Our Politicized Culture

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A few weeks before the 2000 elections, I was listening on the car radio one night to James Dobson, the leader of the Christian organization Focus on the Family. The coming election, he and his guest, Kay Cole James, agreed, was the most vital election in U.S. history, at least where the family was concerned.

Forget for a moment that Dobson and many others in his camp had declared the same about the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. This one, they solemnly declared, was the one that would determine which fork in the road the nation would follow, be it into the land of sin and destruction or into goodness and righteousness.

And so it goes. In the last election the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations were predicting THE END OF THE WORLD if Al Gore did not become President of the United States. (Gore, if you will remember, literally ran on a platform of giving us better weather. I guess that if he was to be believed, the ascension of George W. to the White House means hot summers, hurricanes, forest fires, and the inundation of New York City after all the icebergs melt, further proof that he hates all New Yorkers.)

Thus, we see the ultimate in absurdity: the family, our most basic social unit, and the weather both are added to the long list of things held hostage to politics. The political classes of this nation could not have created a better scenario for themselves had they planned the rise of environmentalism and the religious right.

I am not saying that the political processes do not affect families. Politicians finance their activities by taxing people, which means that families ultimately must be deprived of much of their wealth to fund these parasites. (I’m sorry, but I don’t think the political classes can make the planet cooler by releasing their hot air in Washington and Brussels.) Public schools, with their anti-family curricula, are the creation of the political classes and their allies.

The problem here is that every action and every statement by anyone who has even a small amount of fame is subject for scrutiny from a political viewpoint. Whether it is Susan Smith drowning her children (a reason why people should vote Republican, according to Newt Gingrich), or the beating death of a young homosexual in Wyoming, the causes and solutions to these outrages always are to be found in the political arena, they tell us.

During the rise of feminism in the 1970s, Gloria Steinem was fond of declaring, "The personal is political." Indeed, since then, countless numbers of personal incidents have found their way into the larger public arena, a national Jerry Springer show, if you will. While it might be difficult to compile the mountain of statistics that modern empiricists might demand, suffice it to say that the explosion of talk radio and television and the rise of the politician/talking head is evidence enough.

If we need more, all that is needed is to visit the typical college or university. Once upon a time, these places were actually centers of learning something else besides the names of the politicians who can lead us to utopia. Even beyond all of the "political correctness," diversity training, and racial polarization is the simple fact that many of our so-called leading universities have turned to political figures as presidents. For example, Harvard recently hired a castoff from the Clinton Administration for its top job.

Besides the fact that members of the political classes are likely to hog all of the press (modern journalism is basically the publicity arm of the political classes), prominent political figures can lobby Congress for money. This is all-important, since our most prominent colleges and universities, despite their huge endowments and massive fund-raising networks, still find themselves sucking at the udder of the tax-supported "cash cow" of Washington for much of their support.

Literature, literary publications, and religion once upon a time dealt with the weightier issues of right and wrong and the temporal and the eternal. Today, they are a mishmash of political pronouncements. For example, even in this century, the Trotskyite publication The Nation actually devoted many of its pages to literature and literary criticism. No more. From the New York Times to the New Yorker (and the New York Review of Books), we are treated to political discourse. Even modern poetry is nothing more than a gaggle of political ranting.

And so it goes. During December, we are treated to the annual gyrations of the political classes and their minions debating whether or not the town of Podunk is violating the U.S. Constitution by having a manger scene in front of city hall. In the spring, we will be told that wishing someone a "happy Easter" also violates tenets of our Holy Constitution, and so on and so on.

Is there a way out of this mess? Let me say that the first step to de-politicizing our lives is NOT to "elect the right people" to office. It would be much better to elect NO PEOPLE to office then to give incompetent and venial individuals power over our lives.

I think that a better way to deal with this is simply to drop out of the political scene altogether. Since moving to Maryland last August, I have struck my first blow by not registering to vote. First, it means I cannot be conscripted for jury duty, thus saving me the opportunity to lock someone away for life because they were on the wrong side of the politicians’ drug war. Second, I can say without a doubt that it gives me a measure of freedom I have never enjoyed before.

As much as possible, we should try to live our lives as independently of the political classes as possible. I don’t have cable TV (which in Cumberland, Maryland, with its hilly terrain, means no television reception at all), so I don’t hear the latest statist pronouncements from Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, not to mention Bill O’Reilly. Furthermore, I try to ignore what the political classes have to tell me.

Look, I wish that I could elect a slate of politicians who actually would lower (or eliminate) the tax burden that deprives my family of what we need or who would stop passing laws that drive up the cost of living. Unfortunately, the culture of Washington, not to mention Annapolis in my present state — a one-party state run by Democrats, I might add — is so powerful that even those with good intentions usually succumb to the wiles of statism. If you need proof, please note that Ron Paul is almost always a lonely voice for decency and right — and is the favorite target of derision from the political classes of both political parties.

I do not write these things out of cynicism, or a "they all are…" mentality. Rather, the very nature of politics limits the good politicians can do. Politics is ultimately about having authority — and wielding the coercive power that flows from authority — and it is impossible to apply it appropriately in individual cases. Politicians can operate only with a "one size fits all" set of tools, yet the differences among individuals are so great that what might be good for one person is not going to be good for another.

Because politics is about competing individuals grabbing for power, it means that one group of individuals ultimately is able to take power and abuse another group of individuals. While political classes like to couch their actions in terms of "social justice," what they really are doing is plundering one set of individuals and transferring their wealth to their supporters. This is the only way the system operates. There are no alternatives.

I realize that people will take issue with my last statement, and it seems to be cynical. Look, I would love to see someone in office who actually was guided by a set of right and wrong, but whenever that happens, we are treated to the spectacle of someone like John Ashcroft, who I believe is a man of principle, raiding a California clinic that distributes marijuana to cancer patients. In the name of goodness and principle, Ashcroft deprives desperately ill people of even a modicum of relief from their painful ordeals.

It has taken me 48 years to "discover" that politicians are not my friends. They are the enemy of all things good and decent, and while they can take my home, income, and even my family, they cannot have my encouragement. I will deprive them of that little victory. Like the Christians who deprived their Roman captors the satisfaction of renouncing their faith, I will face the Lions rather than tell the political classes what they want to hear.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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