L. Neil Smith's
Number 289, September 19, 2004

Today Is International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Pollyanna Politics
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

I'm not a signed member of any official political party. I do, however happen to be acquainted with a number of local Republicans, and so it was that I received an invitation to an event celebrating the Party's nomination of George W. Bush as its official presidential candidate. Not one to turn down the chance to chat with politicians and candidates in a casual setting, I accepted the invite. That evening, I stood in the background with a cookie—and a large grain of salt. I listened to the speeches and saw the room respond with cheers and applause, much the same way the audience in Madison Square Garden was behaving during its own program. And that night I saw it more clearly then than ever before: this was Pollyanna politics in action.

For those of you who don't know, Pollyanna was the young heroine of a series of early 20th century novels who became even better known to a broader audience when Disney chose to make the story into a movie in the early 1960's. Pollyanna appealed especially to children because she was an incurable optimist. No matter how bad things seemed, she perpetually saw the bright side. Her attitude proved infectious, and other characters soon learned something from the ever-hopeful girl. Of course, this being fiction, her optimism usually won the day, proving to one and all that a positive attitude is the tack to take. Unfortunately, such cannot always be said to be the case in real life. The case in point brings us full circle back to politics and to political rallies.

Just as the fictitious Pollyanna always found something to be glad about in every situation, it seems that political party members are bound and determined to see only those things that make them glad. As one speaker after another took the podium in New York for the Republican National Convention, local politicians and candidates stepped forward in the smaller local venue. To a man—and woman—they spoke not only of their own race, but also exhorted those in attendance to be sure to vote in such a way that all of the Republican candidates would win. But that mindset utterly ignored some facts I believer are germane to voters of all political persuasions, and which could result in some problems across the board.

For example, a couple of the candidates took the opportunity to reiterate promises that, if elected, they'd do everything they could to see to it that their official business and the records generated by it was available to everyone via the Internet. As the audience dutifully applauded, I was silent. So-called public records are a prime source of information for identity thieves and other criminals, and the fact that putting such records on the Internet makes them so widely accessible has resulted in numerous lawsuits [http://www.courtaccess.org/]. Even if the town, county, or state wins such cases, the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to defend the suits will involve substantial amounts of money. And whether the government entity wins or loses, those named in such records are always victimized, and the taxpayers are always the ones who have to pay the bill. But in making their promises, these candidates have never addressed whether or not certain information (such as financial data in the case of divorce records, for example) will be redacted before being posted in the Internet for one and all to see, nor have they discussed the potential legal battles that will likely ensue.

One candidate promised that, if elected, he'd do all that he could to bring more government spending to the area. People cheered. Yet when more government funding—funding that, by definition, consists of taxpayer dollars—comes here, less of it can go elsewhere. And everywhere, taxpayers are either getting more or less than they've provided accordingly. In a system many have declared inherently unfair with good reason, rather than offering alternatives, the candidate apparently believes that taking the most advantage possible of an unfair system is the best way to go. (Don't misunderstand my stance against this socialistic wealth redistribution to in any way mitigate my opposition to the vast majority of taxes, period.)

A man running for a court vacancy waved to everyone and asked us all to vote for him, but said little else; in a private conversation I had with him later, he said he was really unable to comment on existing courts, judges, or the judicial system in general. If that's the case, how, pray tell, do I know whether he's a good candidate or not? Am I to place my vote solely because he's the party's candidate in that particular election? Apparently, yes, I am.

Another candidate, though neither the first nor the last to speak that evening, summed the mindset up nicely when he said: "Our number one priority is to get President Bush re-elected. And then we must vote to get our entire slate of candidates here elected." Odd. I thought I was supposed to be voting for the best candidate. And although I like some of these candidates fine (the speaker in this case included), I don't think that others of them are the best man (or woman) for the job. I find it disturbing that the majority of the people in the room that night apparently didn't really think much about what they thought. They'll just vote according to the party line.

