrats while campaigning are how all these programs are to be funded and administered. Of course, a little thought would suggest that nothing’s free and someone has to pay for the redistribution of wealth and, amazingly, that group is often “rich” people – loosely defined as someone who has more than you do. And, since balanced budgets are not a requirement and since the government can just print money out of nothing but ink and air, between soaking the “rich” and printing fake money, they can usually get the job done. Also, these social programs all need “administration” and that “creates jobs” and so it’s really a “win-win,” wink-wink. The fact that it is and always has been a formula for fiscal and social disaster in the long run is something that today’s politician needs little to address. All operate under the theory that it won’t all come unglued “on my watch.” And, since this works year after year, until the time when it doesn’t, politicians have little to fret about.
When the people find that they can vote themselves money,
that will herald the end of the republic. – Benjamin Franklin
Republicans have had a changing face over the years. They perceive that they have a referendum as a defender of the republic and thus oftentimes their time in power coincides with war, although WW II was presided over by the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. Republicans used to stand for fiscal responsibility, limited federal government, and a strict Constitutional approach to governance. But in recent times they learned some tricks from the Democrats and understood that unbalanced budgets for “defending the republic” (war/terrorism) was an easy sell and could keep them in power for a long time – at least until the budget deficit got real bad or the war(s) too unpopular – meaning high body counts. These “wars” could be anything from the “Cold War” to the “War on Drugs” to, recently, the “War on Terrorism” and Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, “Fear Sells.” Just like Democrats who may need to coalesce an injured “group or class” that the republic has left behind, the Republicans just need to sell “fear” to justify various “wars.” Republicans have also been the darlings of “fundamentalist” religious groups who realize that they can implement their personal moral code into law and, by agreeing to help, Republicans pick up votes.
Here’s an example – so-called “pornography”. There have been billions spent on ridding us of pornography. There have been many blue-ribbon committees hired and financed by the federal government to report on the damage pornography does. Committees have all reported unanimously that there is no damage from viewing pornography — and so their findings were promptly discredited and the committees disbanded. It also became obvious that one person’s art was another’s porn with the Supreme Courts famous ruling on pornography “You know it when see it.”
So Republicans expanded their charter from being rather strict Constitutionalists and became the champion of one group’s or another’s moral values. And when the Constitution got in the way of moral values, the moral values won and the Constitution lost. They weren’t universal moral values. They represented the beliefs of an “injured” religious faction. While it may be unconstitutional to mandate religion, we soon learned that is was not unconstitutional to mandate the behaviors based on beliefs mandated by certain religions.
But here’s the beauty of running for political office on the promise of “ridding our country of pornography” and other filth: no one can run against you. Think about it. You can know that the person running on that platform is an idiot and embarrassment. But can you run on a pro-pornography ticket to de-elect him? I think not. So, by default, Republicans with agendas that supersede the Constitution are elected time and again and have thoroughly re-aligned the intent of the Constitution — unconstitutionally.
Want another hot topic? Abortion. That eventually boiled down to two simple catch phrases: Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. I’ll declare my bias upfront. I don’t like the idea of abortion as a form of birth control. But I am not God. The truth is that most women abort many fetuses, without even knowing, on their journey to become pregnant. I’m not talking miscarriages. I’m talking invisible to the naked eye cellular clusters that “just don’t make it” but which meet the anti-abortionists test for human life. No extraordinary measures are proposed, thank God, to save all these naturally aborted very early-stage fetuses. Therefore, the anti-abortionists premise has to be that it’s ok for God to play abortionist but not for man to play God. If God naturally aborts thousands of times more fetuses than man purposely does, it sort of makes one think that it’s a pretty hard call as to when a child is a child. For thousands of years, it was when a child was born and lived. Now we have electron microscopes that still can’t see a soul or consciousness but we seemingly now know that a “child” (not a pre-birth fetus) is made the instant of conception. And the same electronic detection devices can tell if a fetus is abnormal. Most but not all are naturally aborted on the woman’s next cycle, but is an abnormal fetus a “child”? These are very tough questions. After we leave the certain shores that a child is a child when it is born, then all is up for grabs. There is no rational stopping place in the discussion.
