Democracy vs. Choice


Some people are sports fans. They get their kicks watching athletes play games such as basketball, baseball, tennis, football, golf or, until recently, hockey (Odd as it may seem I was acquainted with a diehard NHL fan). Others watch "reality" game shows like American Idol and Survivor, where over the course of several weeks people root for their favorite contestant as the competition gets eliminated.

I, on the other hand, am a political junkie. And I do mean junkie. I am by no means a fan of politics. I believe the State to be the institutionalized version of a Dr. H.H. Holmes writ large. That is to say, a devil, with the keen ability to lure just about everyone, even antagonists, into a false sense of security. No, politics is an obsession, a disease, an addiction that consumes one's life until one knows the obscure congressman who won in the Connecticut first congressional district and by what percentage margin and is prepared to become a political science major. Did you know that in 1980 Jimmy Carter received exactly 66,666 votes in Nevada? See, it's that bad.

I have been a political junkie since about the time I was old enough to have some comprehension about what politics all meant. I do not quite understand what the allure is. Political profiling is, like coffee and cooked snail, an acquired taste. Many people are too disgusted or too confused by politics and government to seriously comprehend it. Indeed, politics and State action are disgusting and confusing to rational people. But my fascination is probably morbid, the way a detective becomes engrossed in his hunt for a serial killer. And I say, why not? After all, unless you've got a major bet on the Super Bowl, the results of a sporting event or game show will not have any major ramifications on your life. On the contrary, it is the Byzantine games that politicians play that affect all of us. Trillions of dollars, millions of lives, and the fate of the Earth hang in the balance.

As in past elections, there is much ballyhoo about the 2006 mid-term elections here in the United States. Once again, the media will whip up the unsuspecting public into a furor over what promises to be the most important election since the last election. The long-bedeviled Democrats are wringing their hands at the thought of gaining a house or two of Congress. President Bush, unbeknownst to him, has done everything in his power to help the Democrats, feckless as they are. Meanwhile the Republicans bemoan how misunderstood they are, still supporting the president who has become an albatross around their collective necks. Left-wing pundits are writing forgettable books about how the Democrats will waste your money and fight wars better than the Republicans have. Right-wing radio smear merchants will impugn the Democrats masculinity and patriotism, while telling you that the economy, your privacy, and the war in Iraq are not in as bad shape as you think. I will pull up a chair, pop some popcorn and watch the sparks fly as some deserving political huckster gets cooked. By all accounts the elephants, the donkeys and their complicit friends in the media, weasels all, will be putting on quite a circus.

Alas, I had to discover all that on the Internet. Where I live, there is apparently no controversy over any of the hot-button national issues. If there's a most important race in America, it is not in Indiana. In fact, it's probably in the State farthest from it (apologies to George Lucas). Democracy supposedly is about giving one a choice in who will extort and exploit them. However, the senator here, Richard Lugar, has no Democratic opponent. The Democrats want to take back the Senate, they say, but somehow there was no one here in the Hoosier state to take up that banner. Even worse, I live in a congressional district where the representative, Mark Souder, is one of the last legislators to feel comfortable about actually having a picture of George W. Bush on his campaign website. This is a very bad sign (A cursory view of the campaign websites of all Republican congressmen in Indiana revealed that only Souder has the chutzpah to display Bush's visage prominently on his site, that is, until recently). His Democratic opponent is a Mr. Tom Hayhurst, who is running the kind of nonspecific, feel-good campaign that seldom succeeds.

While some would pine for the kind of exciting races that are occurring everywhere else, even in other parts of Indiana, I am undeterred. I know full well that if America were a free country, I could choose protection and adjudication services the same way I choose telephone and cable services. Despite the fact that I can predict with certainty that Lugar and Souder will continue to "represent" me without my input or consent, I will nonetheless do the work I don't trust the journalists to do: report the news. I present for your consideration: highlights from the races you won't hear about on television.

Constituent Service Is Guaranteed?

That is, let alone satisfaction. As you are probably familiar, service providers in the free market have to provide a benefit known as customer service. This is because if a business does not attract and retain customers it will go bankrupt. This is not the case for politicians. Politicians know that is it close to impossible for them to be kicked out of power because individual secession is not technically allowed. Thus, as long as they can bribe and scare enough people into voting for them, they win, and the rest of us, the malcontents, are stuck and out of luck. Even still, most have the modicum of decency in them to pretend they care about constituent service. At the very least they'll send you a form letter. Certainly, that's been the case with other government officials I have written in the past and a few have even sent me handwritten notes.

However, this has not been the situation with my current congressman, Mark Souder. Ironically, despite being registered to vote in his district, he and his staff have yet to respond to my questions and comments over the years. Allow me to explain what I mean.

