Confessions Of An Optimistic Cynic

I’ve been thinking about why I tend to vote for Republicans considerably more often than Democrats, especially given my insistence on remaining a registered independent and refusal to become a Republican for more than a few minutes at a time on election days. And I think I’ve figured it out.

If you listen to the Democrats and Republicans, you get a “feel” for their general philosophies. As a rule, the Republicans talk about reducing government involvement in our everyday lives and minimizing the power and scope of the federal government, while the Democrats want to harness the power of the government to help people and, in general, make government more a part of everything.

There are exceptions, of course — most often in matters related to sex, where the roles are reversed, for some reason I ought to explore at some time, but won’t here and now. But generally speaking, I think that’s a fairly decent summary of how things work.

The cynic in me notes that while those are the established ideals, the actual practice of both parties often falls far short. The Republicans have, of late, participated in a huge spending spree and an expansion of the power and role of government — largely driven by the demand for improvements in national security.

Meanwhile, the Democrats don’t often stray from their ideals, but most often fall victim to incompetence and corruption, which serves to derail their plans quite thoroughly. Or circumstances conspire to thwart their intentions.

Philosophically, I tend to agree with the Republicans’ ideals. It’s been my experience that if you want something done the most incompetently, most expensively, and most inefficiently, with the greatest risks of unintended consequences, you should put the government in charge of it.

I have several examples I keep handy. For example, airport security. In the wake of 9/11, the Democrats insisted that the task be federalized, and the government put in charge of matters — this gave us the TSA. The unintended consequences (and I’m being charitable here in describing it as “unintended) here meant that the people charged with keeping us safe were government workers, and unionized ones as well. Can anyone ever cite an example when a union actually put “doing the best job possible” anywhere near the top of its list of priorities?

Here’s another one. Remember the luxury tax of the 1990s? To collect more money for the government, a whole list of luxury goods were subjected to a new tax. This included yachts.

So, what did folks do? The yacht makers shut down their factories and started building them abroad. Yacht buyers bought them and registered them offshore. And yacht-making workers found themselves out of very good-paying jobs. The only people who “paid the price” of the luxury tax were the least wealthy members of the whole business.

So when it comes to elections, if I don’t have a specific cause or candidate to vote for (or against), I tend to vote Republican.

it’s the optimist in me.

If the Republican gets elected, there is a chance — admittedly a slim one — that they will adhere to the ideals of their party and act to curb the power and spending (which are often one and the same) of the federal government, limiting it to just those areas delineated by the Constitution. These are summed up quite elegantly in the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If something isn’t covered there, then it shouldn’t be the job of the government. And note the very careful phrasing: ESTABLISH justice, INSURE domestic tranqulity, and PROVIDE for the common defense, but PROMOTE the general welfare — the first three are mandates, the fourth is an exhortation. The government is responsible for the first three, but only charged with helping in the fourth.

But back to my point: those are the stated ideals of the Republicans. The odds are slim that they will actually carry them out, but they just might happen.

On the other hand, I find myself hoping that the Democrats fail in their agenda. I like having the government promote the general welfare, but not guaranteeing it. I don’t want an expansion of government power and spending, no matter how lofty the stated goals and rationales. I’ve learned, through experience and observation and study, that there’s a very sound reason why “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” is not only one of the most common lies, but occasionally one of the most terrifying things you can hear. Remember how the government “helped” the allegedly abused children at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas?

If that’s a bit sensationalistic for you, how about those yachtmakers I mentioned before? Good, talented craftsmen who had good jobs at good wages, until the Democrats decided that folks rich enough to buy yachts ought to pay more taxes. Those folks were mildly inconvenienced by the effort, but the little people were the ones who were most screwed over.

Hell, let’s go back to “welfare,” as it was interpreted in the 50’s and 60’s. Its main effect — albeit not the intentional one — was to destroy the family structure of the poor. In its zeal to help single parents, the “war on poverty” suddenly made it far more profitable to be a single parent than a married couple. And as the rule of economics goes, whatever you subsidize you get more of.

And when things are at their absolute worst, is that the time for the government to intervene? Let’s look at the last time that happened — The Great Depression. By most accounts, President Roosevelt’s huge expansion of government power and spending (again, one and the same) in relief did very little to end the Depression. Indeed, I’ve even read some accounts that much of it actually extended the Depression. It took World War II — and the following massive expansion of the private sector (with the government as the biggest customer) as the biggest civilian employer, instead of the government directly hiring and paying people, to haul our economy out of the ashes.

So that’s the choice I often face in the ballot booth. I can vote for the Republican, and hope that they will keep their promises and fulfill their stated (and my most closely held) ideals, despite a long history of failing, or vote for a Democrat and hope that they just might be right (despite a long-established history of their ideas failing), or at least that they will fail in a way that will inflict most of the damage on themselves, and not on the nation as a whole.

I have just enough of an optimist in me that I’d rather vote for a 1-in-100 (or less) chance that the candidate just might help things than vote for a candidate that I most sincerely hope will fail.

And if all else fails, vote for the challenger and against the incumbent. Unless there’s something really good about the incumbent or really bad about the challenger, that’s most often the safest bet.

Freak shot
The Knucklehead of the Day award