Saturday, 14 January, 2006

What's Wrong with U.S. Politics?

I have finally figured out what bothers me about politics in this country.  Or, at least I've figured out one of the things that bothers me, and perhaps it's the major problem that prevents me from caring much about politics.  It's simply this:  our political system is dominated by two opposing schools of thought, one of which believes that the individual's rights are subordinate to the whim of the majority, and the other which believes that the individual's rights are subordinate to the whim of the State.  A minor voice preaches anarchy in the guise of "personal freedom."  Fringe groups of all sorts that are devoted to single issues like ecology or particular social issues spring up from time to time but inevitably align themselves with one of the two major parties:  holding their noses and voting for the lesser of two evils.

Political discussion in this country, in the rare circumstances when it peeks up out of the muck of tribal name-calling, revolves around mostly inconsequential issues and major battles over minor disagreements about how much to extort from each citizen and how to allocate the enormous amount of money that makes its way into the government coffers.  An entire industry is devoted to collecting more money from people in order to influence the way that government can squander its ill-gotten gains, and other industries exist as a direct result of the incomprehensible pile of steaming, stinking legislation that emerges from the Congressional outhouse.

The results?  Counting Federal, State, and local taxes, government directly consumes 30% of the Gross Domestic Product each year and produces little of value.  When you add the cost of complying with government regulations--again producing little of value--the cost approaches 50% of GDP.  In that sense, our government is very efficient:  it's an incredibly effective wealth dissolver, much as a baby is an efficient food processor.  The difference is that a baby grows up to be a productive person.  Our government just eats more money and creates ever larger and smellier piles of dirty diapers.

In years past, our two major political parties had somewhat comprehensible platforms.  The Democratic party stood for personal freedom, including equality for all regardless of race or social standing.  The major criticism of Democrats was a perceived "Robin Hood" approach to government:  tax the rich and spend money to increase social programs.  The Republican party was concerned primarily with protecting the country from foreign entanglements and providing a friendly business climate while keeping government as small as possible.  The major criticism of the Republican party was its perceived pro-business, anti-individual stance.  In short, Democrats stood for personal freedom and large government devoted to social equality.  Republicans stood for personal responsibility, conformity, and smaller government.

Contrast that to today.  The Republican party, dominated by what's popularly called the Right-Wing Conservative Movement, appears to be devoted to squashing individual liberty into a one-size-fits-all mold, and spending money for ... for ... well, for something.  It's certainly not the fiscally conservative Republican party of past years.  The Democratic party, rudderless but with plenty of shrill voices of a decidedly strident Liberal bent, has as its primary goal wresting power from the Republicans, but has no coherent plan to accomplish that goal.  On the rare occasion that you hear a Democrat say something that's not about the Evil Republicans, it's of a decidedly collectivist nature:  it's your responsibility to take care of your neighbor.

To sum it up, today's major political parties present the following choice:

I don't know about everybody else, but of the two alternatives I just can't get past the idea of being a slave.  And that's the primary reason I don't involve myself in the machinations of either political party.