And that's where Pollyanna comes in. All too often, important issues and problems are either ignored, hidden until later, or swept under the rug entirely. The best face is put on every possible situation. This has rarely been more obvious than in the case of national politics right now.

John Kerry obviously has some serious character and professional flaws to be addressed. Was his behavior in Vietnam as cowardly and self-serving as some allege? The only certainty is that he had the lack of respect for his own medals to pretend to destroy them (he threw only the ribbons away, and has said that his gesture was "symbolic" though he claimed for years it was his actual medals he tossed). Is he responsible enough to his constituents to warrant letting him represent even more of us (he's been a no-show at a huge percentage of Senate votes, including those involving intelligence matters)? But Democrats don't want to address those serious questions. Instead, they're busy accusing George W. Bush of having a 527 group "do his dirty work" for him while acclaiming their own candidate as a great man.

George W. Bush isn't without fault, either. He blatantly promised some things but did the opposite (signing the McCain-Feingold bill into Campaign Finance Reform law, and his abandonment of his pro-Second Amendment first campaign stance are among matters of real concern). Though his quick and decisive actions in Afghanistan in the pursuit of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden have been largely hailed, he's come under fire (well deserved, in my opinion) for the subsequent attack on Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein from power there. But Republicans don't want to talk about those things in depth or how the president himself was the primary mover behind each. Instead, they want everybody to know how a John Kerry presidency would be disastrous for America and that their own candidate is a patriotic and presidential man.

The thing is that both parties are both right and wrong. No man—no, not even John Kerry or George W. Bush—is all bad. But neither is all good, either. Both parties seem to recognize that's the case against their opposite number, but neither is willing to talk about obvious shortcomings in their own man and how such might be addressed. In fact, in many cases, neither party is inclined to admit the shortcomings in their own candidate even exist. Like Pollyanna, they're just glad that John Kerry says he cares about old people and the poor, or that George W. Bush is promising to do his utmost to keep us all safe from any more terror attacks. Wouldn't both men be better candidates in the end if they came clean about certain matters and told all of us how they've learned from past mistakes, or how such problems could be fixed or eliminated in the future? Or are both men such poor candidates that admitting as much would be tantamount to confessing that neither is qualified, and that the entire political system is broken and cannot be fixed?

In a Pollyanna move of my own, I've found a few things to be glad about this campaign season despite the gloom and doom represented by the two major parties. Though people have lamented for years that politics has become so negative, the extremes we've now come to expect are bearing some unexpectedly tasty fruit. Third parties are expanding in membership, and interest in them is growing. They're still largely blackballed by the mainstream media, but even that is slowly—ever so slowly!—starting to change. And the really good news is that, the worse the major party candidates become and the more frequently accusations fly in place of solutions, the better third party candidates are starting to look. That's true even for those people who've always been party line voters.

Of course, the converse is that we've probably got to have a few really awful candidates and presidents before enough people will look past their own Pollyanna politics to see that better alternatives are available. And the real question becomes whether or not the country can survive being systematically weakened and with our freedoms gradually eroded for too many more years. I'd like to say that I'm optimistic. But outside of the election of a candidate whose one campaign promise is to support the Constitution and Bill of Rights—and who, once elected, will keep that promise—I'm afraid even the Pollyanna part of me doesn't hold out much hope.

NOTE: This commentary wasn't intended to be a book review or recommendation when I started writing it, but as I finished my thoughts I realized that this might not be a bad place to suggest that those who haven't yet read a book entitled Hope do so. Written by Aaron Zelman (Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership) and L. Neil Smith (The Libertarian Enterprise, among many other things), it tells the story of an unlikely presidential candidate whose promises concerning liberty actually come to fruition. Though I suspect Communists, Socialists, and far left Democrats (I believe I've just repeated myself) won't be fond of the book, nearly everyone else will be deeply struck by just how much they'll yearn for such a man to be President after they see what his candidacy and election means for America and Americans. The fact that you'll likely also enjoy the story is "just" a bonus. Hope is available directly from its online distributor.

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