Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Man without a Party

Classes started up again here at UGA. During day one of my public opinion course, our professor asked if we considered ourselves either Democrats or Republicans, and I, along with two others, allied with neither. In my estimation, at least in the current political climate - and perhaps always - to consider oneself a Democrat or a Republican is roughly equivalent to a declaring oneself a lunatic.

Personally, I hate to think of living in a country ruled by either. The Bush years gave us the nearest approximation of what an evangelically-backed, self-righteous, and idiot-prone Republican party. Obama-philes seem to await the coming pendulum swing that would provide a Democratic counterpart, but his time in office will be over before the Democrats can develop a workable fiscal policy or locate the backbone to implement it.

That said, I'm not sure bipartisanship is the answer either. Swallowing two shit sandwiches is hardly preferable to eating one.

For, the most frustrating part of following politics isn't the game-like nature by which are lives are dictated; as much as I disapprove, I understand. What I can't grasp is why it is we do much of we do and why we fail in doing so much of what we should. For example, why would we hold GITMO prisoners without trial? I understand the argument that details about torture could result in a mistrial and thus the release of dangerous prisoners, but the answer is simple: so be it. Is it more dangerous to release a potentially dangerous man or to tread the most certainly dangerous waters that come in protecting our principles at the very expense of those principles? The answer seems most obviously the latter, but we pussied out for fear of political suicide.

In contemplating the ongoing policy dilemmas we face as a nation, particularly the balance we attempt to strike between security and freedom, I came across this passage from P.J. O'Rourke's "On The Wealth of Nations:"

Freedom cannot exist without limitation. Adam Smith was not a man to flinch at thin conundrum. In his consideration of banking Smith stated his most fundamental free market principle: "If any branch of trade, or any division of labour, be advantageous to the public, the freer and more general the competition, it will always be the more so." However, in his consideration of banking, Smith also stated his most fundamental caveat to that principle: "But those exertions of natural liberty of a few individuals, which might endanger the security of the whole society, are, and out to be, restrained by the laws of all governments."

I've always liked O'Rourke because I think he's a sensible and intelligent guy with a pretty good read on our national bullshit. I also like his fervent defense of individual freedom and liberty and people's natural tendency that we want to be left the hell alone. This passage was particularly striking for me because it seemed like an approach to economics that transcended party bullshit.

By this I do not mean it was bipartisan, at least in the sense of parties working together, but perhaps in the sense that party differences are and should be irrelevant when considering what is in the people's best interest. The best political label I can find for Smith is that of a Libertarian who isn't retarded. It's a zero-based approach in which he begins with a proposition of absolute freedom and then restrains that freedom only insofar as it assures stability without strangling the freedom government policies are meant to protect.

I'm not sure if 18th-century thinkers are more intelligent that we are or if they only seem that way in retrospect. Increasingly, I am of the opinion that we aren't nearly as smart as we think we are, but my hope is that we only appear stupid now because the idiot voices of the past have faded into obscurity. Hopefully history's judgment and recollection - or lack thereof - of the Bush administration will renew my faith in the populous and in myself.

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