Sunday, January 8, 2012


What will it take to get our politicians to sit down and talk seriously about solutions to our country’s problems? The primary season never brings out the best in candidates, but even allowing for that, the political class seems far more interested in scoring points like a bunch of seventh-graders trading punches than in arriving at intelligent policy decisions.

The first casualty is any kind of coherence. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were for an insurance mandate before they were against it. Barack Obama was against it before he was for it. Democrats oppose corporate welfare except when it benefits businesses they like; Republicans oppose corporate welfare except... wait a second, I’m repeating myself.

If you take a look at actual core beliefs, in so far as they exist and can be discerned, there ought to be the makings of a bipartisan consensus on some of these issues. Liberals have always been unenthusiastic about the drug war; now a Republican candidate is actually stating a principled opposition to it. What will it take to get people from both parties together to come up with a sane policy on drugs?

The federal tax code ought to drive liberals crazy with its countless giveaways to insiders; it ought to drive conservatives crazy for its Byzantine distortion of markets. What will it take to get people to venture across the aisle and talk about serious, radical tax reform? I realize that all our politicians are on the take to some degree or other; that’s how you get elected. But a bipartisan committee that got serious about tax reform would give everybody cover; you could deep-six the whole rotten system and plead the tyranny of the majority to the offended donors.

There are real and profound philosophical differences between the parties and their constituent factions, and the tug-of-war over basic approaches will always be with us. But many of our problems could be ameliorated significantly by simply meeting on the common ground which already plainly exists. And the parties are too busy demonizing their opponents to sit down for some common-sense damage control.

Maybe the election will clear the air. Or maybe they’ll figure out who’s been putting psychotropic drugs in the D.C. water supply. But something has to change. Politicians ought to be held to high standards of argument and high standards of seriousness. Instead we get ad hominem attacks, irrelevancies and non-sequiturs and endless foolish promises that nobody, least of all those issuing them, expects to be kept.

What’s stopping them from doing better? We are. We the voters haven’t yet made clear to our representatives that we expect them to do better. It’s not just voting; it’s taking ten minutes to send an e-mail or make a phone call. It doesn’t have to be a partisan move; whatever your political stance, there’s almost certainly something you agree on with your neighbors. Let’s start with tax reform: call your representative and your senators and let them know that you think the federal tax code is a festering disgrace and you expect the mess to be cleaned up. A simpler, cleaner tax code will allow less scope for mischief by either side, and we’ll all gain.

Democracy takes work. This means you.

Sam Reaves

Sunday, January 1, 2012


New Year's Resolution Number One: revive the blog. When I started it, I swore I would never post just to be posting something; I would only write when I had something worthwhile to say. I still think that’s a healthy attitude, but unfortunately it reacts too easily with laziness to produce long blank stretches. So my resolution now is: exert yourself a little, find something worthwhile to say a little more often.

Just to ease into things, here’s a wild swipe at the topic that will dominate 2012:

I only have ten months to decide whom to vote for. I’d love to vote for one of the two major candidates in the fall, but it may be too much to ask, yet again. If pressed, I describe myself as a pragmatic, non-ideological libertarian. This means, roughly, that I think a light touch with taxes and regulation and minimal interference in our private conduct, with appropriate qualifications, is the way to go. And I think that most Americans are instinctively more or less libertarian, even if they don’t call it that. I could be wrong about that, but whatever the case, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels dismayed at the spectacle presented by our two major parties.

Neither of the major parties represents people like me. The Republicans are bellicose and nativist and the Democrats believe that problems are solved by creating entitlements. I usually vote Libertarian, but I’ve given up on the Libertarians making a surge into the mainstream. So offer me something, fellas. My expectations are low. I know I will never get a perfect candidate. Voting is usually about damage control.

I have a feeling that an adequate candidate is more likely to emerge from the Republican Party, just because I’m not sure there’s anybody among the Democrats who really has a clear idea of the limits to government. The only constraints that Democrats recognize are budgetary, and they can always fiddle those. What you need is philosophical constraints on government. Without those, there’s no way to keep government from metastasizing.

Republicans claim to have those philosophical constraints, but too many of them also think that the government ought to subsidize their businesses, protect them from competition and keep them from going under when the market turns thumbs down on them. They think the market ought to be free except in their case. And then there are the Republicans who want to send all the immigrants home and put even more people in jail for using drugs. There is also a hair-raising anti-intellectual strain among Republicans. I don’t think that a rough-hewn country manner disqualifies anyone from high office, but I don’t think it qualifies anyone in and of itself, either.

So which major party represents me? The problem is that there are a lot more than two political camps in any country, but we seem to have decided that two parties awkwardly jamming diverse camps into one big tent best provides stability. And the distribution of camps that has evolved has led to two huge messy coalitions, neither of which fully represents any substantial portion of the electorate.

I’d love to see it all get shaken up somehow. But I doubt it’s going to happen before November. So there I’ll be, outside the booth, wishing I could vote for somebody who had a chance to win.

Sam Reaves