Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress . . . but I repeat myself. —Mark Twain
You may have figured out my politics by now, but there’s more to politics than a personal point of view. There is the nature of the beast itself, which this chapter addresses, as well as my own leanings.
Ideally politics should be the art of governing—a society, a community, or a world—with balance, moderation, and wisdom based on the principles of liberty and fair play.
Unfortunately, given that humans are not perfect, politics is also not perfect. As a result of our human flaws of insecurity, ego, and selfish interest, societies manifest partisan politics.
It is ironic that our liberties are controlled or manifested upon the Machiavellian power plays and the hyperbole of political opponents.
You would believe, based on much of our political parties’ behaviors, that each party operates as a monarchy, as despots, in absolute conflict and with a continuous effort to disable the other party. This is true not all of the time, but too much of the time. Welcome to partisan politics.
Ultimately, however, general compromise or simple voting blocs win the day, and we avoid implosion—such as with a civil war—but we do not necessarily get good government. Certainly in the news you see personal matters impacting a political figure on a regular basis. You can almost be assured someone from the other party is attempting to gain political mileage out of those personal and private family issues. I understand that private lives involve character and have relevance, but balanced respect for decency seems often abandoned within the political arena. This shameful behavior by so-called leaders is given credence by too many.
Partisan politics is an obstruction to good government. I have never registered in a political party because I have never supported us and them labels. Pragmatically, if I ever ran for a political office, I would, by necessity, have to join the two-party majority system and which party I chose would be a momentary decision based on practicalities. I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative. I consider myself down the middle, which encompasses both conservative and liberal attributes depending on the circumstance. I support principles that are linked to a given objective, with exception to partisan politics that logroll and find value in political gamesmanship and shameful underhanded political vendettas.
In general, I find that politicians exemplify partisanship, not statesmanship. Statesmanship acts and thinks both with the people and for the people in a manner that works for the benefit of all. Partisans act in lockstep with their team label of Democrat or Republican, to name two, for example, to advance advantage over their opponent, not to advance leadership or effective legislation, but to advance political gamesmanship to advantage their political party’s base in the end. Statesmanship seizes on understanding, cooperation, and integration. Partisanship seizes on self-interest, meanness, and segregation.
Since our representatives are regionally based politically, they have the proclivity to engage in what US House of Representatives Tip O’Neil captured perfectly: “All politics is local.” In other words, self-interest becomes the order of the day, whether for your region or your political party. This should not be.
The impacts of this reality are corrupting good government.
To avoid this intrinsic failure in the nature of the political process of good government, you need leaders who are not party loyalists, but individuals first and foremost. You need leaders who are centered on uniting, not dividing, which is personified by partisan politics.
As a young man, my friends told me I should be a Democrat. The older I became, the more often they told me I should be a Republican. I have a real disdain for labels and political-party parlor politics that cause separation, not cooperation. My agenda or politic is not based on party but on policy, as I think many people tend to agree with, whether registered to a political party or not.
The country in which I live, America, has a tradition that changed the last couple of centuries on this planet. It offered liberty and freedom to people fleeing various tyrannies, both economic and social. America’s foundational ideal is my politic. The current two-party political system is simply the structure that attempts to execute America’s founding ideals. Those structures have become organized self-serving entities unto themselves, whose sometimes first allegiance is to their own party’s survival, not to America’s. Simply stated, the party is more important than the country when partisan politics is in play.
Perhaps the two-party system is the best we can devise to run a democracy or republic, but it is a system of snares and pitfalls that requires honest review and statesmanship to run it well.
Certainly as you review history, the wax and wane of policies between the two parties is obscure. For instance, President Bill Clinton had the statesmanship to contain spending and implement work for welfare. People misguidedly assumed such goals were Republican goals, but President Bill Clinton knew they were pragmatic balanced objectives not respective of party. President Bill Clinton accomplished some sound objectives that are generically good, not Republican or Democrat. Additionally, traditional big spending is assumed to be a Democrat trait, but President Clinton was, by and large, fiscally responsible. Actually, President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush, along with President Barack Obama were the biggest spenders of all time. To be fair, while Congress authorizes spending, it is the executive branch that authors and submits the budget. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama appear to be nearly purists when it comes to Keynesian economics at nearly full throttle, a Democrat trait by assumption. A Democrat today, one might believe, could scarcely get away with such loose spending policies and survive. However, President Obama, has broken that mold, as peculiar economic times may turn the tables on us all, once again showing the ebb and flow of changes between policy changes of Republicans and Democrats.
Other inverse examples of party distinctions are the anti-Communist Nixon took us to China, and the progressive Lincoln was a Republican; the list goes on. Parties wear different policy hats dependent on other affiliations and the times, which demonstrate the obscure differences in the flavors of party identities. Which party is progressive and which is traditional continues to morph and change.
