Stating the obvious this morning.
1. The name is not the thing. Focusing on the political side of things for now, calling a nuclear missile a Peacekeeper or thousands of pages of unread federal laws and regulations the Affordable Care Act, for example, does not automatically keep the peace or provide affordable care. It matters both what the thing is, and how it is used. What its proponents call it, not so much.
Yet, judging by what one reads, some people are convinced that questioning anything about the ACA is the same as not wanting affordable care, and is, in fact, indistinguishable from tossing sick poor people out of their hospitable beds to die in the street. Others, aware enough so that the (predictable and predicted) failure of the ACA to in fact provide affordable care has gotten past their defenses, seem baffled or betrayed, even, that the thing isn’t exactly what it was called. (1) These reactions reveal a charming innocent faith that the name is the thing, that voting for the right name is the same as voting for what the name says it is.
This magical belief differs from the traditional belief in the power of names, in that, under the traditions of many peoples, the true name, the name that is bound to and reveals the true nature of the person or thing named, is something to be discovered, or bestowed with great care. Under the modern practice described here, the process is reversed: simply by naming something, we make it what we’ve named it. So, not only is a muddled mess of a bill affordable care, but a man is a woman is the Eiffel Tower.
2. Along the same lines, what a politician says he is or is doing does not necessarily conform to what he actually is and is doing. This one is bifurcated: politicians on my team are who they say they are and are doing what they say they’re doing, while politicians on the other team are never who they say they are, and are always lying about what they’re doing.
If forced to choose – and we are not – I’d go with filter B: they are all lying, power-hungry hypocrites and require evidence to the contrary before believing anything a politician has to say. The party affiliation hardly matters, in general, except for times (like now) where one party is so wedded to profound unreality and the tyrannical enforcement thereof, that a sane man can conclude that anyone promoting that line is proven, at best, the victim of long-cultivated delusions or, in the case of politicians, more likely a lying tool. See, for example, the positions of major politicians on gay marriage 10 years ago versus now.
3. That the other side is wrong has no bearing on whether your side is right or not. Both sides can be wrong. In general, that’s probably the most likely situation, as there seem to be many more ways to be wrong than to be right. The existence of a two-party system (or, frankly, a system of parties of any number) all but guarantees that, on most issues, both sides will be wrong. Why? Because parties take positions as a function of getting support, or at least of not alienating constituents too much. If a position arrived at by cooking up such a stew happened to be right, it would be a happy and unlikely accident.
4. Properly speaking, the terms right and wrong apply to principles. Terms such as effective or ineffective, prudent or imprudent and the like apply to policies or courses of action, and the bills, programs, departments, cabinet secretaries and so on instituted to carry them out. Thus, the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights may be true or false, right or wrong, while the Constitution instituted to promote and protect a nation embodying that principle may be wisely or unwisely wrought, or well or ill executed.
An exception might be the case where a law, etc., is proposed that violates a principle it is said to promote and protect. Such a law would be wrong in principle, or, at least, its proponents would be making a poor (or, more likely, dishonest, sad to say) decision or argument.
Thus, we voters, to do our jobs, would need to understand the principles underlying a proposal (or candidate!) and how it is that the proposal (or candidate) is designed to better realize those principles. Then we make a judgement call. To do otherwise reveals us for posers and rubes.
5. Finally, I’m not sure whether the bigger problem is seeing what we want to see or refusing to see what we don’t want to see. Take Bernie – please. I see what is irrefutably true: Bernie is a rich white man – richer than me, that’s for sure. He is nearly in the 1%. He and his wife owns 3 houses, at least two of which sit unused at any given time. His family net worth was conservatively estimated at about $1.7 million (2). He has far better healthcare and retirement benefits than me or anyone I know. According to his tax returns, he gives next to nothing to charity – way less than I do, at any rate. With all that wealth, several times more wealth than an average American, he and his wife support only themselves. By comparison, I, like millions of Americans, support a family with several children with my income.
Now, I’m totally cool with this – Bernie has largely lived the American Dream, he and his wife – mostly, his wife – worked for a lifetime and have some security and stuff like houses to show for it. I hope to do as well.
But his attacks on rich people ring more than a little hollow. Is ‘rich’ defined merely as ‘has more stuff than me’? Bernie is richer than 98% of Americans.
Why are these facts not relevant? I’ve never heard them discussed at all by Bernie’s supporters. How about this fact: just as every wannabe tyrant in a democracy for the last 2500 years – Greeks, Germans, Italians, Latin Americans – everywhere there has ever been a democracy – Bernie explains to all the little people – you know, the 98% that aren’t as well off as he is – how the *real* problem is those *other guys* who, by having stuff, ruin it for the rest of us! If only I ran things! If only I had the (of necessity, by definition, totalitarian) power, I’d get those guys! I’d take their stuff! I’d fix everything! Skittles and beer all around!
All tyrants begin as friends of the people – Plato.
A result – an intended result – of the systematic destruction of American education over the last century or so has been the elimination of the kind of learning that would allow people to hear Sander’s rhetoric as the demagoguery of a typical wannabe tyrant. (3) If you come to appreciate Plato and Aristotle as great repositories of wisdom, you are likely to notice; if they are just dead white(ish) males, then they are easily dismissed, and their observation cannot serve as warnings.
- Then there are the cynical Alinskyite types, who knew it wasn’t going to work, didn’t want it to work, or, more accurately, were counting on its failure to provide the crisis under which yet more power would be centralized. Present yourself as the only solution to a crisis you caused or exacerbated – a playbook any number of ancient Greek tyrants would have recognized 2500 years ago. Those would be the true architects of the bill, and those most willing to lie to get it passed, all the while patting themselves on the back over how brave and progressive they are to say and do whatever is necessary to get the poor slobs – that would be the rest of us – to do what’s good for us. Thus, presumed moral superiority goes hand in hand with a willingness to lie, cheat, manipulate and even resort to violence to get their way – a topic for another set of musings, perhaps.
- Nobody really knows the Bern’s net worth, they back into it based on required Senate disclosures, which provide wide enough ranges as to be almost useless. And his wife is most likely the major source of family income over the years – she was a college president, among other things. The Sanders did recently drop $600k on a lakefront vacation home, something he can afford to do, I imagine, because his Senate pension is *nice* – no need for the Sanders to pinch pennies for old(er) age.
- Worse than a tyrant, actually – a savior. As C.S. Lewis points out, when a do-gooder starts in fixing people, there is no end to the misery he may cause, because he’s doing it for our own good, and with a clear conscience.