Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Nearly Identical" ≠ "Identical"... But close.

A few days ago, I posted a Facebook status update, as I often do, that went a little something like this:
"Will Americans learn that Obama & Bush are nearly identical in policy and reject the *ideas* instead of the suit? I do hope so."
Naturally, one of my (few, but) painfully predictably partisan Democrat/liberal "friends" commented on this explaining to me that:
"To the Libertarian, of course they are both the same. Isn't it easy just to lump 'em all together? And of course Nader was correct - about certain issues - that the only difference between the two parties was who got on their knees first when it comes to corporate power.

That said, it's ludicrous and incorrect to make a blanket statement that they are identical. If you're real about this, you have to go issue by issue..."
He then went on to link to Wikipedia articles detailing some of the things about Obama vs. Bush policy in foreign policy, domestic policy, energy policy & economic policy.


Now... Leaving aside the fact that it was a stupid Facebook status update (!), and as such wasn't intended to be parsed as if it were a college entrance exam, the guy was technically right - there are ever-so-meaningless distinctions between Bush & Obama, mostly in terms of where each prefers to concentrate their various power-grabbing efforts. True enough... They aren't identical, and each politician certainly does do a few different things, but mostly it's annoying when people have poor reading comprehension skills - I quite clearly didn't say that they were exactly the same.

You see that, right?

Regardless, I was going to leave it alone until my friend Bob came to the party and gave a generally good rant, correctly explaining that:
"...specific republican and democractic tactics don't need to be identical, to share _nealy_ identical or at least very similar objectives and strategies."
Which is, point of fact, precisely why I used the term "nearly identical", as opposed to saying "identical" with no modifier!

The partisan hack democrat seemed to have missed that. But anyway...

Being technically right in the most semantically literal of ways is all well and good, until you realize that the poor chap was dead-wrong in reality. Sure there are differences... But in the sense that both parties are interested in control over the American public, their specific choices as to what to focus on are slightly different, and typically only in style and not at all in substance

This essentially only encompasses the "little" stuff though.

Both Republicans & Democrats constantly use the government to enforce their vision of morality - their vision of unified "utopian" societies. (R)s might focus on controlling sex & reproduction, (D)s might want to focus on unpopular drugs like tobacco & fatty foods - but when it comes right down to it, the bottom line is that both parties are entirely focused on *controlling* the population's opportunities & behavior.

If you want to get into specifics with the "big stuff", those minor differences even start to fade away... What do I mean? Well, let's see, shall we?:

Bush: Started a couple wars.
Obama: Continued & expanded said wars.

Bush: Expanded Medicare, expanded Dept. of Ed, expanded... umm... everything?
Obama: "ObamaCare"... If it's the power of government, oh you better believe it's been expanded!

Bush: Warrentless Wiretapping.
Obama: Warrantless Wiretapping.

Bush: Rendition and a massive amount of secrecy & some obstruction of justice on the side.
Obama: Rendition and a massive amount of secrecy & some obstruction of justice on the side.

Bush: No to Habeas Corpus for WoT Prisoners.
Obama: Hmm... Still NO to Habeas Corpus for WoT Prisoners.

Bush: Keynesian - absolutely retarded - economic policy including multiple rounds of utterly useless "stimulus" packages and enormous give-aways to big banks, big auto manufacturers and other special friends.
Obama: Keynesian - absolutely retarded, borderline psychotic - economic policy including multiple rounds of utterly useless "stimulus" packages and enormous give-aways to big banks, big auto manufacturers and other special friends.

Now... Sure... Bush had Haliburton, and Obama has Goldman Sachs... But are we really going to sit here and quibble over the names of the people involved when the *principle* is exactly the same no matter who's involved?

So... Yeah kids, to folks like myself who don't feel the need to wrap up our identities in teams & parties, and who think that people should be *MORE* free to live their lives as they choose instead of less, Bush & Obama look pretty much the same to me.

The vast majority of politicians... No really, pretty much all of them... are (nearly) identical - in the sense that they (almost) all want to control people's lives here, they (almost) all want to blow up people & stuff in other countries, they're (almost) all completely and utterly economically illiterate and basically (almost) all are pretty happy to use their power to hand out special privileges to themselves & their buddies.

And as someone who's not completely ignorant of history - I'm not even the tiniest bit surprised by these traits... The only reason I say "almost" and "nearly" is because I'm someone for whom precision of language is usually fairly important, but statistically speaking, I'm pretty sure just saying "all" is good enough in most cases anyway!

But my friend Bob's rant didn't actually end with that comment... He also went to a place that he and I disagree on somewhat - and my liberal acquaintance & I have nothing in common on:

The influence of money in politics.

