As far back as I can remember, presidential candidates have promised unity for a nation torn apart by partisanship. John McCain is the maverick who "reaches across the aisle" to get things done, putting aside the partisan bickering that is supposedly the source of our troubles. Barack Obama famously sermonized at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that "there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America," and ever since he has promised to bring the country together.
While the candidates talk about themselves as if they can play referee, as if they can heal the nation’s wounds and stop Americans from being at one another’s throats, the very opposite is true: So much of the division in our society is caused by the government itself, and especially the presidency that is celebrated and heralded constantly but especially every four years at election time.
It is society that brings out the best of everyone’s differences and harmonizes them toward mutually beneficial aims. The market, community, civic and religious organizations, non-profits, businesses, and individuals working for their own dreams create social peace. There is no reason why businessmen, workers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, athletes, plumbers, community organizers, and people of all walks of life, all religions and ethnic backgrounds, cannot coexist in peace and social consonance. The market economy in particular fosters a tolerance and harmony that allow hundreds of millions, actually billions, of people, each with very different interests and hopes, to live together in a world of honest competition and cooperation. The very fact that we are all different brings us together in peace, and society needs no presidents, no rulers of any kind, to experience the wonders of true diversity in an atmosphere of commerce, cultural exchange and liberty.
At his famous "Yes We Can" speech in New Hampshire, Obama said the following words, which speak to our common humanity, and thus have a ring of inspirational truth to them, but nevertheless miss the mark completely as it relates to politics:
[T]he struggles of the textile worker in Spartanburg are not so different than the plight of the dishwasher in Las Vegas; . . . the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation.
Here we see the grand paradox of the politics of unity. The textile worker and dishwasher share a common human interest, an interest in peace and liberty. They both suffer under an economy crippled by regulation, inflation and taxation. They should indeed be united, despite their politics, but not with the presidential state. On the contrary, they should unite against the state that is their common enemy.
As for the little girl in Dillon and the boy in L.A., who is Obama to say their hopes and dreams "are the same"? One might wish to be a professional musician and the other a doctor. One might want to devote his life to the clergy and the other might want to pursue modeling. Liberty and the market can harmonize their very different dreams and can enrich them both in a world of peace and prosperity. But the presidency is not what brings them together. Indeed, it is politics that amplifies whatever differences they might have into social conflict.
Obama says "we are one nation." This is true in that one national government plagues us all, but aside from that, and the cultural continuity among most people of a nation, there is no magical component to our being Americans that make us "one people" or gives us uniform dreams and hopes that can be addressed and administered by a national central planner. And while, despite many differences, we have much in common, it is the contest over who gets to be that planner that most divides us.
Consider the hysteria we have witnessed over the last couple weeks. Despite the nearly identical programs of both Obama and McCain — the continuation of the empire, the police state, the corporatist regulatory machine and entitlements, with some superficial differences here and there — millions of Americans are convinced this is "the most important election" in decades, if not since the birth of the American republic.
Because their two agendas are so similar, every minor difference becomes amplified into a question of immense international importance. Obama prefers a slightly higher tax rate on the highest tax bracket — thus he is a "socialist" whereas McCain is "laissez-faire." Obama wants to be more conventionally diplomatic while still beefing up the military and sending more troops to Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan and elsewhere, and so he is the "peace candidate."
Those of us who have paid close attention to American politics for years, and not just around election time but every day, can only be amused by the hysteria gripping the nation. Tens of millions of Americans wait in line to vote, and for what? Even the genuine major differences between the two — for example, who will actually kill more people abroad — is a matter of conjecture.
What’s even worse is seeing the cultural differences among Americans transformed into a national conflict. The cosmopolitans in the blue states and the red-state townsfolk have absolutely no reason to hate each other. In fact, in today’s society and economy, they depend on each other. They might have their disagreements, maybe even important ones, about how to raise their families, how to worship, and lifestyle questions in a whole range of areas. But these differences need not be a cause of animosity or resentment. They should be discussed and deliberated upon peacefully, where people live by example and share their experiences, rather than a cause of hostility culminating in a national referendum in which one side of the "culture war" wins and the other loses.
And so the struggle is over whether Obama’s Chicago values or Palin’s small-town Alaska values will dominate the nation. I’d much prefer to see those values kept on their own turf politically. The rest of us can pick and choose what we like about urban community organizing and rural hunting (and, for my part, I see attractive and negative things about all of America).
This raises a radical point: How can a modern national election be just, even if all the votes are counted? How can one man rule 300 million Americans, most of whom did not vote for him, just because a majority of those who did vote considered him the lesser of evils? It would be insane to subject nearly half the nation to Obama’s rule, or McCain’s rule, no less than it has been an injustice that from sea to shining sea we have all been ruled by Bush for eight years, and Clinton for eight years before that.
What’s more, when we are talking about mass democracy, we are not even talking about true democracy. The two choices presented, unlike the zillions of choices available in the marketplace, were picked by establishment handlers and have been vetted to ensure they will continue business as usual. Meanwhile, the illusion of democracy tricks the populace into thinking the state is an extension of themselves, only bolstering the state’s capacity to commit oppression. Far from being a check on despotism, elections provide democratic states the social legitimacy to conduct all manners of mayhem.
Especially given the meaninglessness of the democratic choice, the hysteria and even hatred apparent in America around the time of an election cycle are a depressing sight for those of us who love liberty and who believe the one thing that actually does unite people, across many differences, is a desire to be free. Election time is the time when Americans work hard to impose their way on others so as to preemptively avoid having the other way imposed upon them. Yet we should all know, no matter the outcome, our freedom will continue to be in great jeopardy, our wealth will be looted to benefit the politically connected, the innocent will continue to be murdered by American bombs.
Tens of millions of Americans can vote but choose not to. They are castigated by their peers, but they have the right idea. We’re told that if you don’t vote you can’t complain, but voting, at least for the major parties, does not register much of a complaint at all. You might think you’re voting against the war or tax hikes, but it will instead be counted as just another voice of unity behind the dictatorial mandates of the chosen leader.
There is an awful lot to complain about. If you have fundamental disagreements with American politics, reject the whole system. So long as most Americans are swindled by the promises of mass democracy and distracted by its insanities, we cannot be free. So long as national unity is seen as a goal to be pursued through nationalism and the coercive central state, we will be needlessly divided.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.