Thursday, December 24, 2015

What Santa Won’t Bring You

     I’d intended to take today off from Liberty’s Torch. I had all the usual reasons. The season is as busy for us here at the Fortress of Crankitude as it is for any family of venom-tongued rabble rousers and hairy-eyed bomb throwers armed to the teeth and itchingly eager for...well, never mind. At any rate, I write so much of this pap that surely our Gentle Readers would benefit from a few days of my silence, in which I – and they – might “detoxify.” But as I slid the mouse cursor over the Shutdown button, I found that my hand had stayed itself. Apparently there was an essay in me that wanted, nay, needed “out,” and relief could only be secured by setting it free.

     (No, please don’t send me recommendations for your preferred laxatives.)

     First, a bit of verse:

Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

The old monster snuffled, "Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

"The world's in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

"Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,"
Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.

[Robinson Jeffers]

     Keep that poem in mind as you proceed.

     Many of us have spent a lot of time watching and listening for news about the presidential race: specifically, the race for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Many of us have invested money, labor, or both in some candidate. Given the colossal failures and villainies of the Obama Regime, many of us are hopeful that the nation will spurn whichever Democrat gains his party’s nod, give the GOP complete control of the federal government, and watch as we return at least somewhat toward the limited, Constitution-bound government that the Founding Fathers envisioned.

     I must admit that I was one of the many. Was. Past tense. I’m becoming ever more certain that what we’ll get won’t please us at all.

     Famous coach John Madden has said that the outcome of a football game is nearly always determined by “big plays and turnovers.” In his years in the game and watching it, he’d become convinced that playing sound, methodical or “fundamental” football was of less importance than capitalizing on the infrequent opportunities for a big gain or a reversal of possession. Now, like most of us, Madden is a devotee of contemporary football, which is dominated by the forward pass. Before the pass became two-thirds of the game, things were quite different: the team that excelled at the rushing game – “five yards and a cloud of dust” – was far more likely to prevail.

     So also with politics and government. If you’re exceedingly old or exceedingly well read, you might be familiar with the political dynamics of the era before the mass media. In those days, voters put some effort into learning what a candidate had said and done during his time in the public eye. They had only one way to do it: they read about him in the newspapers.

     Yes, the newspapers of the Nineteenth Century were as likely to be biased toward or against a particular candidate or party as are the papers of today. However, there were far more of them, including a host of local dailies that would be financially non-viable today. The “big” papers with regional influence were few, and their influence was heavily counterweighted by their local competitors.

     I speak here of the era before Celebritarianism. Politicians’ faces and personalities were generally unknown to the public. What was known about them came from the newspapers. It focused on their records as mayors, governors, or legislators. That made it possible for a man whose appearance and personal charm might be somewhat lacking – a Grover Cleveland or a William Howard Taft – to rise in the esteem of the electorate, perhaps all the way to the presidency.

     The mass media, particularly television, changed all that. Today a politician of national stature – one who has at least a Chinaman’s chance at the presidency – must be telegenic, personally charming, and “ready on his feet.” Yes, there have been unattractive persons who’ve aspired to the presidency – one such is likely to be the Democrats’ nominee – but the odds are against such candidates. They don’t possess the requisite appeal to the visually-oriented, sound-bite-paced, television-consuming public.

     The mass media don’t absolutely control national politics, but their influence is considerable. When married to another, equally weighty factor, it might well amount to control.

     There’s been so much talk about “money in politics” that the reasoning behind large political donations is seldom adequately analyzed. There are three questions to be answered:

  1. What does he hope to get for his money?
  2. How does he select his candidate?
  3. How does he time his donation?

     Question #1 is the one for which everyone is certain he knows the answer: influence over policy decisions. In the main, this is correct, but not always in the “corruptocrat” sense. Some donors do attempt to purchase the candidate’s future support. Others will only give to a candidate who has already espoused positions they deem favorable to them. Still others – and there may be more such than we generally believe – give on the basis of what they think is best for the country. Telling these categories of donors apart is dauntingly difficult.

