Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Throw the Bums Out — Or Not
There are times when I fear for the future of our Republic, and it is probably no coincidence that those times often occur after I’ve been reading the letters to the editor in one newspaper or another. It could be worse. If I paid any attention to the anonymous comments posted to online news stories, I’d probably feel that way all the time.
A couple of examples. I’ve seen a few letters in recent weeks suggesting that voters ought to simply vote out every single incumbent in Congress, a sentiment that probably owes much to the failure of the special committee on the budget to reach any agreement. It’s a deliciously visceral fantasy, kind of like taking out a gun and shooting someone who insulted you in a bar. The difference is that shooting the guy in the bar is more prudent and sensible.
To begin with, one of the big reasons for political gridlock is a serious and honest difference of opinion. If you replace a Democrat with a Republican, you’re rolling the dice on saying goodbye to Social Security and Medicare. If you replace a Republican with a Democrat, who knows what you’re risking? As Will Rogers once said, “I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a Democrat.”
So assuming the voters could be prevailed upon to throw everybody out, what would we have after the 2012 election? A heavily Democratic House of Representatives and a heavily Republican Senate. In other words, more gridlock.
But, you say, the problem is the politicians themselves, who have become so venal, so committed to pork, so committed to feathering their nests that we have to bring in new blood. I concede the accuracy of the depiction of the incumbents, but since they would be replaced by other politicians, themselves beholden to campaign contributions from lobbyists and special interests, how much better would it be? Already we’ve seen that some of the Tea Party candidates elected in 2010 are among the quickest in Congress to line up for federal projects for their districts. The wise voter ought to assess candidates by following the lead of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once said of a banana republic dictator (dictators are politicians, too), “He may be a son of a bitch, but at least he’s our son of a bitch.”
Enough on that. Another letter that left me scratching my head recently came from a man criticizing Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots. Some fair game there, to be sure, but this person said that it’s foolish to try to do something about income inequality because that’s what Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao stood for and they created horrific regimes and death machines.
That’s turning the slippery slope into a sheer vertical drop. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson believed that large concentrations of wealth in a few hands were incompatible with democracy. That’s why he wanted us to be a nation of self-sufficient farmers, if not in perpetuity, for as long as possible.
The three dictators mentioned, in fact, arose in opposition to other dictators who were unwilling to provide a safety valve to relieve the pressures of economic inequality. There are, however, plenty of examples of democratic governments that did provide such a safety valve — all of Western Europe, Japan, Canada, and even the United States, especially between about 1933 and 1981. Those societies work pretty well, if not perfectly, and have remained solidly democratic, with a lower-case D, for a long time now. Can anybody show me a similar example of a democratic society that is utterly supportive of wild economic disparity and that works as a society? I’m waiting.