Politics Explained
(Culture,Politics)
Noferblatz (24 July 2017 05:46:01)

I try to avoid politics here, because mostly what it does is divide and destroy half your audience. However, I feel that it’s time for people to understand how politics ultimately works. A look behind the curtain, if you will. What I say here may or may not apply to your individual politician, but I suspect it applies more widely than you imagine.

First, let’s dispense with the idea of a noble politician. I no longer believe there is such a thing. Here we’re talking about a politician who has a real set of reasonable values they believe in and push for regardless of whatever else happens. There may be a few odd ones here and there, but in general, there are extremely few. Public “service” is utter tripe. What’s real is the public teat, to which virtually all politicians are attached with a death grip.

Public “service” affords politicians a variety of things. First a set of friends who more or less think as they do and can share many of the same experiences. Second a source of money. Politicians seldom emerge from public life with less money than they came in with. Funny how that is. You can postulate any reason you like for it, but it’s a fact. They generally exit public service wealthy if they weren’t before, or more so if they were already wealthy. And if that doesn’t happen to be true for a given politician, there are typically lucrative book contracts, speaking engagements, lobbying jobs, etc. they can take advantage of after exiting government. Not to mention the fact that most of them are lawyers, which by itself ensures a standard of living beyond what you and I can expect.

Politics also affords politicians a source of affirmation, a source of self-importance and an adoration and admiration which most people would give their right eye to achieve. Being a politician automatically makes you a very important person.

Politics also affords politicians, above all else, power. It’s power over a great deal of public money. Power over public policy, and power over the lives of thousands, sometimes millions of people. A stroke of your pen or a vote can affect countless people you’ve never met and never will.

In addition, politics also may afford some baser benefits, like access to beautiful women, young children if that happens to be your prediliction, drugs, travel or what have you.

None of this is particularly a secret. You may not have thouht of it in this way, but it’s been there right along. It was there in the Roman senate, and it’s been there in any and every political body ever since.

So you can imagine the appeal of government for a lot of people.

The second thing to firmly understand about government is that it’s not about right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice, fair and unfair or any other seemingly nobile dichotomies you can dream up. How do we know this? Look at the majority of lawmakers. They’re lawyers. Seldom does a lawmaker emerge who isn’t a lawyer. And if you care to look into the education of a lawyer, you will find that lawyers are taught only enough ethics and morals to ensure they can stay out of jail themselves. When it comes to the broad dichotomies above, they’re off the table. The law, as a practice, is about who is the better arguer. Rich people can afford better arguers. The ultimate outcome of any legal case doesn’t really have as much to do with the law as it does with who can argue their case better, and lawyers know this. And if you think lawyers begin to care about these things more when they get in to public office, you’re wrong.

Now let’s say you’re a lawyer who manages to get himself elected to public office. What will be your first and primary effort going forward? Getting re-elected. Politics is a game of the incumbant. The name of the game is getting there and staying there, sometimes for decades. I shouldn’t have to make this point, but it’s one of the single most important points to make, since it influences every decision a lawmaker makes. I’m going to take the next few paragraphs proving the point.

Let’s take a particular case. In fact, let’s take a really polarizing case. Let’s take Roe versus Wade. This legal case was the one which decided that, in the U.S. abortion (an extremely divisive issue) was legal. How did this come about? We can take a most shallow look at the case and know all we need to know about it. One combatant wanted an abortion, free and clear of any legal entanglements, and the other did not wish to allow it. Forget how polarizing this issue is. Forget whatever religious or scientific beliefs you have about it. That’s what the case came down to.

Now, if you read the U.S. Constitution, you know that making law is the exclusive province of Congress. The Executive branch (the president, cabinet and such) cannot make law. The Supreme Court (the third branch of government) cannot make law either. Only Congress can do this. And the Constitution forbids Congress from shirking their responsibility.

So let’s say that you had an issue like abortion, and you wanted to decide once and for all whether it’s okay or not okay. First, it could well be argued that this was not an issue for the federal government to decide. It is really a state matter. The federal government should not involve itself in matters like this, except to settle disputes among the individual states. If one state wants abortion to be legal it may pass a law saying so. Or vice versa. According to the Constitution, the Federal government was to busy itself with issues between or external to the states, not necessarily matters dictating conduct for the entire country. The Federal government was set up more or less to defend the rights of the overall population against an intrusive central government. Don’t believe me? Read the Constitution.

