Issues, Policy, and Politics – Parts 3 & 4

The following was originally posted on FaceBook.

Since some of you don’t follow FB, I thought I would repeat this series here.

Part 3

So, power and money.

Despite what you may think, there is nothing intrinsically bad about either of these things. It depends on how they are used, and that depends on the people using them. All of our problems and all of our solutions depend on people.

Power is simply the ability to “direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” That seems simple enough.

How do you get power?

Remember that we are talking here about solving national problems.

There are three ways: take it, by force if necessary, or have it given to you by the people whose behavior is to directed or influenced. Or you might inherit it. That’s sort of the same as being given the power, but by daddy, not the people.

History is replete with examples of each of these methods.

Dictators seize power and wrest it away from whoever has it, sometimes by force of arms, sometimes by force of numbers who follow them. If they are popular and their country is wealthy enough, they can raise money by some sort of tax. If the country isn’t wealthy enough for people to voluntarily pay taxes, the money will have to be raised by other means, including just taking it, like they took power in the first place.

Some say that the best government is a benevolent dictatorship. Such a person has all the power needed to do whatever they want, but they want what’s best for the people. Such a person really has never existed.

Hitler was a good many things, but he was not a dictator who took power from anyone. He was given his power by the people of Germany. He did bad things with it. Don’t be like Hitler.

You can be given the power to direct and influence others and events only by someone else in power or the people themselves. While taking power results in a few different models of rule, most of them revolving around a military presence loyal to the dictator, being given power by the people usually results in some form of government which serves at the pleasure of the people who created it. There are a few models for that as well. All of them require that the people have a right to regulate that government, at least from time to time, usually through elections.

The young gentlemen who wrote our constitution chose a “republic” model with three separate but equal branches. They rejected a parliamentary model and a democratic model.

But these men were representatives of states that already had state governments. Many of those states had their own constitutions.

The United States couldn’t just take power from the states. It had to be given.

To make things even more complicated, the states had counties and townships that claimed jurisdiction over some things and cities that did likewise.

There are still some places where the county sheriff is seen by residents as the ultimate authority because they are the most local office elected by the people.

So, in this country the bulk of the power resides in the federal government, elected by the people, but there are still issues of how much power belongs to the states – and the constitution makes clear that quite a bit does. The debate over state’s rights is a long and respected one.

Money can be raised by cities, townships, counties, and states, but the federal government has the power to raise more.

If you want to solve the problems facing us, you need education, experts, scientific research, and government at multiple levels. You can’t do it alone.

And even with all the power and all the money that governments can bring forth, you need more. Your governments must agree that there is a problem and that it is worth solving. They must believe your experts and the science behind their plan for a solution, and they must agree when to begin.

And that’s where we enter the domain of politics.

Part 4

Politics

Maybe you should get comfortable. We’re going to be here for awhile.

Politics is a dirty word these days. It is often associated with corruption, self-servitude, and endless distortion of and evasion from the truth. That may be because it is the home of so many people who are corrupt, self-serving liars. Power corrupts. Usually.

We don’t want a corrupt government, so we are essentially looking for people to fill its positions who are not normal, people who will not be corrupted by the power we give them. These are rare individuals.

There are a number of meanings for the term, “politics.” Miriam Webster contends that it has three major meanings: 1) the art or science of government; 2) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing government policy; and 3) the art or science concerned with getting elected to or holding government office.

We use the term “politics” loosely to describe anything having to do with government. We have a “political discussion” by which we mean we talk about things having to do with government in some way, or policies of government, or even people in government. That is basically a conversation concerning the first two definitions.

Solving problems, big or small, with the government you HAVE is all about the second definition. It’s about guiding or influencing government policy. It’s about issues and policy.

But for the politician these days, all that is worthless if they can’t get elected or re-elected, so enormous effort and resources must be poured into that. Eventually the second and third definitions come into conflict. Often, getting elected or re-elected depends on backing certain policies that those with the ability to get you elected want to see, and not what you may believe to be best for the country.

You have to back those policies, however, if you want the support of the backers and if you want their money. You quickly get associated with those policies and find it almost impossible to reverse yourself.

The guys who wrote the constitution were representatives of their respective colonies/states. They were, for the most part, landed gentry, about as educated as you could get in those days.

They were, overall, a group of young people. Yes, Ben Franklin was a ripe old 70, but Alexander Hamilton was 21; James Monroe was all of 18. Thomas Jefferson was 33.

We tend to forget this in our modern quest to elect 80 year old multi-term legislators to the presidency on the basis of the idea that with age comes wisdom.

The young founders idea was that the states would choose others like them to serve in a federal government. They didn’t stipulate HOW those representatives would be chosen. They assumed that each state would send qualified people because it was in their best interest.

