The bitter wastes of politicized America

CNN brings us the bold statesmanship of the Number Two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer:

“It’s somewhat like taking your child hostage and saying to somebody else, ‘I’m going to shoot my child if you don’t do what I want done.’ You don’t want to shoot your child. There’s no Republican leader that wants to default on our debt, that I’ve talked to,” Hoyer said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

Hoyer’s comments came in response to a question about the Treasury Department’s notice that the nation was approaching its debt limit. He criticized Republicans for previous resistance to raising the debt ceiling and used the gun analogy to argue that the issue should not be part of the negotiations involving the fiscal cliff.

(Emphasis mine.)  How refreshing!  It’s been a while since one of these psychotic statists used terrorist and hostage rhetoric to describe political dissidents.  I was beginning to wonder if they’d mellowed out.  That would make my job much less exciting.

Beyond its crass offensiveness, Hoyer’s rhetoric is remarkably blinkered.  By definition, all political arrangements in our representative republic involve a process of demand and compromise.  Hoyer’s Democrats are every bit as guilty of taking “hostages,” or displaying stubborn intransigence, as their political opponents.  When the stakes are high, the struggle turns bitter.  Come to think of it, things can get pretty nasty in Washington when the stakes are low, too.

The rest of us should consider the contemptible behavior of people like Hoyer as we watch the expansion of politics into every area of our lives.  The government grows; the private sector diminishes; everything becomes a political act.  Soon you will see the phrase “none of your business” become an antique aphorism, as quaint as telling someone to “dial” a telephone number.  Everything is everyone’s business now.  That’s what Big Government means.

That’s what America signed up for by re-electing Barack Obama, who is more dedicated to the contraction of the private sphere than any predecessor in living memory.  He appears to sincerely believe that government control is necessary to achieve virtue.  But the conduct of our political leadership doesn’t seem terribly virtuous, does it?  It’s not even very polite.

The expansion of government replaces competition with coercion.  Free people lack coercive power, so they must compete with each other for business opportunities.  Customers must be persuaded.  Employees must be attracted.  It’s messy sometimes, and the process must be policed for theft and fraud, but it’s generally constructive.

Government power replaces all that with a simple, brutal, zero-sum equation: what you are given must be taken from someone else.  The regulatory process is corrupted by both ideology and special interests.  Even when it avoids outright corruption, the process is expensive, because it’s not constructive the way private competition is.  Wealth and value are lost through forced redistribution.  It’s a smaller, poorer world, in which political influence becomes valuable currency.  Your fellow citizens are not your competitors – they are your enemies.  They become selfish plutocrats or lazy parasites.   Their defeat becomes an occasion for riotous celebration.

And effective political power requires solidarity – sizable groups of voters acting in concert, to press their common interests upon the State, whose officials in turn benefit from packaged electoral support.  The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them.  The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust.  People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you.  How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?

When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on.  That’s not a good thing.  It’s much better to have the freedom to choose your own collaborators on the voluntary journey to mutual prosperity.  If you think they’re doing it wrong – if you don’t like the services they render, or the compensation they offer for your efforts – you can find other partners.  It’s relatively painless, you don’t have to wait two years to make a change, and you’re not setting all the parameters of your life with every individual decision you make.

In politicized America, on the other hand, we’re asked to make hundreds of major life-altering decisions with a single vote… and many of those decisions boil down to our selection for the increasingly powerful office of the presidency: a decision we only get to make once every four years, choosing from only a tiny handful of plausible candidates – and that’s assuming the primaries are particularly lively.  You might have noticed a good number of Democrats – from officials and pundits down to average citizens in social-media forums – making the case that the 2012 election permanently settled various issues, and demanding the other side meekly submit.  One vote every four years, and if you lose, shut up and obey!  That’s not a recipe for social harmony, especially since we know everyone currently espousing such views will instantly change their tunes ten seconds after the next election they lose.

Of course the character of this politicized nation is growing more sour.  How could it be otherwise?  We make too many decisions by voting for other people to make them for us.  We communicate through force instead of persuasion – a one-way transmission of absolutes, rather than a productive exchange of ideas.  Instead of actively testing and improving solutions to our own problems, we yell curses and shake our fists while waiting for political champions to emerge from Washington’s bloody arena, carrying the latest thousand pages of badly-written central planning as trophies.

Congressional representatives have always said some terrible things to each other, but it’s trickling down to infect the rest of us… and we’ve been maneuvered into a position where all of us stand to lose plenty, if “enemy” representatives win the latest high-stakes showdown.  This will never be a harmonious nation, as long as it hovers so dangerously close to the debt ceiling that has Steny Hoyer mumbling about children taken hostage.



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