In early 2004, I wrote Mr. Souder's office regarding an instance relating to the important issue of the separation of church and state. On March 23, 2004, a ceremony was held for Sun Myung Moon, the Korean leader of the Unification Church, at the Dirksen Senate Office building in Washington D.C. In attendance were members of Congress from both political parties, including Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland), Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia), Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tennessee), Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), Rep. Phil Crane (R-Illinois), Rep. Tom Davis (R-Virginia), and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Illinois). It was Rep. Danny Davis that placed jeweled crowns on the heads of Moon and his wife in what was described as a "coronation ceremony." Moon then proclaimed himself to be the "returning Lord," "true Parent," and "Savior of Humanity." He declared that he had redeemed the souls of the evil dictators Stalin and Hitler, and would do the same for everyone else. Originally the Moon owned paper, The Washington Times, and the Internet blogosphere, where I discovered the story on, were the only sources that picked up this news item. Much later, both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported this story that they had earlier missed. When I learned of this, I was distressed that such lunacy as a coronation ceremony for a religious nut like Moon was taking place in a congressional office building with congressmen of both parties present.

Naturally, being a concerned citizen, I wrote my congressman, Mark Souder, about this travesty. In an email to his office I explained that, since Moon is a religious figure claiming to be the Messiah, having a coronation ceremony for him on government property clearly violates the idea of a separation of church and state. If the congressmen wanted to do this for him on private property that would be another thing, but this ceremony appeared to give Moon's unconventional claims the sanction of the US government. Furthermore, I noted, it was doubtful that Moon's values and statements are in line with the vast majority of the constituents of these congressmen.

I received an email back stating that, since I was registered to vote in Souder's district, I needed to wait so that his office could send me a written letter. I have been waiting for this letter for over two years now. Meanwhile, in a few days after writing Senator Lugar's office on the exact same issue, his staff was able to send me an email explaining the senator's position on this event, which he described as "disconcerting."

Disappointed in Mr. Souder's lack of correspondence, I did not write him again for a very long time. However I was moved to do so again in the autumn of 2005 regarding the war in Iraq. As some may know, I am and have been a committed anti-imperialist and critic of American foreign policy. At the time, a bi-partisan bill was presented in Congress called the Homeward Bound Resolution, introduced by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Rep. Walter Jones (R-North Carolina), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). It was designed to establish a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq before the end of 2006. I wanted Mr. Souder, who claims he does not want U.S. troops in Iraq forever, to hear from antiwar voices inside his district and to urge him to support the resolution. This time I received a video email from Mr. Souder's office in which the claim was made that his office was deluged with mail and therefore it was difficult for him to get in contact with registered voters in his district. A year later, Mr. Souder has yet to respond to this email either.

Now, I ask you, if this was how your lawyer, doctor, or telephone company reacted to your inquiries, would you be more or less inclined to continue employing them?

Conservative Image, Crazy Policies

Of course, Souder will most certainly be re-elected. It's not simply because his Democrat opponent, Tom Hayhurst, is running a vague campaign on non-issues like "hometown values" and "hard work" (Hayhurst's campaign was invited to comment on such issues as Iraq, Iran and civil liberties for this article. An aide responded that eventually positions would be posted on their campaign site, however, so far I have seen nothing approaching a clear contrast between the Hayhurst philosophy and that of Mark Souder aside from promptness in response). It will be because in a district dominated by rural, suburban and exurban areas, white people, the elderly, and church-goers, Souder's stance as a "committed conservative" and a dull, quasi-Amish, Christian evangelical white guy from the party of a president who said his favorite philosopher is Jesus, will go a very long way. These are the kinds of people who think homosexuality is a national disgrace and who still believe Saddam Hussein was linked to the September 11th attacks and had the power to harm the United States in some meaningful way. They are usually not deep thinkers and thus are taken in with mere perceptions and rhetoric.

Souder likes to think he is a "common-sense" conservative. Let's look at some his positions and see how much "sense" they make.

Let's look at the age-old war on drugs, yet another government "quagmire." For Souder, being a "drug warrior" is a point of pride. In the past Souder has served on congressional committees that "wage" the "war." According to a May 28, 2006 story in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Souder is outraged, "frustrated and amazed," at the Bush administration's reluctance to be more aggressive in the drug war (as if Bush doesn't have enough wars going on as it is). Specifically, Souder is incensed that the administration is hesitant to use the fungus Fusarium oxysporum on coca plants and poppies, in Columbia and Afghanistan respectively. Coca is used to manufacture cocaine and the poppy plant is used to make heroin.

The Clinton administration banned the use of this fungus, mainly because it determined that, since it can mutate, run amok and then wreak ecological destruction, it was a form of biological weapon. But, Souder must think that, if Bush is willing to use nuclear weapons on Iran, this is kid stuff. However, based on past experience, two things can be concluded. One is that the smart drug lord will figure out a way to keep the supply flowing despite the attacks. After all, that is his job, and to succeed he must do it well. The other thing is that this will only further spark anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and Latin America, where American popularity is already in the dumpster as it is.

