Take Not Insults From Campaigns

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We already know political campaigns amount to serial fibathons. We know that there is no way to hold these guys to their promises. We know that once they get in charge of our lives and money, we will have less freedom after they are finished with us than before. We are trapped. We also know that democracy offers no way out of this trap, especially not the first-past-the-post kind of democracy that squeezes out all but two candidates who largely agree that the state they are pleading to manage should be all powerful.

We know all this, and it inclines us to despise the campaign season as a parasitical hoax, an advance auction of stolen goods (as Mencken said), an illusion that apes the style but not the substance of genuine choice (as Rothbard said), a betrayal that bears nothing in common with what the founders envisioned, and a vast waste of resources in which political contributions serve as protection money and victories signal the sounding buzzer for the start of looting and pillaging.

We know all this. And yet there is one consolation. During the campaign, sometimes the candidates insult each other. Thank goodness for this. For our part, we can insult on blogs or letters to the editor. But we can never get close enough to a candidate to insult him to his face, though surely we should want to.

Indeed, we are desperate for the candidates to insult each other. Only they can get away with it these days. Chances are that if you insult the president in private life today, you will be visited by the FBI or locked up in semi-permanent detention without trial. It’s like the later Soviet system, there is only one protection in public life: you have to be too prominent to arrest, in order to get away with thumbing your nose at the powers that be.

Mostly we have to depend on the candidates to do this to each other. The primary season is particularly boring for being barren of insults, with no one wanting to call anyone else a name lest he be passed over for the VP slot or otherwise punished.

So general campaigns are much welcome, with the two tribes battling it out with words.

Yes, they lie during this time too. The Democrats accuse the Republicans of having viciously slashed the budget (uh huh) and the Republicans accuse the Democrats of being tax-and-spend liberals (which is why the federal budget goes up so much less under the Democrats?). It’s all nonsense of course, and particularly so when the candidates “stick to the issues” and argue about “substance” rather than just deliver ad hominem insults.

Far better is when the candidates forget about so-called substance and issues, and just hurl invective. This is the honest way to campaign. The reason is this. In contrast to campaign “substance” which is mostly always wrong, or skewed, the invective is mostly entirely true. Statecraft is necessarily an immoral, dirty business. Any incumbent who has done his job has got closets full of bones and piles of dirt under carpets. If an opposing candidate can’t come up with a plausible accusation of massive corruption, graft, failures, payoffs, betrayals, cover-ups, and the like, he just hasn’t done his homework.

And yet, of course, the media and the official campaign establishment are always trying to crack down on honesty in campaigns, for fear that too much truth telling by one candidate or another will threaten the system. And so currently, John Kerry is being thrashed for an off-camera remark that he made. He called the Republicans “the most crooked…lying group I’ve ever seen,” before adding “it’s scary.”

Well, it is scary. Granted that Kerry has seen a lot of crooks and liars during his years in public life, so perhaps he is going too far. Or perhaps not. The bigger the government the bigger the crooks and the more brazen the liars who run it; Bush presides over the biggest government in human history; and thus do you know the rest. Look: just the other day, Bush denounced the Democrats for favoring “the old policy of tax and spend” — which is a bit like a shark decrying the practice of flesh eating.

In any case, Kerry’s comments were a great moment of truth telling, and amount to the only really interesting thing he has said since he emerged as frontrunner. But rather than being praised for his candor and passion, he is being trounced for, you guessed it, negative campaigning.

Let’s see how far you can get reading this phony-baloney piety from some Republican muckymuck: “Senator Kerry’s statement today in Illinois was unbecoming of a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, and tonight we call on Senator Kerry to apologize to the American people for this negative attack… On the day that Senator Kerry emerged as his party’s presumptive nominee, the president called to congratulate him. That goodwill gesture has been met by attacks and false statements.”

You believe this GOP guy? He speaks on behalf of a regime that is running several martial law operations around the world at once, killing and pillaging with impunity, and steering the reconstruction contracts to its long-time friends in the otherwise dying sector of old-time US heavy industry — operations that require payoffs, lies, and bloodshed as a matter of policy — but oh when it comes to campaigns, we must not have “unbecoming” statements.

We know what the Bush administration would do if Kerry were an Iraqi, Afghani, or a Haitian. He would be languishing in Guantanamo right now, in fibbercuffs.

Here’s something really great: Kerry refused to back down. His spokesmen said: “The Republicans have launched the most personal, crooked, deceitful attacks over the last four years. He’s a Democrat who fights back.”

And may Bush return fire. A polite, gentlemanly, “becoming” campaign is not one worth noticing. So long as they are slinging mud, at least we know they are saying some true things, and for once, we get something for all our taxes — a little enjoyment.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com and author of Speaking of Liberty.

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