In truth, the obfuscation of principles between these political parties’ wary distinctions is a good thing as it builds on their more nuanced diversities to a single objective of working for and with the people together, rather than for their party’s deluded notion of a betterthan-you syndrome, which is regressive and fallacious. Such partisan behavior and perspectives are destructive to good government, as you may note from my previous chapter about partisanship.
Clearly good ideas are not Republican or Democrat; they are practicalities of the moment, gifts, and manifest out of fortunate events that good sense and reason should seize upon. Both parties do this when operating well. The parties are at their best when collaborating and working for and with the people in a check-andbalance mechanism of ideas, not as an us-and-them, black-and-white team sport.
As I see the political parties today, and with few exceptions, over my lifetime, I see partisan theater, melodramatic/demagogic elucidations of the issues, and highly superficial respect for the other side of the aisle. The cliché-driven oratory and grandstanding is juvenile and poor theater. The differences between the two parties are more nuanced, albeit some important nuances, but both parties seem to abide by their hierarchy’s party line, regardless of constituency, reason, or integrity. Party lines are tired old hoodwinking rhetoric about how “good we are” and about how “bad they are.” They appeal to the selfish in us, rather than the selfless.
With some notable and encouraging exceptions, my view of the current-day leadership of the parties is that they are too often weak and fumbling, almost substantively anemic, while attempting to appease every interest group. Democrats are famous for the so-called leftist issues, but they now hold to fiscal belt-tightening, while the Republicans are offering spending for all, along with baseline support for the religious so-called rightist issues.
As of originally writing of this book, the current Democrats have some leaders who have few legislative accomplishments of note, nor do they seem to represent much more than political lapdogs, touting tired old clichés of justice and gifts to all. Substantive anemia is sometimes probably too weak a description. They disappoint me, but no less than the Republicans. The Democrats’ rhetoric of principles from some of the leadership, not necessarily the rank and file, has become almost demagogic utopianism. They need some new leaders who are not just sugar-and-spice-and-everything nice.
The failure of neoliberalism (neolib) is that it does not acknowledge the selfish underbelly of humanity, that once you offer assistance, some will take advantage. They need not cast pearls before swine, nor act the demagogue in offering what they have no prescription to deliver.
The neo-republicans (neocons) are equally uninspiring and misguided in their overzealous current-day interventionist policies abroad. We are breaking at home and need to work here foremost—and that means supporting the world, too, by the way. We are truly a wealthy nation, both in economics and values, and should be a generous nation, providing not only our wealth but leadership. But security and leadership begin at home, and I would argue, even in light of a new era of increased global economic and social interdependence, which we ignore at our own peril, that we are breaking the balance between the two priorities of internal and external interests. I will agree that internal and external interests are becoming one and the same, but how we manage those must be done in a manner that is sometimes subtle, even covert, sometimes overt and aggressive. Again, I think the neocons are on a current one-speed-ahead aggressive path that does not serve their well-intended interests for us or the world. Republicans, like the Democrats, act the role of demagogues in offering what they also have no sound prescription to deliver.
At the time of the writing of this book, the disappointment with the Republicans as of late is they slightly have, more than the Democrats, demonstrated the courage of conviction to state economic and social realities. Ronald Reagan was a good example, but Ronald Reagan had scarcely an iota of courage to act on his rhetoric of economic principle—he never authored a balanced budget. Tragically, though, with exception, the Republicans have intervened in areas in which I categorically disagree, namely on the social front, where their neoconservative positions on religion and lack of patient/individual rights issues are anything but limited—government-and-liberty-based. It is as if they are, in many ways, the neo-inquisition-fundamentalists for faith-based intrusion into personal lives, the new champions of big government versus individual liberty and the values of limited government. Clearly the Democrats are not without some of these same ideologues as well.
For me it is hard to get a fix on either party’s core values when both parties’ modus operandi when on the political-speaking stump is too often built upon bravado, innuendo, and aspersion rather than facts, reason, and collaboration.
The reality for me is that these two parties will eventually, perhaps within an administration or two, actually flip-flop on the issues as I have described them in current terms—perhaps not entirely, but to some degree. Our two-party system’s notion of substantive difference is more opaque than clear. What is different about these groups is that each party is vying for power over the other through appealing to some very different competing special interests. These special-interest groups are, foremost, self-serving, not necessarily for our liberties and common interests, but for their niche organizational goals. I would note that some special-interest groups do have more than organizational self-interest at stake, just as some of the business, social, or environmental agendas may have sound merit. Still, the special interests in this country own the dollars behind political parties, when it would be far better to have a true statesman rally these sometimes disparate groups to work together. I would somewhat argue that party differences are certainly over time obscure, and they are built primarily on the backbone of an us-and-them structural nature. That structural nature is, unfortunately, more about the power of self-interest than the power of liberty, for which this country of America was founded.
