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Suspending the Suspension

By conscious choice I generally don't talk about politics, having realized by degrees over a couple of decades that politics makes you stupid. Yes, it does. I'm amazed at the number of highly educated people I see in the blogosphere screaming anathemas at one another over a candidate's campaign promises, or some perceived slight of a partisan icon, etc. etc. The sheer quantity of raw hatred makes me want to pull the covers up over my head, even when I'm out in traffic and hear it on the radio, miles away from my comfy Sleep Number bed. I don't know most of these people, but I do know a few, and I need to remind one and all that anger is how the Emperor enslaves you. (You'd think that watching the full Star Wars saga 23 times would have taught people that much, at least.)

But I'm now annoyed enough to suspend my suspension, and for the next seven days I will indeed talk about politics, but with a wrinkle: I will not mention any candidate by name. (Could you do that too? Dare ya!) Politics is not about specific people or parties, but rather the ideas surrounding governance, and much could be discussed today that is not being discussed, because far too many of us have taken up our spears, smeared on plenty of colorful gonzoberry juice, tossed our intellects up on the rack over the mantle, and bumbled out the door to scream tribal insults at anyone who dares disagree with us. (Tribalism itself is an interesting psychological issue that I will return to after my self-imposed political embargo resumes.)

Why seven days? Because seven days from today I go back in for more oral surgery, and at that point it will all be over and I will pull the covers up over my head.

_ . . . _

So. Have I read the latest candidate platforms? Have I evaluated the various promised tax cuts and health plans and other goodies? Of course I have. Have they persuaded me to vote one way or another? Get real, people: Such things are rubbish. Nothing a candidate says or does after they declare candidacy is the least bit useful in making voting decisions. Here's why:

  • It's legal to lie. And politicians never lie, right?
  • It's legal to change your mind after taking office, even if you didn't consciously lie during the campaign.
  • There is no penalty for failure.

All this being true, candidates can be expected to say whatever they think will get them elected. The worst we can do is vote them out of office at some future date, after which they can safely sell their memoirs to Random House and get rich on the lecture circuit, irrespective of the number of deaths and lost jobs directly attributable to their time in office.

All this seems pretty obvious to me. But there's a fourth item that one would think a semester of high school civics would have made clear:

  • Presidents are not kings. We are not ruled by presidents. We are ruled by political parties.

Once a single party holds all three elected branches of national government (and for the Senate, “holding” means a filibuster-proof majority) that party pretty much governs alone. Lacking such blanket control, we are ruled by “the politics of the possible,” which is a glorious way of saying, “whatever both parties can compromise on.” There is a strong argument for divided government as a way of minimizing the damage that single-party rule can easily cause, and that argument is one of the things that informs my voting decisions.

Another and more important thing I do is look at what a candidate did and said (in government or outside of government) before he or she declared candidacy. Voting records matter greatly. The political culture in which a candidate grew up is also pertinent. One can learn a fair amount about a candidate by looking at who their friends are, what their religion is, where they went to college, where and in what industry they worked prior to working in government, and so on. The key here is what the person was like before election to office was in the picture. With long-time career politicians this is tricky, but it can still be done.

The final factor, of course, may be the most important of all: Look at where their money is coming from. The first thing that any candidate does after election is pay back big campaign donors with political favors that make the world safer for them. The little guys don't matter at all. The big-money donors basically own both parties and candidates. I hear a lot of tribalists deny this, but it's true. It's how the system works. We're about to see it happen again. Just watch.

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