     Questions #2 and #3 must be addressed together. If the donor’s aim is to achieve a particular policy outcome, his candidate must have:

  • At least the possibility of favoring that policy;
  • A good chance of winning the election;
  • A better chance with the donor’s money;
  • A dearth of adverse influences: i.e., other donors opposed to the favored policy.

     Therefore the ideal candidate, from potential donor Smith’s perspective, would be one who already favors the desired policy, has a good shot at victory but isn’t a “sure thing,” who could be elevated to near-certainty by Smith’s money, and whom other major donors have treated with indifference. But how shall Smith sift among the prospective presidential candidates to find such a man?

     He watches television.

     Talking to the candidates will achieve little, as every one of them is likely to tell Smith “what he wants to hear;” it’s the quintessential political art. No, what Smith must do is watch TV, and the associated polls. They’ll tell Smith who favors (or might be induced to favor) his policy aim, who is in the seriously contending group, and who could use additional television exposure that might put him over the top. Moreover, Smith will reserve his donation for as long as possible, so that:

  • He’ll have minimized his chance of wasting his money on a “flash in the pan;”
  • He’ll be his candidate’s “last hooker,” and thus the most memorable of the donors;
  • He’ll have the best shot of being deemed the donor whose bucks “made the difference.”

     Of course, all the big-money donors will be playing for the same advantages, so additional power accrues to those who have the most to give. But that’s actually a smaller influence than most persons think.

     Clearly, the mass media influence the donation game quite as heavily as they do the opinions of TV-minded voters. The mass media, both by presenting the candidates to us and by their treatment, in polls and editorial output, of those candidates, exert considerable sway over who the big givers will regard as a serious contender and who will become an also-ran footnote. Their influence over donation timing is so obvious that it needs no explanation from me.

     Santa won’t be bringing us a new, “unbiased” mass media this year; there has never been such a thing and there never will be. Neither will he drag a donor class that’s sincerely and solely concerned with the good of the country down the chimney; they’d get stuck and you’d never again be able to open the flue. However, reflecting on the previous segment does suggest some measures by which voters who’d like to be unaffected by the mass media and the donor class can have their wishes.

     First and above all else: don’t watch political TV. Avoid the debates. Avoid the Sunday-morning talking-head shows. Avoid, to the extent possible, the candidates’ ads for themselves. Instead, familiarize yourself with what those persons have done in public office (if they’ve ever been there), what positions they’ve espoused, and when they’ve changed those positions and why. Read the papers, except for the editorial pages, and do your best to separate fact from opinion -- anyone’s opinion – as you read the “news” sections.

     Second and nearly as important, familiarize yourself with the big donors. Their agendas are as important as the agendas of the candidates. Their constancy about such things, and the possible contrast with the past positions of the candidates they choose to support is a weathervane that points toward the “rentability” of those candidates. They say that “money talks.” Let it talk to you.

     Third, pay attention to the statements of the major interest groups and their mouthpieces. This is a great help in deciding whom to vote for and against. Interest groups of size and power almost always have a one-issue focus. You might not have such a focus, but knowing where the more wealthy and vociferous groups stand, whom they like and dislike, can be an aid in helping you make up your own mind.

     That’s about the best anyone who’s determined to vote can do. But I’m not quite finished yet.

     There are two other things Santa won’t be bringing this year. The first of them is a completely servant-minded politician.

     Ann Barnhardt has argued that the pursuit of high office is sufficient reason to classify the pursuer as a sociopath. There’s some substance to her argument: there’s no such thing as a politician who 1) seeks high office, but 2) believes himself unfit for it, or that the office itself should be abolished. Thus, politicians as a class suffer from a deficit of humility, perhaps the most important virtue one could ask for in a man who will wield power.

     This paradox of the democratic electoral process was much on the minds of the Founding Fathers, which is why they decided that state legislatures would select United States Senators, and state-legislature-nominated electors would select the president. They were willing to allow the mob – remember, “democracy” means “rule by the mob” – to elect the Members of the House of Representatives, but no other federal office. Putting as great a distance as possible between the mob and federal power was deemed the best possible safeguard that could be contrived for individuals’ rights in a government that had to have some popular base.

