Thursday, October 13, 2011

Villains and Heroes: A stupid way to view politics

(Insert name of political figure you hate here)
One beautiful and sunny morning when I was in college, about two years ago, I was sitting in a class on the U.S. Congress with one of my favorite professors.  Although I found the class fairly interesting, I sat next to a very attractive young girl who made it hard to concentrate.  Yes, I was about 26 at the time, so I suppose it makes me somewhat of a perv, oggling 18 year old girls, but whatevs.
Anywho, the professor asked us a question: how can we understand the decisions that congressmen and women make?

Me being my usual cynical self, I responded "figure out what they want."  He chuckled and replied "well that's not the answer I was looking for, but now you're starting to think like a political scientist."  Of course I was proud of myself, not only because he thought highly of me, but because I felt like I had stumbled upon a truth.

I've said this many times before, but politics is all about rival interests coming together to work out a solution that best works for the common good.  Politics is all about what people want.  I mean what else can it be?  Do we honestly think that we elect a bunch of people to go make arbitrary decisions about things that have no bearing on our lives?  Do government officials convene simply to engage in meaningless discussions about inane things?

Some of you might answer "yes," to both of those questions, but in all seriousness, politics is all about trying to get what you want when someone else wants it for themselves, or when someone else wants to achieve an effect that completely contradicts your interests.

So for me at least, this begs the question: why do people see American government and politics as some sort of epic clash between heroes and villains?

(Insert name of political figure you love here)

I don't always like to call out my commenters, but Jersey McJones left a comment on my article yesterday and brought up some salient things.  I don't think I did a very good job at explaining myself on some things, and he was right to call me out on those things.  It was his last comment that really stuck with me, though.  He wrote:
We desperately need massive national investment and the scumbag, crooked, cheap, short-sighted, evil, lowlife, scumbag (again) moral vacuums known as Republicans refuse to do it.
They would rather sink the nation than lose power and money, even if just in the short run.
I feel like there's a blatant logical fallacy in the final statement, that they'd rather sink the nation than lose their power and money.  My response to him was if the nation were to go belly up, what power would they have?  They only have power because we give it to them.  Also, Republicans are generally all about limiting the size and scope of government.  How is it power hungry to constantly call for the abdication of power?

Also, it seems fairly ridiculous to suggest that the Republicans somehow stand to gain something from tanking the economy.  They're not going to get wealthier if the economy is in the shitter, so why would they want to make it worse?  If their goal was to destroy America, and that goal succeeded, then would their money even matter?  Destroying America would ensure that they'd lose all their money and power, so why would they want to?  If they're so greedy, then it would make more sense that they would try to strengthen the economy so they can accumulate more wealth.

This is the only real solution I see to all of our
And if you think there are heroes in all this, guess again.  Just because the Democrats "advocate" for the poor and disenfranchised doesn't mean they're all altruistic saints.  They probably do believe in whatever it is they're doing, but at the end of the day it's all about doing whatever is necessary to continue their congressional careers.  If the Democrats were such compassionate people, then none of them would be very rich, because they'd front their own money to help out the less fortunate.

Whenever someone paints a political opponent as a villain who wants to destroy America, or makes a politican out to be a heroic champion of the people, I can't help but chuckle, because laughing at it is the only way to get through it.  That's what they all want you to think.  They want you to believe, in your heart of hearts, that the opposition is the enemy, and that they are your savior.  Why?  Because you'll never vote for a villain.  Deeply divided, partisan politics makes election time easier for those up for re-election, and it imprisons your mind.

There are no heroes and villains in this little drama we call American government.  There are only people trying to get a bigger piece of the pie for themselves and their constituents.  Neither party stands to gain anything from destroying America.  That's not to say that their policies won't destroy America, but to assert that they actually want to ruin everything is pretty silly.


Jersey McJones said...

Jack, can you name one single time in our history the Republicans actually limited the size and scope of our government?

They're playing you.

"They're not going to get wealthier if the economy is in the shitter, so why would they want to make it worse?"

It's not so much about wrecking the economy as it is about controlling it for their benefit. Remember, they do not represent people who are effected by the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month world of the common everyday America. They represent the wealthy, and the wealthy are not per se dependent on a healthy American economy. That's why slashing jobs increases stock prices, inflation is the numero uno concern of the Fed, and "Free Trade" is the First Commandment overriding all other concerns. Remember, we can be poorer, but if the goods coming in are commensurately cheaper, than the wealthy still make their money.

In the short term, yes, they are betting that if the people continue to suffer, they will blame Obama (like the morons they are), and the GOP came come back to power.

This isn't about heroes and villians - this is about looking at things as they are. The Dems aren't much better, after all.


Silverfiddle said...

Jersey is half right, Jack, and you are overlooking something.

I don't think anyone in politics wants to see a complete crash, but just as the dems kept hoping for some economic pain during the Bush years, repub pols do the same now.

Having your political rivals' plans crash and burn is a great path to political victory.

We are the fools for indulging in the fantasy that democrat party statism is any better or worse than republican party statism.

And Jack, I can't believe you're so naive...

politics is all about rival interests coming together to work out a solution that best works for the common good.

No it's not. Politics is about the acquisition and use of power.

D Charles QC said...

I think the argument "in theory" sounds logical Jack but I would argue that JMJ is also partially correct. There is the 'radical' and 'populatist' element in politics and depending on how influencial they are, the spoiler mentality exists that is willing to let things drop.

Personally I believe there is a larger spoiler group within the Conservative movement in the US and I will go as far to say that they are a part of the Tea Party community (though by far not the reason for the Tea Party or reflecting the average supporter).

