Umpire Worship

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Spring is nearly upon us, and so the mind turns to baseball.

Chiefly, this means that the mind turns to pitchers, catchers, batters, and fielders. Umpires, if they are given any thought, are in the back of the mind.

The umpire, after all, belongs in the back of the mind — as he stands in the back of, or rather behind, the plate. Properly, the umpire is not a participant in the game of baseball, although, to be sure, his actions will affect the outcome of the game. Imagine a game in which not a single strike was called. This would be a different sort of game.

The game of baseball is about the players. The pitcher whose pinpoint control, or blazing fastball, will keep opposing hitters off balance. Or the hitter with the patience and bat control to hit .400 for a season.

Consider, then, how completely wrong things have gone in American politics.

No longer is politics in America about the players, that is, about the citizens. Instead, the game of politics in America is played for the sake of the umpires, that is, for the government.

A government, after all, may justify its existence only to the extent that it ensures that things between the citizens run smoothly. It does not exist to decide who wins and loses. If it does, it can no longer claim to be impartial. And to be impartial would seem to be a very important characteristic of an umpire.

Worse, the government today exists for its own sake. It does not matter that the government spends more than it takes by taxation. It does not matter that programs may be wasting money that would be better left in the pockets of average citizens. And it does not matter if byzantine regulations make it harder and harder to earn a living. There are new rules and regulations to be made, and the lot of the citizen is to put up and shut up.

Human beings are arguably lower on the federal preference chart than fish, birds, or trees. Worse, human beings who do not happen to have millions of dollars to donate to political candidates are lower on the governmental preference chart than, well, Enron, for example.

Given the tax and spend habits of the political class — not only in Washington DC, but in the state capitals, county councils and town halls across the miles — it would appear that many people, as far as the government is concerned, exist only as a source of tax revenue for projects whose main benefit is to appear on some politician’s resume.

And you thought you were worth something “as a human being.” Well, you’re right: you are.

Human beings are intrinsically valuable, because they are human. The government, moreover, if it is to have any reason for existing, must serve individual human beings. The test of a good government, then, is what the government does to its masters, i.e., the citizens whom it serves. The good government makes them better off, or, to put it more precisely, the good government stands behind the plate lets them improve their own lot by individual initiative.

Does it make them poorer? Does it destroy their jobs by requiring them to jump through hoops beyond comprehension at ruinous cost of compliance? Does it take their land and their livelihood in the name of keeping a vocal minority happy? Does it rule by bribes — doling out favors and special preferences to those who clamor and threaten?

The good government will do none of the above. Instead, the good government is the government which governs least — and which thereby ensures that the individual citizens will prosper in safety.

The alternative to the government doing its job as umpire and staying in the background is to see the government as umpire pick the winners and the losers. It is to play the game of baseball not for victory, or for they enjoyment of the fans, but so that the umpires will have something to do, so that the umpires can be powerful and important. It is to simply award the hitter first base when he has not swung the bat, and has not been hit by the ball.

By the way, if enough of the fans demand a change in baseball, the change gets made. Witness the designated hitter, short fences, and the complete reversal of day versus night games as compared to a century ago. The fans pay for the tickets. The fans are the source of revenue. And so the fans have an important say — they have control — over what goes on in the game.

The same is true in politics — if only the fans, i.e., the citizens, would pay attention. The citizens pay the taxes. And the tax dollars fund the wasteful, ridiculous programs for the special interests and the cronies. If the citizens would bother to see how their money is actually spent, and connect this spending to the voting booth, things might get better. And it would not take very long.

Although it is true that political change may take a long time to develop, it may also happen rather quickly. Consider the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Once the dominoes started falling, the game was up.

Another baseball season will soon be upon us. If only our local, state and federal governments could be more like the umpires — behind the plate, and out of the way.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2002 David Dieteman

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