I believe nearly everyone would agree it is better when we come together in a cause for liberty and justice, rather than obscure and dilute our common cause through us-and-them politics, or in other words, partisan politics.
As a solution, both parties should routinely revisit their roots and the realities of the day, and tether their leanings to true libertarianism, from which both parties originally sprang as they opposed the governments of previous monarchies. Not that libertarianism in and of itself is the answer, since I also realize it, too, is somewhat utopian. However, it has great fundamentals we should aspire to: individual liberty and limited government.
That is where I am with my politics—and why I still have chosen not to join any one party.
I am very much anti-nationalistic, as I see nationalistic behavior as a dangerous black-and-white idea of “I’m better than you are,” bravado pedestal to be standing on. Good is good; it is not nationalistic or specific to any particular political party. Goodness and sound humane values thrive best when their examples speak for them, not when they pound their chests and disparage others. Humility is the essential key to success here.
Too often Democrats and Republicans are so wrapped up in themselves and their parties, they forget about America or the bigger picture of humanity in general. Partisan politics is the death of leadership and a stumbling block to the ideals America stands for.
It is my understanding that George Washington, the first president of the United States, never believed in the value of political parties. Rather, I suppose, we should have candidates’ debate and then make our ballot-box choices. This may be structurally naïve, but it is a position that has solid benefits as well. It is where I would prefer to see us work from, since the partisanship of our day seems so often self-defeating to America’s enunciated ideals. I would propose we all run for office under our personal platforms in a primary and then in a general election and have a runoff between the two leading candidates. Legislative committee leadership would work in a similar fashion. But then again, this will never happen with the traditions we have virtually enshrined, and it possibly lacks the needed financial reality that political parties supply. However, I think the question is worthy of debate to promote better cooperation, versus competition, within the political process.
Today, our two-party system is much too controlled by the edge groups—neolibs and neocons—and as a result, we are precariously too ideological. Both groups see mecca at the end of their ideological rainbow, but neglect the practical matters necessary regarding the journey to actually get there. That journey is more pragmatic and proposes balance and review based on circumstances. That journey is sometimes liberal and sometimes conservative. This balanced point of view, this sense of statesman-like reason, is lacking in polarized political leadership, and I would add from the public masses, who demagogue with the best of them as well, which often is too partial toward its political party’s platform. Fortunately, the process of democracy intervenes, and we are forced to review the ideological rhetoric from these polarized bodies. This forced review of the pontificating political mix of ideological melodramas, in the end, comes to an often more practical and balanced solution—but not always. When statesmanship is lacking in our leadership, then the democratic process is far too protracted, resulting in our failure to act in an effective, timely manner. It is critical to note that our new high-speed technological era has exponentially changed the playing field of ideas and solutions and the importance of how they are executed in timely manners. Technology waits for no one, and we need to recognize the equivalent necessity of swift and thoughtful, less-protracted political solutions. Either we lead, or we, as a people and a nation, will be led by technology as second-fiddle minstrels to the orchestrated tunes no longer within our control.
The moral of the story is that we can afford to improve and should find the humility and good sense to do so. We need greater balance and reason, not us-and-them processes, dominating the political groups running our country or any enterprise in today’s world, from family to business to governments.
Partisanship needs to take a sedative and rest for the future good of everyone—except the political talking heads, as they might be largely out of work if the ideological mentalities wane, giving way to responsibility.
I also would add the politics of segregation in any form other than perhaps humor, lighthearted camaraderie, and sport, or for specific short-term social goals, is a tricky minefield. Organizations and groups, be they nationalists, businesses, racial, ethnic, religious, political, or even social—often have a proclivity to unite themselves as a group, but divide themselves from and against others to a fault. This so-called diversity can sometimes become more divisive than uniting. It needs to be reasoned out and managed with diligence. We should be building a united front in this life, not a divided one, not one of us-and-them.
In resting my case on this subject, I am going to focus on two quotes. The first quote is humorous but much too true.
A lot has been said about politics; some of it complimentary, but most of it accurate. —Eric Idle
The quote above illustrates the politically indigenous proclivity that “all politics are local.” This conventional slide away from integrity into a tangled web many politicians weave to suit a moment’s convenience and self-interest binds and captures too many good individuals to the detriment of all.
Finally is a quote from a politician with some genuine boundless statesmanship, at times, but as time went by in his political career, it looked as if the web of the partisan political weavers was beginning to trap him as well. Nonetheless, this quote stands on its own for the ages. We should continue to take note of such truisms in order to hold at bay those temptations that limit our integrity, and always direct ourselves to continue to grow and avoid the stagnation of accepting what we could otherwise make better.
Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.
—John F. Kennedy
Make no mistake from my comments about America and its politics. While I believe thoughtfulness and improvement are incumbent upon us to sustain success, we live in the greatest and most successful political experience of the ages.