     While that system lasted, federal offices were occupied, by and large, by honest men who possessed a service ethic. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was superior to what followed. After Martin Van Buren, the presidency became ever more the property of demagogues and creatures of the donor class. After the Seventeenth Amendment, the states lost any substantial part in federal decision making. The dynamics of demagoguery synergized powerfully with the emergence of national media: first with the national newspaper “chains;” thereafter with the burgeoning scope of radio and television broadcasting.

     Some aspirants to high office are better than others, but none is entirely free of the vanity that propels one to seek the adulation of the crowd and the prestige that goes with power. As for immunity to the lure of material profit from political height, the closest any of our current crop of pols come is a plagiarist and an idiot...and we’ve contrived to install him as vice president to a traitor and a villain.

     The second thing we mustn’t expect from Santa is any great change in the true federal government: the millions of bureaucrats in the alphabet agencies, all of whom are protected from dismissal or serious discipline by powerful unions and federal law.

     Washington’s hirelings have gone beyond the ability of the political branches of the federal government to control. Remember what was reported by David L. Boren, for some years a United States Senator from Oklahoma:

Boren, formerly a state legislator and governor, went to Washington expecting to make some changes. "What impressed me most is the great power of the bureaucracy compared to that of elected officials. All the talk about growing control by the bureaucracy is not exaggerated. The shift in power is very real.... There is almost a contempt for elected officials."...

Senator Boren found, to his surprise, that a Senator has great difficulty even getting phone calls returned by the "permanent" employees, much less getting responsive answers to his questions.

The voters can't "throw the rascals out" anymore, because the main rascals are not elected but appointed....

Regulatory bureaucrats have extra power because they can outlast the elected officials. "Often," Boren explains, "I've said to a bureaucrat, 'You know this is not the president's policy.'

'True, Senator, but we were here before he came, and we'll be here after he leaves. We're not in sympathy with his policy. We'll study the matter until he leaves.'"

[From Armington and Ellis, MORE: The Rediscovery of American Common Sense.]

     Who’s elected president won’t matter to that huge, unaccountable juggernaut of regulation and regulatory enforcement unless he takes the boldest imaginable step: agitating for the repeal of the federal laws that shield Civil Service workers from dismissal and reinstating the ban against the unionization of federal employees. Such a president would need like-minded majorities in both Houses of Congress, and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate to have a fighting chance. He’d also need his Congressional supporters to be staunch in the face of the vilification, and possibly the violence, that would follow such a proposition.

     Suffice it to say that I won’t be holding my breath. The entire population of Africa is more likely to turn white tomorrow at Noon.

     Many other members of the Internet Commentariat have written that “there’s no voting our way out of this.” Indeed. Substantial reversal of course, back toward limited Constitutional government that stays within the bounds of Article I, Section 8, simply isn’t in the cards. That having been said, there’s nevertheless some good we can do.

     First, by withholding our money and our votes from any candidate who’s displayed a willingness to waffle, to fudge on his supposed convictions, to logroll with the Democrats, or to negotiate with the interest groups, we can at least attempt to educate the political class about how we feel toward them. It’s simply not sufficient to vote for so-called outsiders. There are outsiders and outsiders. Some of them I’d chase off my stoop at gunpoint; others I’d shoot at their first step upon my driveway. Character trumps all else, and constancy of conviction is the best indicator of character.

     Second, by seeking and implementing non-political solutions to common problems, we can reduce government’s scope for intrusion into matters where private action is possible. This is not easy. For one thing, politicians hate it and will attempt to prevent it. For another, far too many Americans are inclined to allow government to address any problem that doesn’t affect them personally, or that strikes them as too burdensome for them. There’s a lot of inertia in “the way things are.” Some of it will manifest as “this is the way it’s always been done;” some as “this is the way it must be done.”

     Third, to the extent possible, protect your children from the virus of statism. The most important component of this is avoiding the “public” schools. Today, the government’s school system is nothing but a massive indoctrination machine. Its inputs are your kids and your property taxes; its outputs are deluded young adults oriented entirely opposite to freedom and limited government. When the “public schools” aren’t indoctrinating your helpless young’uns, they’re abusing them or encouraging them to abuse one another – abuse that might occur within the school building itself.

