Momentous Trifles

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I haven’t conducted a survey, but I think that if I were to ask people if they believed there was some sort of significant difference between Republicans and Democrats, many, if not most of them, would answer "Yes."

In a sense, they’re right. The ultimate political difference is: We’re out; they’re in. Or vice versa. Getting into office and staying there is the ultimate political question before which all others fade into insignificance.

But once elected, what are the differences? Well, there are the stereotypes: the Republicans favor big business; the Democrats, labor. The Republicans frown on abortion; the Democrats think it utterly acceptable. The Democrats never hesitate to raise the minimum wage; the Republicans express misgivings.

But note: the Republicans may not want to raise the minimum wage as fast or as high as the Democrats, but they do raise it. No Republican, to my knowledge (Ron Paul being an exception) ever suggests doing away with it altogether. Similarly, in other areas of "disagreement," the question is never whether to do away with a certain big-government program or not, but only how much to reduce the increase in its budget, or some other minor modification.

This quibbling is important; it sustains the illusion of a difference between the parties, which, in turn, encourages voting. And voting is the measure by which the people’s belief in government, and its inevitability and necessity, is gauged.

But the real proof of the essential identity of the two parties is shown in the issues that most seriously challenge the powers currently in office.

The current flap involves the government firing of eight federal prosecutors. This is a matter of such substantial insignificance that it can safely be raised by the Democrats against the Republicans without risking the possibility of anything of substance coming to light.

Federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the administration. To my knowledge, no one has alleged that the firing of the prosecutors was unlawful. Rather, it is charged that their firings were politically motivated: some of them were investigating possible improprieties by Republicans. Gosh — politics in government! Could it be? When the attorneys were hired originally, do you suppose it could have been because the administration considered their political philosophy congruent with its own? Why would a "conservative" president take on more than a few token "liberal" federal prosecutors? And why would he retain those who appeared hostile to his policies? Those who express surprise or outrage that the administration would fire prosecutors for political reasons are at least as disingenuous as the president himself. Fired for political reasons? Of course! Everybody knows it, and were it not an election year, with political gain to be reaped by the show of outraged indignation, it would hardly merit a mention in the evening news.

Or consider the other administration-threatening affair: Watergate. A trivial bungled burglary, for no good reason, since it appeared that Nixon would carry the day anyway. Plus, tape recordings of President Nixon — admittedly a shrewd man — conspiring with his colleagues about the break-in! I’ve never understood why a person as smart as Nixon would make recordings of himself planning a crime — albeit a rather minor one. Nonetheless, this silly affair was blown into such importance that it drove Nixon out of the White House.

The Republicans had their chance with Clinton’s sexual pecadillos, but failed to oust the President. They succeeded in demonstrating his appalling moral character, but that was pretty well known before.

Now if you really wanted to hound a president from office, you could find serious and weighty things to support your attack. President Bush, for example, has committed so many crimes during his term in office (warrantless spying, torture of prisoners, for examples) that, by any rational standard, he could be impeached and convicted several times over. But who could accuse him? Whose hands are clean enough to cast the first stone?

When he wasn’t making a record of himself plotting a robbery, Nixon gave us such monstrosities as the EPA, and affirmative action. These unconstitutional acts provided plenty of grounds for impeachment, but, again, who would bring the charge? His political enemies, who also supported such programs?

Political divisions are real, all right, but as mentioned above, they do not involve any principles save: get power and keep it, and involve your cronies in the resulting plunder and loot. When we see a serious threat to presidential power, as, we’re told, is now happening re the firing of the prosecutors, we can be sure that the matter is trivial.

Any challenge to government action based upon fundamental principles is not going to happen, because it would reveal the antagonists as essentially the same. It’s like voting for the candidate who is the lesser of two evils. If you wait for a candidate who isn’t evil at all, it’ll be a long wait! And it’ll be an even longer wait before one party challenges the policies of the other on anything but trivial grounds. Both parties live in glass houses.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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