But let’s say that such a case was in the public eye. Let’s say that Congress had the opportunity to preempt the courts and pass a law to decide the matter of abortion once and for all. And they did in fact have this opportunity. Congress could, at any time, pass a law for or against abortion. So if they could have, why didn’t they? Remember that little thing about getting re-elected? Yeah. Abortion is extremely divisive, perhaps one of the most divisive issues ever to arise in public debate. You’re a politician. Where should you stand on the matter? If you’re smart, nowhere. Precisely because it is such a divisive issue. Yes, today you will find politicians who take a stand one way or another (depending, mind you, on their constituency). But they have little to lose. First, the stand they take will probably more or less reflect their constituency, so they’re safe there. But more importantly, it doesn’t matter because Roe vs. Wade is settled law. You can take some moralistic stand either way, and it won’t matter in the end, because there’s not a chance in hell you’re going to do anything about it. Voters can breath easy, so to speak, because politicians in Congress won’t touch this issue with a ten foot pole. It’s a sure way to bring your re-election into question.

So whether Congress felt it was their duty as the national legislature to decide the issue, they chose to punt in favor of avoiding the possible voter backlash. Let it not be said Congress isn’t a bunch of cowards. They are. Re-election is the first priority, and anything that interferes with that is off the table.

Thus, why Congress never addressed the abortion issue before it presented itself to the Supreme Court.

In the end, Roe v Wade ended up on the steps of the Supreme Court. Obviously, a case like this snakes its way up the levels of courts with a lot of stops along the way, before it ever gets to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court has the option to take or not take any case it wants. So the Supreme Court could have simply thrown this back to the appellate (appeals) courts. But they chose to tackle it. In the end they decided in favor of abortion, drawing upon a fabricated “right to privacy” not present in the Constitution.

Now to be fair to the court, creating a right to privacy out of thin air wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Constitution is clear that there are certain god-given rights, enshrined in the Bill of Rights (the first ten Constitutional amendments), which the government can’t interfere with. Then it goes on to say that any other rights not mentioned inure to the population at large or the states. The list of rights dealt with in the Constitution is not meant to be exhaustive.

So the fact that the Supreme Court “invented” a right to privacy isn’t all that surprising. And a remarkably good case could be made for such a thing.

But here’s the key. The Supreme Court, in deciding this case, made law. As I said, this is not the province of the courts. It is exlusively the arena of Congress. But once the Supreme Court decided and put its stamp on the matter, you had de facto law. In this way, Roe vs Wade was a bad decision by the Court. Forget which way they decided. It was not their decision to make, and they overstepped their bounds.

But they did so because Congress failed to act. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but I will. The justices of the Supreme Court are not politicians. They aren’t elected. They are selected by the President and Congress. And they serve lifetime appointments.

So the politicians of Congress sidestepped an important social issue to protect their paths to re-election. And the Supreme Court illegally decided the matter in order to cover Congress’s butts.

Now the last thing I’ll cover is something Congress deals with. I’m talking about Congress specifically here, but the same principles apply to state legislatures as well.

Congress obtains a certain amount of “discretionary” funding on a yearly basis. That is a certain amount of the federal budget is carved out for the Congress to send back to the states for their own purposes. This is the juicy goodness of the federal government for politicians. Why? Because it buys votes. That is its sole and only purpose. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia (a particularly poor state) served in Congress for 57 years (almost six decades!) and was one of the largest recipients of these funds in the history of congress. There are jokes in West Virginia about how many things are named after him, because of the amount of federal monies he managed to secure for his home state in his almost six decades of presence in Congress. Congressmen wrangle about who will get how much of this money yearly, and it is used almost exclusively to buy votes for a given congressman. (For what it’s worth, this gives a distinct advantage to the incumbent in any political race. Remember what I said. It’s about getting there and staying there for as long as possible.)

It’s also worth noting that carving out money for the states is a way of dictating their behavior. If a state is receiving government funds for some reason, they can be made to behave a certain way by increasing or withholding those funds. This is the second purpose for making money available to the states, because there really isn’t any other way to make the states do what the federal government wants.

