The Track of State

ChooChooTrainby Brad Nelson8/15/15
I argue the train-track theory of politics. You might like a more modern-looking engine or an old-style caboose. You might want the train to run faster or slower. You might want a diesel-electric train or a coal-powered one. But one thing is for sure: that train isn’t moving off of the track.

The state and bureaucracy have grown so big, with so many people attached to various entitlements, whoever is elected is going to stay on track. There is enormous inertia against change that has been built up. What we are left to fuss over are the superficialities…except  foreign policy where the fixed domestic tracks give way to a jungle of uncertainty.

So politics tends to become a glamour contest. We know Trump is not a conservative, but it’s good enough that he takes swipes at the frauds in the GOP who mostly aren’t conservatives either. It’s all grand theatre — or just Punch-and-Judy dressed up a little. Should Trump win, who knows how he would govern? But the same is true of all the other candidates. But the drama of it all is sure captivating.

Part of the glamour and human interest is the novelty of race or sex. If Carly Fiorina was not a woman, it’s doubtful she’d be making much of a splash. But a woman in GOP presidential politics is like a talking horse at the state fair (or at least one who can count with his hoofs). It’s a novelty, just as Obama (to the voters) was a novelty.

Rubio, for instance, is all but treacled from the right with Joe Bidenish comments of being a neat and clean Hispanic who is presentable to voters. If he wasn’t Hispanic, if he wasn’t the trick pony, would anyone care on our side of the fence? (And would anyone care about Jeb Bush without the dynastic last name? The man makes vanilla seem bold.)

If I’m choosing via superficial means — stating my “Like” as if in some reality show — I’ll take Sarah Palin as my woman because she’s a fighter and is reasonably conservative. And if I must choose by race, I’ll take Allen West for the same reasons. In fact, because these two are such fighters, I’d take that as my ticket, not particularly caring who was on top, or who was of this sex, or who was of that race.

Whether the rhetoric and efforts of such fighters are enough to change the layout of the fixed track-of-state is doubtful. But unless the layout of the track is questioned, and an argument given for why it should be different than it is, no change or reform is likely to be forthcoming.

But presidents are not Napoleon (as much as some of them want to be). There are limits on what they can do even if they wanted to do it. The best most reformers can do it to simply run the engine on the track a little slower, maybe add a new coat of paint (and it’s certainly easy just to add more track). At this point, I don’t expect anyone to start ripping up the track. Most in the GOP are not questioning  the basic layout of the track. They’re simply auditioning to be the conductor and maybe run a new line to Entitlementville.

(Libertarians, by the way, just want to rip up the track. And although large sections need to be uprooted, that should not be an end in itself, a substitution for a philosophy of government. We do need trains. We do need tracks.)

That’s not to say that the various GOP candidates don’t have voting records or position statements. They do. They all do. And it’s all a very mixed bag. You can squint and find anything you want. Squint just right, and Fat Boy looks like a conservative. Tilt your head up and look through the bottom of your eyelids and Jeb Bush looks great because he’s cut some taxes here or there in Florida.

The ironic point is that the GOP Establishment disses Trump for treating presidential politics like a reality show. But that’s what it is, although one with consequences. It does still matter if the train runs fast or slow, on coal or diesel, is aerodynamic or not, can carry needed materials or not, and functions or not. The train must still run. But far too much attention is placed on the tooting of the whistle. People pretend that a shrill whistle or a pleasant whistle is what really matters, not seeming to care that this 300 ton locomotive is chugging along, bearing down on the trestle bridge ahead that doesn’t quite look as if it can carry the weight.

My basic premise is that Rush Limbaugh is right and that the 24-hour news cycle has become a drama. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious people who are trying to sift through all this and come up with a solution and pick the best candidate available. There certainly are. But I think they are dwarfed by the reality of the train track and the reality of the daily drama. Megyn Kelly perhaps should be praised in that she made it very clear exactly what politics has become. There was no pretense in the debates that this was a serious subject. But it is one ripe for opportunities for drama and ratings.

[By the way, the train pictured in the thumbnail represents the one engineered by Huckabee.]
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to The Track of State

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    There are some things a president can do. He can cancel all of Obama’s executive orders (or maybe just most of them; conceivably there might be one or two that are actually good ideas, though I wouldn’t bet on it). He can issue executive orders that cancel many of Obama’s regulatory initiatives. None of those require congressional approval, and I think all are actually legitimate. (If he wants to use Obama’s behavior as a new standard of legality, he can do even more. How about stopping the policing role of the IRS with taxes on the grounds that their total corruption during the Crimson King’s reign means they no longer have the moral standing to enforce any laws?)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m good with legitimate executive orders canceling some of the things Obama has decreed. Let’s see. In the train-track analogy that would be the equivalent of fewer stop signals.

      And I’m all for stopping the policing role of the IRS. Again, we’re sort of necessarily within the track-of-state ideology where we want the engineer to take existing trains and track and operate them this way, instead of that. Granted, even with the track paradigm, you can switch to a different rail. Some rails have laid unused for a long time and are rusty.

      Some engineers call for abolishing the IRS. And that sounds good, but without doing something about the income tax amendment, I’m afraid it would just amount to a fresh coat of paint. The taxing process could, and should, be streamlined. But we’re talking about running on the same track, not uprooting some tracks, especially the many that lead to Washington DC.

      This analogy is more playful than perfect. But the main point is that a lot of people get rope-a-doped by the drama of it all. But at the end of the day, government just continues to grow. New tracks are laid. The locomotive becomes heavier and heavier. And people obsess over the sound of the whistle.

  2. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    Your analogy is useful in that some analogy is necessary to shrink the problem of the overweening Federal Monster into something a mortal can get his brain around.

    My approach, were I to become POTUS, and we had an amenable Congress, one without our current crop of idiotic dignitaries, would be to start eliminating many of the alphabet agencies. We only need a couple of them for actual constitutional purposes. I would sign a single executive order rescinding all of Satan’s that were promulgated since 2008. If there were any useful orders, let them be presented and researched thoroughly, since we know all about the misdirection and obtuseness of the Lightbringer. I’m more optimistic than you guys sound, at least. Our country can be rescued, and that may be in process even now. Just observe the quality of the cast of characters participating in the reality show. Trains can be derailed, even if the process is a bit messy. The breeze is reversing, and our makeshift sail may yet take us off this island.

  3. James Deaton says:

    Great analogy — and unfortunately I think our country is heading down a one-way track –the wrong way. Maybe, just maybe, when the coming “crisis” hits, whatever it turns out to be and whenever it comes, conservatives will be ready to not let it “go to waste” instead of the usual liberal users.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The cost of Kumbaya is higher than most liberals think. We’ll likely live to see the bill come due. And then who are they going to blame? Well, they’ll think of someone. But people pine for a sort of commercialized Utopia, secure in our leisure and our entertainment. Problems are the domain of people who just aren’t “diverse,” “multicultural,” and sufficiently Kumbaya. Time to re-read “Brave New World,” I think.

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