Thursday, February 7, 2013

The "Obvious" And Calls For GOP Unity

One of the hazards involved in being highly intelligent -- what, you didn't think there could be a downside to it? -- is the temptation to become irritated when others demonstrate lesser cognitive capacities. In some cases the offender possesses plenty of brain muscle, and might use it fully at other times; in others, the poor soul is just a bit weak between the earphones. But on all such occasions, it's a requirement that I restrain myself from exercising my penchant for evisceration via sarcasm.

I have to admit, I don't always succeed at that. It's particularly difficult when persons "old enough to know better" spout pointless bilge as if it were the discovery of the Higgs boson:

At the federal level it is obvious what needs doing. Slash and burn. Departments of education, interior, energy, health, labor, commerce, and transportation should be eliminated asap, as should the EPA and USAID. Yes, completely eliminated. The Department of Justice needs to be radically reduced in size and power; eliminate the ATF and DEA, for starters. The FBI has completely overstepped its original mandate and needs to be reined in. The State Department can be cut by one-third almost immediately, and closer to one-half in a couple of years. DOD needs to focus on its mission and shed programs, offices, and employees that have nothing to do with defense. Lawyers. My God, does DoD have lawyers. Slash and burn. Get rid of all the environmental nonsense in DoD. Drop the vast, corrupt, and bloated domestic PX network. In a time of WalMarts and Targets, why have a PX? Negotiate a discount for military personnel. The same with VA hospitals, most of which are substandard; get veterans a voucher system they can use at private hospitals. The CIA? A complete overhaul and reduction in the massive stateside bureaucracy which interferes with and stifles CIA's proper role overseas. NASA? Privatize as much as possible of the space program, keeping in government hands only the most secret and sensitive operations. Don't get me started on Homeland; it needs a radical downsizing or even a splitting apart.

"Obvious?" Perhaps to the Diplomad, whoever he is. But why is it "obvious" to him and not to others? And if it really is "obvious," what need is there to repeat it? Has this "long-time US Foreign Service Officer" ever asked himself those questions?

The matter became even more irritating when I saw hearty concurrences from two longtime favorites: Silicon Graybeard and Mike Hendrix. But then, Sean Hannity finds a comparably frustrating political condition equally "obvious." At least, he made it seem so yesterday afternoon in his pleadings for the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives to be "united."

God be with me! Gentlemen, use your noggins for something besides a hat rack! Why do you think Republican elected officials can't see what's "obvious" to each of you?

Give that a moment's thought, Gentle Reader, while I endeavor to deflate my blood pressure.

We get so accustomed to labeling and categorizing people, especially people in the public eye, that we can cause ourselves to forget that a man is not the labels we hang on him. This is of particular importance in political analysis.

Let's consider the case of the Honorable Smith, a Republican Congressman. There, that's three labels already. What have we told ourselves, correctly or incorrectly, about Smith by labeling him thus?

  • Smith sits in the House of Representatives, and therefore has a constituency somewhere that preferred him to his opponents in the last election.
  • Smith was the nominee of the Republican Party in the contest for the seat he occupies.
  • Smith is honorable.

"One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong..."

Yes! Thank you, you in the back row. See me after class for an extra-credit project. To call a man "honorable" is a character assessment. The other two statements are objectively verifiable, but an enduring assessment of a man's character is no better than a guess...especially if that man has accepted a mission that compels him to sit surrounded by scoundrels.

It would be honorable for Smith to be explicit and honest about his priorities, both personal and political. We'd certainly hope for that from a Republican. But we allow ourselves to be surprised, even shocked, when Smith, or someone who wears the same labels, demonstrates by his actions that his priorities aren't what we want and have been led to expect from a Republican Congressman -- because we've allowed ourselves to forget that thrice-labeled Smith is an individual human being with his own convictions, priorities, and ambitions.

  • Smith might harbor unexpressed convictions that clash with particular elements of the nominal Republican platform.
  • Smith might regard certain aspects of public policy as being more important than the ones we regard as primary.
  • And Smith might have personal ambitions that would be disserved by taking the stances we expect from Republicans in his position.