It is clear, for example, that attempts to eradicate the poppy plant in Afghanistan work against efforts to occupy the country by the United State military and its NATO allies. The locals don't take kindly to their livelihood – and heroin is a big part of Afghanistan's economy – being destroyed. Souder would have one believe that he supports the Afghanistan occupation as part of the "War on Terror ®." But what happens when drug eradication efforts endanger that occupation? Blank Out!

The longer the drug war goes on, the more absurd it becomes. Spreading fungi throughout the Third World in a war on plants is not conservatism; it's quackery.

Of course, Souder is beyond reproach because he's doing it for the "children." How precious.

What's also precious is the bloated prescription drug benefit that Bush and Souder helped manhandle though Congress (kind of like the authorization of force in Iraq). Here's Souder on that happy bundle of debt and bureaucracy: "While the implementation of Part D has not been perfect, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have now worked through many of the problems and seniors appear to be largely satisfied with the program." Except for this problem: Bush told Congress his Medicare plan would cost $400 billion dollars in its first decade of implementation. But in the second decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, costs balloon to $2 trillion dollars. To cite James Bovard in The Bush Betrayal, many Republicans had to be wrangled into supporting the bill. Souder wasn't one of them. He had the courage of his convictions in standing by this sop to the elderly from the very start.

Of course, like any patriotic Republican, Souder supports the war in Iraq. After all, don't you know, "I attended CIA briefings that convinced me that we could not take a chance with Saddam Hussein…" Note, however, his fellow Hoosier Republican John Hostettler voted against the use of force resolution because he didn't see any evidence of merit. Sadly, Hostettler, who also voted against Bush's Medicare plan, is heading for defeat.

Still Souder maintains: "The terrorist tactics we see used on our armed men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, would likely have been used in the streets of New York or Indiana were our brave soldiers not directly confronting them on their turf." I wonder if Bush and Souder hire the same speech writers.

He never stops to think if, perchance, the presence of troops in these countries is the reason for the attacks in the first place. It does, however, provide a likely excuse to keep sending lives and dollars down the Iraq/Afghanistan money pit. Is Souder conservative or crazy? It doesn't really matter since Souder is proud to state: "I am committed to preserving traditional marriage, the union of one man and one woman." Mark Souder, crusader for Christendom! Bless my heart, he gets my vote!

Lugar: Wise man or Administration Tool?

Earlier this year, the pro-Establishment rag Time, gushed that Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) was the Senate's "wise man." This was mainly due to his reputation as a moderate and an internationalist, whose Nunn-Lugar legislation has helped with nuclear non-proliferation efforts in the former Soviet Union.

While that may be all well and good, he does little to stop the proliferation, and prevent the use, of nuclear weapons by the United States government. For after all, the United States is the only nation that is credibly threatening to use its nuclear arsenal on someone. And the moment the United States does drop a bomb, on Iran or anywhere else, it's the end of the non-proliferation paradigm.

Lugar is praised as being a realist on foreign policy matters. He is rumored to want a new UN secretary and to be urging moderation in American actions contra Iran. However, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee (a post that will in all likelihood be taken by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) if the Republicans lose control of the Senate), he could be doing a lot more. Lugar cast a vote in favor of authorizing a war with Iraq, which in retrospect doesn't seem too wise. But where is Lugar on criticizing Bush or the war now? Indeed, his Republican colleagues, Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) and John Warner (R-Virginia), have been much more vocal. And none of them have the potential influence of Lugar.

Mr. Lugar, who incidentally was an initial proponent of American democratization efforts throughout the globe, refuses to take strong stands against the Bush foreign policy even though he's a shoo-in for re-election and is one of the few in the Senate not considering a presidential run in 2008. So what does it say when a Senator of such seniority is more alarmed by the happenings in former Soviet republics than the nefarious deeds being done in his own home country? Does it say he's a sage, a guru, a "wise man"? Or does it make him a tool of the Bush administration? Luckily for Lugar, the Libertarian Party gets no attention and no votes…


I am certain I am not the only person who feels enslaved to entrenched incumbents. I am left to ask myself: Does democracy in America give me much of a choice at all? Is it "fair" even when all the votes are counted?

It would seem that if I didn't find politics entertaining, I would have to view Election Day as the day where the same mistakes are made each year, over and over again. It does take a degree of stoicism to be a libertarian, even in America.

It should be clear that it is the market that gives us choice. The market is a miracle of human capability, wherein humans voluntarily associate to create value for others. With no central coordination whatsoever, food is everyday placed on the shelves and the masses are clothed and sheltered. One is free to buy or not buy, to hire or not to hire, and one's choices are as wide as the possibilities. If the distribution and creation of goods and services were allocated by the very same process used in democratic elections, the likely result would be death and hell. And as Immanuel Kant quipped, it is better to experience the tyranny of a despot, than the tyranny of a democratic majority.

Many a fool has wanted to bring government interference into the market. But the wise will see that it instead is the government itself that needs a "market reform."

For now, though, whatever the election results, remember: "We the people" will have "chosen."

November 4, 2006