January 28, 2015

During the fall of 1978, I attended a local League of Women Voter’s Candidates’ night featuring a sitting congressman and three challengers in the upcoming Republican primary election. Issues centered on what President Carter described as a “malaise” in the country brought on by inflation and prime interest rates in the high teens. It was challenging to buy a house with a mortgage interest rate in the neighborhood of 18%.

A lightning rod was Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker who steadfastly maintained the abnormally high interest rate to fight inflation, a highly controversial tactic. A critic was congressman Jack Kemp.

Ask The Candidate

I rose from the audience to ask a question of the candidates; “Do you support Jack Kemp’s proposal to limit the power of the Federal Reserve chairman?” The sitting congressman, whom I knew from his time as county Republican Party chairman while I was serving as a precinct committeeman, had positioned himself to be the last person to answer the question. The first three wannabes stammered and stuttered obviously having no idea what I was talking about. Then “Bob” (not his real name) said words to the effect, it depends upon whether or not you are a Volcker basher, the term used to describe those who disagreed with Fed policy. He never said whether or not he supported Kemp’s proposed legislation.

At the break, “Bob” came over to me to say that they never expected a question like that. Never expected a question like that? Never expected a question focusing on what they might do, if elected, to address the number one problem facing our economic well-being? Who do they think we are? And therein lies the crux of this discussion.

The Candidate Knows Who You Are

First of all, running for public office is a major personal commitment. It demands a lot more blood sweat and tears than joining a Wednesday night bowling league. My wife campaigned for two local offices unsuccessfully and I saw what went into that effort first hand and the emotional drain that it exacted.

A lot of money goes into providing candidates for public office with information describing who we are. Demographics is a very important word in this lexicon. What positions do they need to take to put together enough demographic subsets to garner 50% of the votes cast? What phrases, buzz words and slogans are likely to capture voter imaginations? With the help of all the campaign staffers, they attempt to formulate and project an image that looks just like us.

And Who Is That?

And what is that image of us that will become the basis of their standard stump speech? From http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/the-political-typology-beyond-red-vs-blue/ we learn about “The Pew Research Center’s Political Typology, launched 27 years ago, is an effort to look beyond ‘Red vs. Blue’ in American politics, understanding that there are multiple dimensions to American political thinking, and that many people hold different combinations of values than the predominantly liberal and conservative.”

MIT Economics professor and well paid consultant to the formulation of Obamacare, Jonathan Gruber, boiled it down very succinctly: American voters are too stupid to sort through the obfuscating language used to get this legislation passed. He was captured on video at least seven times bragging about his cleverness in putting one over on the stupid American voter (his words). And what of a Speaker of the House who says that we don’t get to know what’s in a bill until we pass it?

Next time you are visiting with friends over a cup of coffee, look at the reaction to your introduction of a subject that has anything to do with politics. Most probably, your contribution to the discussion will evoke blank stare, frowns and silence. If you say no more, after an awkward moment, the topic will likely switch back to one of the myriad frivolities that pass for adult conversation.

If you persist with a follow up, you will inevitably get some variation of the dismissive, “they are all bad, they are all alike and what difference does it make” and it may be slightly amplified with a slogan or a talking point from some part of the political spectrum like the greed of the upper one percent. This is just an illustration of the obvious lack of interest in anything political.

The Conundrum of Us

Self-government is an oxymoron. Having a government that allows us to govern ourselves makes government superfluous. The folks who wrote the U.S. Constitution attacked that dilemma with a theory of government which protected the rights of individuals to exercise a maximum freedom of choice which did not infringe on other citizens. It proscribed a government from going beyond its very specifically delineated powers. Maintaining the delicate power balance presumed an informed citizenry and a free press to keep them informed since they choose the instruments of government every time they step into a voting booth (if they chose to vote).

Let’s re-examine the conversation above which I actually took part in recently. The “all alike, bad politicians” concept is the result of what their expensive studies and research tell them what we want. They are a reflection of ourselves and it is not a flattering mirror image. After all, would a gang of thieves select a preacher as a leader? Of course not; they would select one of their own and then complain that he was a crook.

When asked what it would do to relieve the national debt if we took all the money of the “greedy” one percent, the individual who waxed indignant about their wealth had no idea. Nor had he ever considered that a confiscatory tax rate would not cause them to sell one car, one plane, one boat, one vacation home or downgrade their standard of living by a single luxury. What it would do is remove capital from the market place available to budding entrepreneurs. Rich people don’t sleep on mattresses full of money.

The Payoff

A truly informed public would, in fact, get a different kind of candidate and politician – politicians with solutions which would require us to study and understand. Nobody really wants to try making a living selling ice cubes to eskimos. Campaigning based on defaming the opposition would disappear overnight.

A post graduate course in civics is not necessary to meet the minimum standards of informed voting. Watching regular TV newscasts, preferably from more than one source and a bit of non-fiction reading is a start. When you see events that interest you, probe a little deeper to find real meanings that matter to you personally. Everything you wanted to know about anything is available on the internet.

You don’t have time? Take a look at your everyday activities and think priorities. You might even become a news “junkie” like me.