But there are broader issues which relate to the re-election of politicians. Let’s take the matter of Social Security. Social Security is a program to fund the retirements of Americans, fostered by and sponsored by the federal government. It’s more or less a pension for everyone. When it was passed in the mid-1930s by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), it was constructed in such a way that the federal government didn’t have to participate in its collection. This duty was delegated to employers. The government was to take in this money, wait for a number of years until the retirement of the contributor, and then pay it back to the person, plus a certain amount more than they had contributed. Sort of like a long term savings account.

But there were several things in the passage of this law which were not publicized or were downplayed. The first was that the retirement age set at the time was just a few years within the typical life span at the time of the average American. The idea being that you’d retire at X age and then just a few years later on, die. Thus, your full benefits would only be paid out to you if you happened to live to an extraordinarily old age. This was great for government. A huge slush fund of money to be used to run the day to day business of government (no, there was no “trust fund” or “lock box” for Social Security). Unfortunately, because of advancements in medicine, people started living far beyond their retirement ages. Meaning that people ended up receiving far more than they contributed to the system.

Moreover, this system was built upon the idea that there would be X number of workers contributing to the system and Y number receiving benefits from it (let’s just be arbitrary and say five to one or ten to one). But as time went on, population growth rates dropped significantly. Now you’re talking about one or two to one as the ratio of contributors to recipients, making the system virtually impossible to keep solvent and leading government to have to search for other means with which to fund the system. Of course in the face of re-election concerns, no one wants to raise the retirement age so that benefits don’t kick in until later in. Remember that re-election thing?

Oh by the way. Can you just imagine what inflation does to Social Security every year? A hundred dollars today ain’t worth what it was just a few years ago. So you can set aside a hundred dollars in the year 2000, and promise to pay back two hundred twenty years later. Except that by 2020, two hundred dollars, because of inflation, may be worth 75.00 back in 2000. Oops.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, he sought to augment the system by setting aside a small percentage of the amount paid in to invest in the stock market. On balance, this would yield a far greater return than having the government simply hold on to the money. Now it should be remembered that, although George W. Bush was a politician, re-election for him was a short-term deal. At most, he could serve two terms as president, and then, like most presidents, his political life would be over. So this whole re-election business was sort of a wash for him. So he could afford to tamper with Social Security, since his re-election options were limited. Not so, Congress, which wanted nothing whatsoever to do with this idea. Why? Because tampering with Social Security was and is seen as a sure way to lose votes.

Remember what became known as “Obamacare”? Originally billed as the solution to the rising costs of health care, it was signed into law without a single Republican signature. Democrats signed it into law, and Republicans treated it like toxic waste. As it turned out, it didn’t deliver what was promised, and was largely rejected by voters. Donald Trump, running for president after Obama, promised to repeal the law. This was eight years or so after it had originally passed. But lo and behold, when the Republicans were called upon to repeal it, they did not. They preferred instead to replace it with some other flavor of federal government health care, something to which they were formerly allergic. Why? Votes. Whether Obamacare was a good law or bad, it was a public benefit. And now that the public had “benefited” from it for eight years, no one was in the mood to take it away. Why? Votes. Re-election. Public benefits, once instituted, cannot be removed because… votes.

What I have written here is the very essence of politics, not just as practiced in the U.S., but everywhere in the world. Your politicians, wherever they are, will function and act pretty much as described above and for the same reasons.

You may ask, then, what is the solution? Could “term limits” which limits the amount of time a lawmaker can remain in office, be the solution? Perhaps. But the problem is that those who would have to vote on term limits are precisely the ones who don’t want them. Kind of a problem, wouldn’t you say?

How about vastly smaller salaries for lawmakers, so it wouldn’t be so attractive to “serve”? Except that politics serves up a whole smorgasbord of benefits aside from salaries, as I mentioned above.

I don’t know the practical answer. I suspect it isn’t in the institutions of politics themselves, but in the individuals who operate them. If you had better people, people with a sense of ethics and morals, people who didn’t think the law was about who argued better, and people who just wanted to serve their time in the legislature and get back to their bakery businesses or their service stations, you’d have a whole different type of system. But going all the way back to the Greeks and Romans, politicians have been professional suckers on the public teat. Sad but true.

The primary point here was not to advocate for one political party or view over another, but to explain how politics really really works, when you strip away all the rhetoric. Remember this, the next time your politician says or writes something. Remember what it’s really all about.

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