by Brad Nelson 8/15/15
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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