So, as everyone knows, there is an election in full swing. We, as citizens of the United States, will—come November—elect a president and a slew of senators and representatives.
And, so we’ve been told, this presidential election is the most important election in our lifetimes. Just like the last one. And the one before that.
This will probably be my only post about the election. And that’s not because I’m not going to vote or because I don’t care. I do. You can read about that here. But, because I feel like our public discourse about anything—especially politics—comes in at about a three-year-old level (our arguments about government spending resemble arguments that toddlers have about toys), the election is not something I really want to spend time addressing.
However, I have been thinking lately about some of the root causes of our infantile discourse as it relates to government, and so I do want to share those thoughts.
Most of the discourse in American politics is not about the ideas behind policy. It is about policy itself. That is, there is little discourse about whether we want an interventionist state. We do want one. The debate is over the size and scope of that interventionist state. Aside from fringe candidates like Ron Paul (who advocates for Nozick’s minimalist state), even the most “conservative” politicians—like Paul Ryan—have an essential belief in the right of government to collect taxes, regulate the economy, and redistribute wealth. That is, while they may argue for reduced spending, lower taxes, or tighter controls on who gets however much entitlements, they make this argument from a policy perspective and not from a philosophical one.
Ryan’s argument is that the economy will improve and the government will perform better if we radically lower government spending and taxes. Ron Paul’s argument is that it is immoral for the state to intervene in society except to protect people’s negative rights (protections against crime and foreign invasion).
So, what’s my point?
My point is this: in our society, the government is not some separate entity that mysteriously imposes its will on people. The government is the representatives of the people who decide in what ways the coercive power of the sate will be wielded to achieve the desires of the people.
So when I pay taxes to the IRS which are then used to fund the activities of the government, it is not as if some mysterious other has reached into my pocket and taken my money. Rather, it is like my neighbors and I have decided to pool our money, to a certain degree, and the money I fork over to the government is the amount we have collectively agreed to. The money will then be used to fund those projects which we have agreed is for the good of all.
And, a lot of the time, we don’t get our way. In fact, a lot of the time, someone with more clout or money than I unfairly affects the process so that some people are disadvantaged.
Nevertheless, the government is still supposed to reflect the collective will of the people. When the government does something we don’t like, that is because we were out voted by our neighbors, not because some evil, mysterious other is trying to treat us unfairly. And while the system isn’t perfect, it is good enough to warrant acting like adults when we don’t get what we want or what we think is best.
So, I find that I am highly disgusted with the whole “don’t tread on me” attitude present in our public discourse. What do you mean “don’t tread on me”? If you accept that the government, as the legitimate representative of you and your neighbors, has the right to intervene in society, then you will sometimes have to accept decision you don’t like. Compromise and moderation are features of being a grown-up, but those two virtues have been totally lost in the tit-for-tat political back and forth.
So, Democrats, get over the fact that Romney only paid the taxes he was legally required to pay. You did the same thing. If you don’t like the fact that someone so rich paid so little, then pass new laws. And, Republicans, for the love of all that is Holy, the Affordable Care Act was made law by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. It is the law of the land. You may not like it, but that does not mean can you act like children.
And, where these came from, there are hundreds more examples. Suffice it to say, we need to grow up.
I think what most people fail to realize how narrow the American Political spectrum is. You don’t have people trying to put a monarch in power. Neither do you have a proletariat edging toward revolution.
Reality check: you have a liberal democracy in which the primary issue is how to help everyone have more money.
That is all.