Saturday, November 10, 2012

Means, Ends, And Microvision Politics

Good morning, fellow grumps, cynics, misanthropes, and aspirants to those hallowed estates. He's back by popular demand: your Curmudgeon Emeritus! It took a while -- you know how stubborn that Fran person can be -- but the election returns seem to have nailed it: the Web simply cannot do without the degree of supremely skeptical, salubriously supercilious snark of which your Curmudgeon is the Milky Way’s premier vendor.

And on we go.

A long time ago, your Curmudgeon wrote the following:

The overwhelming majority of Americans are good and decent people, whose desires, both for themselves and for one another, are close to uniform. Liberals don't want to see large-scale degeneracy in the streets; conservatives don't want to see the poor locked into inescapable ghettoes and left to starve. Both communities of thought would love to see everyone live as well and happily as kings. If you disbelieve this, we have no chance of conversing agreeably.

We have many differences about means -- about those policies which would best redress our social and economic ills in an enduring way, and without unpleasant side effects. We have few differences about ends; that's the nature of consensus.

The dominant means of the century past has been politics. The failure of political solutions to most social problems should be beyond argument. In a few cases, there's a good case to be made that our ends -- the rights we strove to instantiate or defend -- were misconceived. In most, it's far more likely that we can more reliably get to where we want to go by changing trains: by getting clear of political techniques, with their inherent centralism, inflexibility, and invitations to corruption, and by adopting the methods of freedom. Let individuals and voluntary associations work to make their parts of the world more what they want it to be, while respecting the equal freedom of others with divergent priorities and abilities to do the same.

Frankly, your Curmudgeon can't imagine what he must have been thinking that day. The majority of Americans "good and decent people?" Please! Perhaps at one time, but no longer. For a minimum of a century, the political elite has striven to corrupt the entire nation -- to bludgeon into us all the conviction that only politics could possibly attain the ends we hold highest -- and if it hasn't yet bagged the last few holdouts, surely it won't take much longer.

Well, it was a long time ago.

It's been true for some time that the preponderance of voters decide to whom to give their support on the basis of a single consideration. For about 70% of the electorate, the consideration is party affiliation. For many of the rest, it's one issue of overriding importance to that particular voter.

When George Pataki first ran for Governor of New York, a number of voters elected to support him on the basis of his support for the death penalty, while some others were drawn to him for his promise to reduce state spending. Moreover, those persons were largely willing to say as much, thus defining themselves, for that election at least, as one-issue voters. Given the number of areas into which a state government inserts itself, such an orientation might seem myopic, even perverse. Yet many an election is decided by exactly such persons. Pataki's thin margin over Mario Cuomo could not have endured the loss of their votes.

If it's myopic and perverse on the state level, how much worse is it on the national level? Yet your Curmudgeon could easily make the case that if not for millions of Americans to each of whom one end rises above all others in priority, Barack Hussein Obama would not have been allowed a second term as president. Consider:

  • Same-sex marriage
  • Free contraceptives
  • Abortion on demand
  • Financial support for Planned Parenthood
  • Preferential treatment of the sexes and races in the selection of Cabinet appointees

Believe it or not -- your Curmudgeon has gone to some lengths to verify this -- every one of those five issues determined some tens of thousands of votes, all by itself. Such voters blithely dismissed piddling little matters such as the cronyizication of the national economy and the reduction of our military to impotence. Their pet issue was their entire concern, and be damned to the candidate who paid it no obeisance.

It's not always myopic or perverse to throw one's support to a candidate for a single issue of importance. Consider this scenario: The U.S. is at war with an enemy roughly its own size, whose declared war aim is the conquest and subjugation of the world. One presidential candidate argues for a vigorous prosecution of the war effort; the other calls for preemptive surrender. Which would you back -- and would you be at all embarrassed to say so?

But the minor issues mentioned above hardly rise to that level. Four of the five need not be political; private action could remove them entirely from the sphere of State action. The fifth is merely absurd, a recrudescence of collectivism unworthy of a supposedly free society.

Yet these are the sort of issues that can swing an election -- and did.

For quite a while, your Curmudgeon was unwilling to believe that the majority of Americans could be venal enough, or stupid enough, to elect a Marxist autocrat, who for four years had unabashedly demonstrated those qualities, to a second term in the highest office in the land. He'd allowed himself to forget everything he'd learned about the great mass of men. In particular, he'd forgotten that the sort of stunted mind that locks in on a single end is equally capable of deciding that only one means can achieve it.

When one decides that one particular end stands infinitely above all others, and that only one means is available for reaching it, he has gone from single-issue politics to microvision politics. Like a newborn bird in the nest, which will only take sustenance from the gullets of his parents, he is determined to have his way on his pet issue but will not be satisfied with anything but its political imposition -- that all shall be compelled to accept his priority by the forces of the State, regardless of any other consideration.

Microvision politics is the province of the Left, which has practiced it for some decades with steadily increasing success. The Right cannot contest it without ceasing to be a conservative, principle-centered movement. Promises of free contraception and free cell phones? Of state recognition of same-sex marriages? To bail out the mortgages of unwise and profligate purchasers? How could an ideal of limited government in a regime of freedom square itself with such things?

Yet these are among the most important tactics by which the Left has captured the political machinery of the country. While ends have narrowed, voter by voter, to a single all-important aim, means have been winnowed down to State action and nothing else.

This is the Right's challenge for the Twenty-First Century: to replace microvision politics with the sort of broad, principled appreciation of freedom that prevailed a century ago. We must somehow re-educate millions of functional idiots away from the notion that whatever is most important to them simply must come from the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent State. Failing that, we must contrive to exclude such imbeciles from political decision-making.

It will not be the work of a moment. Your Curmudgeon wonders if it's possible at all. Meanwhile, his bunker in the mountainside is coming along quite nicely, thank you. Never fear, your mail will be forwarded.

1 comment:

rickl said...

Failing that, we must contrive to exclude such imbeciles from political decision-making.

Well, that's the nub of the matter, really.

Democracy and the universal franchise cannot create a sustainable society. Until we recognize that and do something about it, all the hand-waving and hot air expended on "what we should do" is wasted effort.