The Democrat holds events, concerts and such trying to make people aware of the "need" to write laws in the vein of McCain-Feingold, which would manipulate election laws so as to ban certain people from using their money at certain times and other laws which would magically stop lobbying, then he wants to replace all that with publicly-financed campaigns.

The problem with all that is... money & power will ALWAYS find each other!

It has nothing to do with campaign finance reform, nothing to do with election law, or with limitations on lobbyists... none of that stuff could matter less.

In reality, all sorts of these types of laws are already on the books, and they don't stop anything they're intended to stop - certainly not the big money and the corporate influence... Tell you what though? They do actually give politicians the power to crack down on the little guys and they make it continually harder & harder for 3rd parties to get any kind of traction at all. The laws actually work just like any other laws written to favor big business - they increase barriers to entry for people trying to get in, while making it insignificantly more difficult for the established players to stay where they are. It also makes it super easy for politicians (a la Hilary Clinton, for instance) to use said laws as a club with which to beat people who criticize them.

And... Publicly financed campaigns?? Bah!

Exactly who is in charge of deciding who gets what money, huh? Could it possibly be that the Democrats & the Republicans currently in power might find ways of funneling 90+% of funds allocated to political campaigns to their own people? Do you think that if by some miracle some alternate party found their way into power, they wouldn't do the exact same thing?

The people with money are going to find their way to influence the people in power no matter what ridiculous laws are written, and no matter how elections and campaign financing are structured. But most people - especially the foil of this little story - gets the causal relationship exactly backwards.

Money flows towards power because the power effects what we all do.

It effects our lives, our businesses, our social activities, our travel arrangements... EVERYTHING. And the more power held by a tiny group of Washington D.C. asshats, the more that power effects people. As a result, EVERYONE has the incentive to try to manipulate that power so that it favors them and allows them to do the things they want to do (or hell, even subsidizes them to do what they want), instead of prohibiting the things they do.

And when people are competing - such as in business - or in ideology, they have a secondary incentive to make sure that power is used to harm their competitors or their rivals.

The more power government controls at the expense of the people, the more people need to influence it just to get through life and maybe prosper a little bit. And guess what - People with lots of wealth & money are in a better position to influence that power than people without it... Just like they're in a position to have a nicer everything else!

It ain't rocket science, guys. Rich people get all the good deals... They always have, and they always will - if they didn't, then there'd really be no point to being rich, ya know? So let's not be surprised when the same money and connections that buy rich people nice houses & yachts is the stuff that gets them access to Congressmen & Senators. I hate be the one to inform everyone that in fact, it's the same money and connections that got rich folks access to Lords & Kings 1,000 years ago.

But the solution isn't to give the people in Washington even MORE power to pick who gets to influence them and what other people's money will be used to fund - the solution is to LIMIT THEIR @!#$ing POWER!

Limited government power means fewer incentives exist for anyone to influence that power and thus more private money allocated towards meaningful pursuits and less to manipulating the people in charge. There is a reason that really strong centralized governments & dictatorships become *more* corrupt and more subject to influence of money, not less...

Again... Not rocket science.


David Blanar said...

And how would you propose to limit said power?

Sean W. Malone said...

That's a somewhat tricky question since most of humanity's attempts over the centuries to reduce the power of government have all diminished over time (Magna Carta, English Bill of Rights, United States Bill of Rights, etc.), and this is all made worse by the addition of the UN Charter of Human Rights which does precisely the opposite of it's predecessors - in that, instead of limiting the powers of government, it essentially pushes the idea that government needs to provide an endless stream of privileges to citizens such as food, shelter, "a sense of belonging to the culture", and other even more asinine ideas.

My best suggestion involves either market anarchy, or an extremely strong and more or less immutable bill of rights - in the legitimate sense of "negative rights" - combined with exceedingly small republican governments (i.e. all local).

The focus should always be on protecting individual liberties first and foremost, and that means even application of the law regardless of race, class or any other societal division. No special treatment to connected businesses, no special treatment to specific constituencies.

The law applies the same to you as it does to me no matter who we are, how much money we have and what we look like.

But yeah, I tend to think that extremely strict and maybe more clear limits on the powers of government in the same vein as our Bill of Rights attempted to provide would be helpful. One of the most important additions I can think of is a complete separation of government & economy... Much like the establishment of state religions, the state should never be involved in picking economic winners & losers via punitive taxation or subsidies. So NO subsidies, no "targeted" tax incentives for certain industries, and no protectionism. Companies must compete on their own merits and succeed or fail based on their ability to provide products that people actually want to purchase voluntarily.

There's more, obviously, but I hope you get the idea.

I could sum up a lot of this point by just saying that the government should just obey its own constitution, and we'd be in a lot better shape. I think maybe the constitution needs to be updated to clarify a few points that seem to have been lost over the decades.