The Obnoxious American, in a recent article, Democrats: I Just Don't Understand expressed bewilderment over the things that Democrats say and do and claimed not to understand them. Personally, I think that Obnoxious probably does, but is just too polite and sensitive to say so. There is, doubtless, comparable bewilderment over the things that Republicans say and do. This bewilderment is understandable but there is a cure.
To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, it ain't easy being elite. According to the Free Dictionary, Elite has the following relevant meanings:
1. a. A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status: "In addition to notions of social equality there was much emphasis on the role of elites and of heroes within them" Times Literary Supplement.
b. The best or most skilled members of a group: the football team's elite.
It would be difficult to find leaders of either party – the elite, if you will – who would proudly proclaim their own inferior intellect or social status. While it would be in poor taste publicly to proclaim great wealth, it would be quite difficult to find any party leader of less than average income and wealth. The truly rich, I am told, say that they are “comfortable” rather than that they are “rich.” Few would stoutly deny being the best or most skilled members of the groups which they purport to lead.
However, a charge or even a veiled hint of elitism causes candidates' blood to run cold and mandates denial; sometimes in intentionally ungrammatical English. “I done come two fur and done wurked to hard too be tarred,” or words to that effect. This, of course, is not intended to suggest that the listeners are themselves of inferior intellect or incapable of understanding grammatically phrased statements; it is intended to suggest that the candidate is one of them, and not one of the wicked and supercilious elite; that he knows how they feel and will help them overcome the misery inflicted by the other party through greed, elitism and callousness, probably intentionally.
In reality, it would be very difficult to find significant numbers of voters who would want to have Joe Six Pack who flunked out of high school as their president (no disparagement intended; I too enjoy a good cold beer; even several). During the Bush – Kerry contest, President Bush was disparaged, not to put too fine a point on it, as “stupid.” Kerry tried to position himself as far more intelligent – but not, of course, as a member of the elite.
No matter how great it would be for everybody to be above average, that is mathematically impossible. We all hope for candidates who are, at least a little bit, above average. We may even want them to be “elite.” That is very different from “snob,” which the term has, unfortunately come to connote.
Lack Of A Coherent Substantive Position
In a heterogeneous country the size of the United States, there are many constituencies and the candidate who best pleases the most, wins. The only way to do that is to offer inconsistent solutions and hope that their incoherence is not noticed. No more drilling for oil, no more refineries, lower fuel prices, no more nuclear power plants, “green” sources of power, lower food prices, continued subsidies for leaving agricultural land fallow, superior health care and superior education for all, better national infrastructure, full employment, no more outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, lower taxes (except for the very rich who don't count for much), as well as world peace, freedom for all, not to mention sugar, spice and everything nice – all paid for by someone else.
No serious candidate is likely to jump off a cliff by saying, “listen, folks, I know that we all want superior health care and superior education for everyone, but everybody is just going to have to cough up the money to get those things; even that probably won't work very well, because the medical functionaries and teachers' unions like things the way they are. Merely taxing the wicked rich people out of existence to throw their money at complicated problems like these certainly won't work.”
Distortions of Statements by the Opposition and by the Media
These are things with which all candidates have to live, and there is no known way to get around it. It has always been a part of the political process, and always will be. Even the most precisely crafted statement can easily be taken out of context, and will be. I understand that it says in the Bible, “Cain slew Abel . . . . Go thou and do likewise.” Anyone who bothers to go to the original text would understand what was meant and how the distortions are just that; many of us blithely accept as correct the characterization by Candidate A of a statement by Candidate B, simply because we like Candidate A and dislike Candidate B, for other reasons.
The Government Does a Pretty Miserable Job of Whatever It Sets Out to Do, So We Want it to Do More
Among the great puzzles of life is that hardly anyone credits Government with doing things well, and very few look inward on the off chance that their own actions may have contributed to the problems which Government is expected to fix. Those who complain the most vociferously want Government to do even more – just better than it did under the auspices of the other party, and without any behavior modification on their own part. Typically, the way to accomplish this is to give the Government more of other peoples' money and to change the party which is to spend it.
This generally does not work, for multiple reasons beyond the inherent inability of any Government to fix many of life's problems. The government of any really big country with pretensions to freedom and democracy can't just say “Let there be universal and superior health care” and expect it to happen. Even if the President, all members of the Congress, and a majority of the Supreme Court were in total agreement, it still wouldn't work. There are 2,700,000 Federal employees, of whom most are in the Civil Service. The Federal Government is the largest employer in the U.S., with about two percent of the work force. The average annual compensation, including pay and benefits, is $106,871. Of those in the Civil Service, the vast majority are at GS 15 level or below, and thus cannot be fired for political reasons. Many of them are in policy level positions, where they remain regardless of which party is temporarily in power. Just as the Navy is said to be run by Chief Petty Officers, the Government is largely run by civil service employees. This cannot be changed; to try to do so would have horrible consequences; still, they have the power and the ability to advance their own causes, and to retard causes which they find disagreeable.
Victory Has Many Fathers, While Defeat Is An Orphan
There is a widely held belief, with which I disagree, that the War in Iraq has been lost and that we gotta get the hell out of Dodge right now. Regardless of whether this belief is legitimate, the war in Iraq is an orphan, and it is very difficult for a candidate to treat it otherwise. So was the “conflict” in Korea and the war in Vietnam. Victory in the First, and particularly in the Second World War, on the other hand, had many fathers.
Prospects for defeat and victory are easy to detect after the fact, and those who had to make the decisions to fight or yield become toast if they get us into what becomes an orphan conflict.
At the beginning of this article, I promised a cure for the inability to understand not only Democrats but Republicans as well. It is a simple cure but not a very likable one. It requires recognition that what candidates say to their various constituencies will have little impact on what they do if elected because they can't make consistent promises to all. It also requires a recognition that even if a candidate were consistent in all of his positions, and were to do his “elite” best once elected, it probably would amount to very little because of the structure of government. This is certainly true of those elected to lower office, but also of whoever is elected to the presidency.
Instead of paying too much attention to the words candidates speak, look to the manifestations of character and intelligence which they can neither exaggerate nor conceal.
Do they deal kindly and fairly with their subordinates and others, while providing effective leadership?
Do they offer basically the same persona to divergent audiences?
Do they merely twist the truth a bit instead of fracturing it?
Do they acknowledge that even with a congenial Congress they won't be able to accomplish everything they claim to hope to?
When wrong, are they sufficiently humble to admit to having erred, and sufficiently intelligent to do so promptly – perhaps before having the error blasted by others?
Such observations, perhaps visceral reactions, would go a long way toward overcoming bewilderment over the statements of candidates; it would also help in deciding which is the best candidate or, at least, which is the lesser of the available evils.Powered by Sidelines