The fact is, we don’t know and will never know, the God-truth about when a human is a human. Maybe it has something to do with consciousness. But we have laws. Some anti-abortionists will actually kill other humans and become terrorists over this issue. They pledge to do God’s work. Abortion is a mostly terrible experience for all involved. But the instances of abortion could be dramatically lowered if the same religions that preach against abortion could be actively pro-birth control. But to do that they’d have to abandon the sermons about abstinence as the only form of birth control until marriage – and even after marriage if your Catholic. Now, while I don’t have any easy answers about abortion, it is insane for religions to take a position of abstinence for teens and adults, therefore avoiding the need to indoctrinate the congregation about the need for birth control — and then, with righteous indignation, become anti-abortionists.
So now you’re a politician pitching your candidacy to this anti-abortion segment of the population. You’ve got to go on record about your feelings on the subject. And the one thing I can guarantee is that no politician can outline the question and dilemma as I have in the last three paragraphs and get elected to anything. So don’t just look at politicians as the persons who have “sold out.” When we elect representatives based on “hot buttons” that have not been rationally framed, then all the politician has to do is give the right answer to the hot question and they get elected.
In other words, we the electorate are responsible for the mess. By refusing to put the effort in to deep thinking on matters, we force candidates to pander to our prejudices–whether those beliefs are religion-based or just plan ignorance.
How does even a thinking person find facts to think about? Well, you’d think, usually from the news. But mass media news is not and never has been about truth. It is about selling magazines, newspapers or airtime. Therefore, a media provider has to pander to its audience to survive. Watching TV news is like reading the transcript of a trial. The TV news readers try to provide fair and balanced reporting by getting sound bites from “both sides” of an issue. But there are subtle comments, eyebrow raising, vocalizations that can “choose” a side for the listener who is simpatico with the reporter (just like when you read a trial transcript, you cannot hear the sarcasm and innuendo that was really there at trial.) Each “side” has seconds to get their message out. There is little thoughtful debate. If viewers have a pre-formed opinion, it is not likely changed by “the news.”
The more thoughtful experience you have with life, the more likely you can sense which speaker is feeding you baloney and which one is telling the truth. But if you’ve too little experience or training in rigorous logic or have a rigid belief system, the more likely you’ll have a knee-jerk reaction to one side or the other. Just like you are suppose to.
But the truth, which is likely more in the center than the extremes, is hard to come by. It cannot be spoon-fed. Each voter has to grapple with it or you must choose one of the extremes that make the news. And candidates who have a middle position have a very hard time running because you just can’t use the same gut-wrenching language used by the extremes to incite voters to vote their way. You just can’t sell rational. It’s got no sex appeal and it’s hard.
There, perhaps, should be a “rule,” that if you don’t know the ultimate truth about a subject, that you vote “no” — that you vote to leave good enough alone. We’ve got to stop trying to fix things that aren’t really broke. Yet when we send men and women into politics, it is implied that they must DO something. And, perhaps, that’s where it all starts to go bad. Perhaps, we can send our representatives to listen and to politely say, “that’s sad” and then vote to do nothing. But the legislator’s next opponent will run on a platform on “He did nothing! He didn’t try to save the children. We must rid ourselves of this blight and elect someone who will pander to us.”
All manner of inequality and injury is, today, expected to be righted by government, especially the federal government; we seem to have lost the sense of community and responsibility. The same Christians who are vehement anti-abortionists are according to their religions directly responsible for their brothers and sisters. Not government. If there is inequality, we right it one person at a time as God sends them into our lives. But it’s easier to send them to some government supported agency to take care of — the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan long forgotten.
Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. – Benjamin Franklin