Imagine that Smith is far more of an environmentalist than we deem suitable for a Republican in these times. If we were aware of that, would it be reasonable to be surprised if Smith were to support the perpetuation and/or expansion of the ruthless and grasping Environmental Protection Agency?

Imagine that Smith is specially concerned with some quasi-eleemosynary aspect of federal activity, perhaps financial support to single mothers of minor children. If we were aware of that, would it be reasonable to be surprised if Smith were to vote for a funding increase (or against a funding reduction) for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families?

Or imagine that Smith harbors ambitions for higher office, as many Congressmen do. If we were aware of that, would it be reasonable to be surprised if Smith were to hedge on a great many of his nominal stances as a Republican to pander to non-aligned voters -- and to demonstrate his ambivalence on those stances by his votes in Congress?

Smith is not his labels. We cannot afford to delude ourselves that his maneuverings will always be consistent with those labels. What's "obvious" to the Diplomad might be equally so to our imagined ideal Republican...but it's Smith, not that figment of our imagination, who sits in Congress.

One of the most insightful statements ever to come from the late Milton Friedman was his observation that in politics, it's less important to "elect good people" than to create conditions in which "bad people will be moved to do the right thing." Whether that's currently more practicable than searching out good people and putting them forward for office is open to discussion...but here's something that's not:

Power corrupts.

A bad man surrounded by good people in an ethically praiseworthy environment might be moved to shed some of his wickedness due to the influences of those around him, but a good man surrounded by bad people and multifarious temptations is virtually guaranteed to compromise his ethical standards in response to the influences around him -- and politics is the natural inclination of bad men.

Really, how could it be otherwise? When and where has it been otherwise? Have we been so completely detached from history that we've forgotten not merely Lord Acton's dictum but all the practical examples pertinent to it?

Too many of us think electing Republicans is all that matters -- all we have to do to restore the Republic to its Constitutionally mandated order. Too many of us are surprised and irrationally aggrieved when the Republicans we succeed in electing fail to hew to their supposed commitments. And far too many of us harp on what's "obvious" as if the convictions, priorities, and ambitions of individual officeholders could somehow be excluded from the political dynamic of our time.

When Sean Hannity, a reasonably bright man if not a Certified Galactic Intellect, goes on for forty-five minutes about how the Republicans in Congress need to demonstrate "unity," he's spouting irrelevancies. What "need" does he have in mind? That of the Republic at large? Some specific public-policy passion? Or the ambition of various Smiths to become senators, governors, or president?

Our Brobdingnagian federal government, with its vast powers, its millions of employees, and its trillions of dollars in annual spending, is the exact opposite of the sort of environment in which "bad people will be moved to do the right thing." It presents a temptation to arrogance and evil that only Jesus of Nazareth is guaranteed to resist...and He has yet to stand for public office.

I get really tired of having to make points like the above over and over. They're wearisomely "obvious" to me; I'd hope that they're clear, at least, to anyone who can bring himself to step past the labels we so easily apply to persons in public office.

It's been frequently said that "personnel is policy." As true as that can be, it's critically important always to bear in mind that personnel is a collective noun. It subsumes a group of individuals whose priorities, interests, and ambitions must not be assumed to be uniform. Indeed, the larger the group designated "personnel," the more certain it is that a subset, and perhaps a very large subset, will depart from the "policy" we expect of it. That should be "obvious" to anyone who's known human beings as individuals...but "should" is a word I try not to use.

When the fatigue begins to get the better of me, I remind myself of a fundamental fact about human perception:

Both etymologically and in practice,
Means "overlooked."

It's an effect that even the most powerful minds are capable of neglecting.


Xealot said...

