I just got a chance to read Alex Massie’s article that I referenced before, Russell Brand: an Adolescent Extremist Whose Hatred of Politics Is Matched by His Ignorance. In it, he quotes Brand as writing, “Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites.” Massie admits to sometimes feeling that way and I very much do too. But it is extremely dangerous to allow such thinking to rule a liberal.
It is common. How could it not be when most of our federal elected officials are millionaires? One of my favorite websites is Crooks & Liars. But the name does bother me. It feeds into the conservative idea that all public servers are crooks and so wouldn’t we just be better without the government given that it is all corrupt.
But even more important than that, false equivalence is the last line of defense with conservatives. I can get just about any conservative to give up their side of any argument. But they also retreat to, “Oh, the whole system is screwed up. You can’t trust any of them!” And it is pretty much impossible to counter that argument. The reason is that in general, the Republican Party is made up of people who are proudly corrupt. (You can find easy conservative rationalizations for corruption!) But the Democrats are not perfect. No actual person is perfect. And in politics, one has to make concessions. For example, I really like Bernie Sanders. But he’s done stuff I’m not pleased about. So you can always say both sides do it. And conservatives do.
What is especially terrible about the “everybody’s corrupt” argument is that in a fundamental way it is not just the last refuge of conservatives, it is their first refuge. It justifies absolutely everything that they want to do. Why support the food stamp program when it is just administered by a bunch of corrupt political appointees? So the argument we should be making is that public servants are not corrupt. (This has the advantage of being mostly true.) While many and even most Republicans are corrupt, that’s because of their ideology that wants to destroy the government. That isn’t a reason to abandon government; that is a reason to abandon the Republican Party.
Massie’s focus is on the fact that it ever was so—the Dickens Lament. And that’s absolutely right. I would even go further. What’s wrong in this country is actually pretty small compared to what’s right. Mostly, we have one big problem: income inequality. Pretty much all of the other problems stem from that: prisons, global warming, and on and on. And we can do a lot about that. If only…
Election day is 4 November 2014!