     Fourth, be armed. Be heavily and conspicuously armed. Resist any suggestion that being armed is somehow wrong or excessive. Remind objectors that an armed populace has never suffered an adverse coup – that the first step taken by any aspirant to dictatorial power is to disarm the citizenry. Shoot frequently, and teach your kids to shoot. Invite your neighbors to join you for a day at the range; you might be surprised how ready they are for an adventure of that sort.

     Fifth, keep talking. You never know when what you say will strike home with someone who’s “on the fence” about something of importance. Internet chatter deserves much of the credit for the current drive to secure the borders and stop immigration from countries that hate American ideals and the American way of life. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are eager to “supervise” your political advocacy. Even some of the ones who claim to stand foursquare for freedom of expression are at least partly insincere about it.

     That’s all for today, and for tomorrow as well. I’m really, truly going to spend Christmas day away from the keyboard. Indeed, I have a problem / opportunity that comes once in a century, and I intend to make good use of it.

     The weather forecast for Christmas day here in the Northeast is:

  • Partly cloudy;
  • Little chance of precipitation;
  • Temperatures in the sixties.

     That’s a continuation of the weather we’ve been having for some time, which has caused certain...untoward conditions in my back yard. However, all is ready for remediation. Therefore, after Mass tomorrow morning, I’m going to take an hour to mow my lawn.

     Merry Christmas. May God bless us each and all.

All my best to you and yours,


Glen Filthie said...

I think you may be overestimating the power of the media, Francis. It's so bad now that even the liberals don't believe them half the time. Whether you like their politics or not, the media has become a source of derision and contempt right across the board. They aren't changing my mind on anything - but then again I have access to scholarly blogs like yours. The media has gotten so bad, and some of the blogs have gotten so good - that I no longer bother with the mainstream at all. I can catch informed opinion and accurate reporting for free right off the blogs - on topics that don't fit the narrative of ragsheets like the NYT. Their sales are diving for a reason.

If I had to speculate I would say the readership is much in the same boat as I am: triple digit moderate IQ, rudimentary critical thinking skills...and a trip through the paper or listening to the six o'clock news is like being trolled by children. You can't spank them, you can't make them shut up - so you shut them off. Who can blame you?

I want an AR15 for Christmas. Yeah, I already have one but in the days ahead a backup or an extra might be worth having around.

WomanHonorThyself said...

great advice! • ★ Merry ★* 。 • ˚ ˚ ˛ ˚ ˛ •
•。★ Christmas 。* 。
° 。 ° ˛˚˛ * _Π_____*。*˚
˚ ˛ •˛•˚ */______/~\。˚ ˚ ˛
˚ ˛ •˛• ˚| 田田 |門| ˚And a Happy New Year
* Joy to all! ♫•*¨* Peace on Earth ♪♫•*¨*

Brinster said...

Merry Christmas Francis, to you and yours, and to all the deniznes of Bastion lf Liberty.

Brinster said...

That was supposed to be "denizens." Lousy kyeboard.

Reg T said...

Excellent advice, as usual. I have not been connected to an antenna, cable or dish since 1987, and I don't miss it a bit. Nor do I listen to radio or read newspapers. Using the Internet and paying a bit of attention to "cui bono", common sense, and the actions of politicians (such as votes on bills, what bills they do or don't support) as opposed to the foul emanations that exit their lying lips (their lips _were_ moving, after all) can give you a fair idea of who is likely to represent your best interests.

They are almost all crooks. As a Heinlein character said in one of his novels (Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land?), an "honest" politician is one who stays bought. The last politician I felt was truly honest was Ronald Reagan. Sure, he acted on some bad advice from time to time, but I believe he actually tried to do the best he could for the country. I think you'd have to go back to Adlai Stevenson (II) to find another example (does that date me a tad? No, I wasn't his contemporary :-), and he lost out on his two bids for the presidency, both landslides for popular Dwight D. Eisenhower.