You had me there for a bit, Francis. I wasn't sure quite where you were going with this piece until that final gem of wisdom. Indeed, obvious DOES mean overlooked. The question we must ask ourselves (and, by extension anyone we presume to elect to high offices) is if that disregard for what SHOULD be "obvious" is mere ignorance, wishful-thinking, willful blindness or outright evil. The first is occasionally excusable even among the highly-intelligent -- we all miss things from time to time, or else there would be a lot fewer car accidents. We cannot know everything. Wishful thinking is a form of seduction and propaganda, you see this mostly on the Left, and mostly among their voting castes. "If only we give a little more money to (X) everything would be better!" You see a lot of sheep bleating about whatever the media tells them because it sounds good (or, conversely, sounds scary, thus justifying policy that sounds good to fix it). It's understandable, even if intellectually shallow. Willful blindness is a related concept, but it is rooted in laziness and fear of criticism, and can seduce even the most intelligent folks. "I don't want to deal with this, so let's not think about it right now. Let's talk about ponies instead, ponies are pretty." I argue that the Republican party does this a LOT. Rather than face unpleasant realities (the "obvious") or deal with the criticism from a hostile media, it chooses to change its message or compromise its "values" in the interests of expediency and intellectual laziness. Of course, we cannot excuse this, but it at least falls short of outright evil. Now, the last, outright evil, is practice by the true masters of Progressivism. They notice the "obvious," and thus don't truly belong on this list, but are actively colluding to use it in order gain the maximum amount of power and control possible.

Those of us who see the "obvious" and wish to do something about it... must fight these 4 forces of blindness. We must bring up the ideas, so that those who merely haven't thought of them can say "oh yeah, damn.. you're right, never thought of it that way before!" Those are the easiest to sway.

The wishful thinkers will be excessively difficult to wake up. In fact, it may be, for all practical purposes, impossible without breaking the media monopoly on information for those folks.

The willfully blind can be salvaged by the process you discuss. Create an environment where bad people are forced to do the right things.

The outright evil can never be eliminated entirely, not until Christ himself returns.

Col. B. Bunny said...

Electing an official is effectively to let the horse out of the barn without saddle or bridle. Sometimes its activities will coincide with out priorities but, really, it's a free actor.

Reading the many brilliant analyses and commentaries on the web that I do, I see there is no dearth of warnings and salutary policy suggestions. However, facts and logic are irrelevant in most political, social, economic, and military debates.

In particular, no amount of arm waving and jawboning has been able to put the brakes on federal spending since the institution of the federal income tax. Even informed, logical citizens have little chance of influencing, say, a member of the House of Representatives, as they are but one of 700,000 other of the man's constituents. What is one mosquito in the forest?

Most citizens have no energy to endlessly tilt against the federal windmill and we will be much better served to find ways to make bad or frail men want to do the right thing, as you say. Tying compensation to passing a balanced budget is one way to go. As is prohibiting politicians from exempting themselves from laws that apply to the unwashed. That the Congress, inter alia, is not required to participate in Obamacare is an interstellar outrage and if it were required to participate, you can be darn sure that there wouldn't be Obamacare or that it would be vastly different from what it is now.

The Jesse Helmses, Michele Bachmanns, Ron and Rand Pauls, and Joe Arpaios are too few. Relying on innate sense, patriotism, honesty, and courage is just not an option.

Alas, count me in with Diplomad, Silicon Graybeard, and Mike Hendrix so far as the statement of the problem is. Slash and burn is a tall order in the short term but there's no denying that Diplomad has listed a great many worthy objectives. Of course, it's not obvious to most people that a gigantic federal government is the problem, but it is obvious to those of us with a passing familiarity with 20th-century history that we're seeing the early infancy of an American Leviathan, if not the late adolescence thereof.

So the worthy objective of slashing the federal government can be obvious to us but not necessarily to federal officials, which latter point I take it is yours.

So we know the extent of the problem and know also relying on politicians to do the "obviously" right thing is an exercise in futility. (An exercise that I have vigorously engaged in for 40 years of so.) The truth of what you say has finally dawned on me, viz., we are screwed.

When I consider the really big issues like vote fraud, extending the franchise to welfare recipients, energy, immigration, the environment, race, Islam, bedrock cultural institutions (family, marriage, education), economic policy, liberty, majority rights, rule of law, and freedom of speech, I see only the machinations of fools, traitors, sell outs, fraudsters, and perverts. It's a clean sweep in all departments and it's not even a debatable proposition.

Icarus had nothing on us.