They defined two houses of congress. One, the senate, gave equal representation to each state. The other, the House of Representatives, had participants from each state based on the population of that state. It was more the “people’s House” while the Senate was more representative the state governments. Both Houses had to agree before they could enact a law.

There were no primaries. Generally, there were no elections at all. Someone, perhaps a governor, perhaps a state legislature would just make a choice.

Once chosen, these representatives would leave their lands and their fortunes (and, yes, sometimes their slaves) to someone to manage and travel to the seat of federal government for little pay, great inconvenience, and lots of blather. Once their term was up, they’d get back into their carriages and high-tail it back to the family mansion, their land, their families, and the slave girl they kept in a secret room.

No one wanted a career in politics. Politics was seen as a sacrifice you made for your country.

All that changed quickly.

Today’s candidates aren’t surveying their land when suddenly some guy rides up on a horse with a message that says “The state needs you. Please pack a bag, kiss the appropriate women goodbye, and report to the congress for the next few years.”

With the advent of general elections and primary elections and lobbyists for everything from fossil fuel to lady’s French underwear (I applied to work for that lobby, but my wife said no), and with the power of the media covering the entire affair, it became necessary to raise huge sums of money in order to get enough votes to get into office, and huge amounts of money to stay there. It also meant time away from the business of governing so that one could spend it campaigning.

We started with the problem of rising oceans and climate change. If opponents to any solution to these problems are the ones who do most of the lobbying and the ones who have the most money to donate to a campaign, what are the chances of electing representatives who will work to solve the problem?

You can pick any other major problem and ask the same questions. What hope can you have for solutions from the political sphere.

So here is yet another problem that raises its ugly head before we can begin to address the original one.

As long as a candidate must rely on vast sums of money to be elected and stay in office, and as long as lobbyists can influence candidates to accept money from special interests, whether or not a problem gets addressed and solved is actually determined by the special interests and the lobbyists, not the candidate you get to elect. You can only elect people they have chosen.

That has nothing at all to do with the government those kids (and the one old man) in Philly envisioned.

This is at the heart of why most Americans see politics as corrupt and don’t want to participate in the process.

Climate change is an immediate problem. There is no time to wait for solutions and implementation of these solutions. We are seeing the results of ignoring it growing every day.

But if you look at who donates to and lobbies our representatives the hardest, you’ll easily see that they are not interested. Therefore your representatives are not very interested. Hence, no action.

To put it another way, the government we have is not the government we need to address big, important issues.

So even though climate change may be the most pressing problem we face, we may have to solve the problem involving the ability of special interests and their money to buy representatives and their votes first.

And that may be an even bigger fight.

Ain’t we got fun?

To be continued…

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1 thought on “Issues, Policy, and Politics – Parts 3 & 4

  1. Thanks Roger. Very thoughtful. No one piece can address all issues.

    Please bear with me as I am not a skilled writer as yourself. Nor do these thoughts constitute the totality of my thinking on this matter.

    In regards to –“If you want to solve the problems facing us, you need education, experts, scientific research, and government at multiple levels. You can’t do it alone.”

    It goes even further. Highly educated individuals experts, scientist, government, etc. who are without appropriate vales and a desire and drive to benefit others and humanity have corrupted thought processes and become corrupted individuals.

    “You cannot do it alone” — I heard a speaker once say, any institution which goes unregulated will rot. This also applies to human beings, Policy, or governance in the US is many times pursued without clear thinking and enough people saying wait a minute, the action being proposed is not right or will not work because. Many things hinder these discussions.

    Strategic planning employs a number of elements –vision, mission statement, strategic goals and objectives ,,, conduct a thorough study of the issue, identify pros and cons, consider options and identify the cost not only in terms of dollars but to humanity. This includes listening to critics. Were there minority positions? If so what are they. Having a minority position, especially one that is opposed results in shortened careers. These individuals tow the line or are fired or dispatched to the basement. Minority positions are not tolerated as they get in the way those in power pursuing what they want to achieve. They rarely make the news.

    Having worked in local and regional government (and private non-profits) and as a life long reader of current events and public policy; I have never seen the thoughtful pursuit of such an approach. It takes too much effort and policy makers are lazy. those that speak up are rarely listened too, as those in power usually do what they want to do. They want to get to discussing actions. Humans act based their egos, preferences and perceptions of their own reality. Some individuals are open to exploring, learning, and challenging their own thoughts, perceptions, opinions and knowledge and it seems some do not carry this ‘affliction’. I know, I am constrainedly my own mind and personality. I can’t do it alone. For this reason I read, engage others in conservations about public policy, re-think my positions, and I worry about my nation and community..

    Like

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