Examples are the desire to avoid bipartisanship, demanding their way or "no way" and focusing on getting rid of the President in whatever way possible instead of focusing on actual solutions and a candidate that represents as best as possible the entire Conservative movement and not only the one that represents them.

Of course radicalism in the Left and within the Democrats exists as well, in fact it exists in most areas of politics - the problem is how much do you let them influence the rest?

Jack Camwell said...

I think it's the "common good" thing that threw you. Acquisition of power is an interest, and it's an interest that people hold that is opposed to the interest of others.

Taking power by force is not politics. That is extra-political. If you're going to obtain power through political means, then you have to navigate the rival interests that impede you from achieving your goal.

And in a democratic society, the farther from the common good a policy strays, the less likely someone is going to get re-elected. So although they may not want to appeal to the common good, or even care, it behooves them to do so because it means they get to stay in power.

There are some spoiler people in the Tea Party and what not, but that's because they're idiots, and they think that failed policies and government shut-downs will actually help solve problems. There might be some people that truly want to see America die and devolve into anarchy, but those are fringe idiots.

"Jack, can you name one single time in our history the Republicans actually limited the size and scope of our government?"

Answer: The Gilded Age.

Silverfiddle said...

I said nothing about taking power by force, but I do like your bikini solution. I think that is an agenda we can all rally around.

Anonymous said...

"In general the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to the other."

~ Voltaire (1694-1778)

Submitted by FreeThinke

PS: Notice he doesn't say which class of citizens i doing the extracting. He means any and all. In the end it's not so much about money as gaining the authority to tell others what to do, how to do it and when. - FT

Jersey McJones said...


It is very interesting that you would bring up that particular period in American history. You do know why it was called the "Gilded Age," right? ;)

You can plate gold on a pile of crap but it's still just crap with a gold plate.

Besides, in the late 19th century we had powerful party machines running the industrialized cities and living conditions for workers was terrible. Far from shrinking, government grew in both power and scope through a patronage system that one would think any modern conservative (or liberal) would find abhorrent.

Remember, just because government grows, that does not mean it grows in every direction. Though during the Gilded Age government most certainly grew in power and scope, when it came to the regulation of industry and banking, the government turned a blind eye at best, violently sided with the Barons at worst, and often,.

And so as usual, when the laizzez faire are in power, productivity went through the roof, but the profits of that productivity went disparately into the pockets of the Barons.

So, yeah, you bring up a good point. Today, in at least one way, is like the Gilded Age. Gold plated shit.


Jack Camwell said...

I wasn't implying that the Gilded Age was a great time. I've railed on it quite a bit in the past, and I keep warning people that we shouldn't return to it.

I understand what you mean about the physical size of government increasing, especially when you use the party machines as an example, but in terms of governance how is laissez faire considered an increase in government scope and power?

Now, we all know that many government officials were corrupt and getting a take from multiple sources during this time, but that is extra-political. The whole hands-off thing was definitely for their own benefit, but it was still hands-off.

Jersey McJones said...

Jack, as I said, "Though during the Gilded Age government most certainly grew in power and scope, when it came to the regulation of industry and banking, the government turned a blind eye at best, violently sided with the Barons at worst, and often,."

Laizzez Faire doesn't always mean non-intervention. It was most certainly not "hands off." Sure, it was hands off the barons, but not off workers who dared strike against them, for example.


Harrison said...

I will only add a few things.

If an elected official is pushing for things which you feel in your bones run counter to logic, reality, and tradition yet they continue to push for their vision then yes, they are the bad guy.

I view Obama as being the "bad guy" in the sense that his policies are divisive and damaging the country. As a person, he seems to be intelligent, a good father, and charismatic but regarding his JOB I must disagree with those judgments.

And in politics if you help the other guy to fail (by messing up the economy) then you have a scorched earth policy but the idea is that they will screw things up SO BADLY that their party will not win elections for decades.

Politics has become a zero sum game, which is sad, but a 24/7 news cycle, highly partisan interest groups (mainly on the Left) have helped to make it that way.

The Left doesn't fight fair and, in the end, they make things worse overall.

Anonymous said...

Harrison, I think you are wise.

We have to be careful though in characterizing anyone who works for things contrary to our own beliefs as "a bad guy."

It's always possible" we" may be wrong, and "he" may be right in which case that makes US the bad guys. Does that make any sense to you?

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...


The partisanship has gotten SO bad I really think most of the contenders would rather see the country DIE than lose power. It's the old thing about biting off your nose to spite your face. THAT's how childish we've allowed ourselves to become.

I'm definitely partisan. I'm dead set against Marxism, Socialism and above all -- AUTHORITARIANISM. Very possibly I would not hesitate to "lie cheat steal or kill" to prevent our country from being taken over by tyrants, but like most I have not had that opportunity. There would be no point in throwing away my own life to no avail, would there? I'll leave that to the Buddhist monks who throw gasoline on themselves and set themselves ablaze in public squares.

Most of us are forced to observe disaster in the making as mere spectators --till we become actively involved as victims. By then it's too late; the damage has been done, and we're stuck with the cleanup -- which may take centuries to take effect, and is certain never to be complete, because a new disaster is always looming on the horizon.

~ FreeThinke

Harrison said...

While politicians who take actions which hurt this country can do so without being "bad guys" (they are too stupid to know the big picture and only act out of self-interest) the real "bad guys" who are smart enough to manipulate the others to advance their goals.

Like the two old guys from Trading Places.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Harrison, that's it exactly. Most of us act unwittingly as "useful idiots" for the manipulators.

We do not know enough, and don't have power enough to act on our own, so we remain acted upon.

~ FreeThinke