L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 286, August 29, 2004
"Our society undoubtedly over-reacts to naked breasts"
The (Too) High Cost of Politics
Special to TLE
I don't usually watch any coverage of the national political conventions. I think of them as hour long infomercials, broadcast solely to suggest to the average voter that he or she should buy this guy or that as the next President of the United States of America. But this year, entirely by accident, the television happened to be on when John Kerry stepped to the podium in Boston to accept the nomination of the Democratic Party. And that's how it is I heard John Kerry spend far more talk time using promises to buy votes than he did asking voters to buy his experience and his qualifications (there's a reason for that, of course, but that's a topic for another time).
In an obvious appeal to military members and those families with loved ones fighting overseas, John Kerry promised to "build a stronger American military," to "add 40,000 active duty troops" and "double our special forces to conduct anti-terrorist operations," as well as to "provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives and win the battle." He spoke of increasing security at such places as chemical and nuclear power plants, and of making sure that all cargo containers are inspected for contraband or terror tools.
Kerry implied he'd restore discontinued after school programming, and add more police to streets. He repeatedly mentioned prescription drug coverage for seniors, and then dropped in the notion of national health care insurance. He promised senior citizens he wouldn't privatize Social Security nor would he cut Social Security benefits. He also strongly suggested he'd prohibitor strongly discouragethe outsourcing of jobs. (John Kerry's complete remarks are available on his web site.)
The audience went crazy when Candidate Kerry said these things. There were doubtless people there who had loved ones in the military or who had experienced a medical emergency that resulted in big bills; many in the audience almost certainly have school-age children and/or elderly parents. It's likely the vast majority of them had a job, too, that they didn't particularly want to lose. Those people hear those promises, and the answer is patently obvious: Hell, yes, I'll vote for John Kerry if he makes sure I get [fill in the blank here]!
Kerry has, during much of his campaign, talked of the burgeoning federal budget deficit. So have many other Democrat candidates, and rightfully so. But even as he criticized once again the expenses incurred by the Bush administration, he appealed to voters by railing against budget cuts that may have affected "feel good" programs of one kind or another. Far worse than that, he criticized the federal deficit even while he proposed and promised new programs that would represent a significant added drain on the treasury. And voters who let their votes be bought for these promises will find themselves paying a high price out of their own pockets in the increased taxes that must inevitably follow to pay for such big-ticket entitlements.
But let's be entirely fair, here, and consider President George W. Bush as well. He's on the campaign trail himself these days, seeking re-election as the Republican candidate for the nation's highest office. What's he offering for my vote?
Four years ago, George W. Bush said some things I liked. In fact, I liked those things quite a lot. He said he favored privacy and that it ought to be protected. He spoke about the Second Amendment and its importance. He talked about fiscal responsibility, and said he'd lower government expenditures and return some of my money to me while he worked to shrink government bureaucracy. Four years ago, I voted for George W. Bush. That's right: I placed enough value on his promises to exchange them for my vote (in my own defense, I placed an even higher value on keeping Al Gore out of the Oval Office).
Today, the President has made clear the Second Amendment doesn't matter enough to prevent him from signing the Assault Weapons Ban should it be renewed. His "fiscal responsibility" has resulted in the largest federal deficit in history, and his promises of smaller government have seen a major new federal department formed and massive increases in bureaucracy and government spending across the board. His respect for privacy has turned out to be the polar opposite as he leads an administration that has virtually eliminated privacy, and is actively working to get rid of those few protections that remain (the federal government, for example, just sided this month with banks in California that don't want to comply with a strict privacy law there).
Perhaps the President's most obvious hypocrisy involved his ongoing campaign promise that he would never sign a campaign finance reform bill. He later quietly went ahead and did just that (his utter disregard for the First Amendment has only been affirmed by the Secret Service policy of "free speech zones" for protesters ensuring the President never need see or hear anything the average citizen might have to say about his administration's policies).
Politicians, of course, rarely keep their promises. And when they do, they're often kept in such a way that we'd rather they hadn't kept them at all. President Bush, for example, has promised to do everything he can to keep Americans free from terrorism. Unfortunately, the word "free" is just about the last thing that's involved in the resultant campaigns. From the USA PATRIOT Act (which infringes dramatically on political speech, and largely guts the Fourth and Fifth Amendments), to utterly inappropriate and ineffective random searches at airports, to database-driven privacy invaders like MATRIX (Multi-State Anti Terrorism Information Exchange, and ostensibly private though government funded program), we've lost substantially more than we've gainedhave we gained anything?as the President attempts to keep that promise, at least as he sees it.
In this election year, Bush's promises are at least as scary as are John Kerry's. He's promising essentially what his father did in his own earlier campaign, and that's to "stay the course." We're already well down the road in the wrong direction, and he's assuring me he'll keep on going the same way if I vote for him? I'm almost tempted to vote for him just so he can break the promise and we can start the recovery process! But I suspect that, considering past history, that's another one of those rare promises a politician will do his utmost to keep. In the event he does, the loss of liberty and the erosion of respect for America will continue its downward trend, probably at an increased rate.
Author James Bovard, who has written several books about the ongoing losses of freedom in America, has just published his latest tome entitled "The Bush Betrayal." In his new book, he says that "vote-buying is the prime motive of many Bush policies," and he points out that those votes didn't come cheap. In fact, Bovard maintains that the Bush administration has "browbeat Congress into enacting the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society." It's his contention that "Americans will be forced to pay trillions of dollars in higher taxes in the coming decades." When you look at it that way, I didn't sell my vote to George W. Bush for a tax cut. I bought my own vote at a premium and then handed it over!
In weighing my options this election year, it's patently obvious that both John Kerry and George Bush will take my money and my liberty quickly, in quantity, and as often as they can drum up justification that sounds good. Whether it's John Kerry's "for the children," or "for the good of the majority" (has anybody else noticed that socialism is very much out in the open this year on a number of campaign platforms?) or George Bush's "to fight terrorism," I'm not buying. And quite frankly, I'm not for sale anymore, either. Some thingsliberty being one of themare just too valuable to sell at any price.