Thursday, March 06, 2014

Political Future

I used some expiring airline miles last year to get a subscription to The Economist. This is a magazine geared towards very rich well-connected people. All the ads involve private planes and watches that cost more than my car. It's full of inquiries for high level diplomatic jobs and request for bids on projects like building an interstate highway system in Angola - you know, the usual stuff.

Anyway, I'm learning a bit about economics; there's also a lot of commentary on politics around the world. The Economist is a pretty solidly conservative magazine. Not conservative in the American sense, but solidly European conservative. What's fascinating is that, when commenting on US economic policy, they always tend to cherry-pick and endorse the kinds of moderate-Republican ideas that could never get passed in a million years. (Incidently, they couldn't get passed because the majority of their own party would call them traitors and neither party seems keen to vote for anything the other party comes up with, no matter how much they like it or how much real sense it makes.)

Reading this magazine, which is old (ancient in terms of economics; if it weren't for the name I might think the magazine preceded the professional discipline altogether), it's easy to get the impression that the solution to America's problems is just one vote away.

There's an easy to believe narrative - that some moderate Republican sweeps to the forefront of national consciousness, bullies his (we're talking the GOP after all) way through the primaries and takes the White House on noting but personal charisma and the confidence of common sense.

I almost wrote a blog post extrapolating the realities of this narrative as a prediction of the next three years.

But, sadly, this narrative is an unrealistic, mean-spirited joke. It is the narrative our political classes try to sell us each election cycle - that we're only one vote away from sanity (or conversely, inept stupidity). We usually buy it. We like happy endings.

In reality, though, a narrative of this sort would require too many people to sacrifice their own power and personal interest for the common good. Powerful people don't generally work that way. Yes, we can point to heroes of the past who did that very thing - George Washington who refused to be King or [fill in name here] who conceded an election they could have continued to challenge. But really, we know those names because they are exceptions.

If I were to predict the political future - as much as I'd like to construct a beautiful, heart-stirring narrative with a warm, fuzzy conclusion all wrapped up in a utopian, American-flag bow - here's just not much good to say. People in power will cling desperately to it. Those who do manage to wrest some of it away will quite soon begin to act like the people they overthrew. Life for those at the bottom will remain relatively unchanged.

It is the story of human history.

Ultimately, I'm glad for this little reminder today. The Economist is smart, plus they actually cover news from the entire world on a regular basis, people would all be better off reading it more often - at the very least it would raise the level of discourse in our world - but in the end, solutions are only easy on paper.

One positive note, though, I was much quicker to recognize the callow allure of political theater and to wake myself up from the dream that governments and elections are the key to human interaction. I am happy to watch the happenstances of the electoral class as spectator sport, but I am even happier to be free from those connections. A while back I made the decision to throw my lot in with the politics of everyday life, to commit full-bore to the Church as an alternative system of doing life together (Jesus for President!). I've exempted myself from my place in the structures and systems of government. That choice just seems smarter and easier to maintain as the years go by.

Don't get me wrong - I'm looking forward to some excellent theater in the next election cycle - I'm just not pinning my hopes on that cycle getting us anywhere we haven't been before.

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