I’m back safe and sound in Streator, my own bed a welcome place to rest my head after 4 tiring days of fighting crowds, deadlines, and my own cynicism.
That last has stood me in good stead over the years as well as being an impediment at times. On the one hand, it has allowed me to view politicians and politics with a jaundiced eye and the proper skepticism one must have when listening to people who lie for a living make promises they have no intention of keeping or present themselves as something they are not.
But the downside to cynicism is that it tends to narrow your view so that when seeing the people and the process through a very dark prism, you miss the occasional bloom in the rose bush – that tiny spark of genuineness that while rare, nevertheless makes American politics so unique and inspiring.
Such was my problem with watching and listening to Sarah Palin. My initial thought was that this was the greatest act since Houdini – a politician trying to convince people she was a real person. But viewing the speech a second and third time changed my mind. There really was little artifice in this woman. She was a breath of air as fresh as a mountain breeze in her home state. She was tough, strong, easy to look at, and when she spoke, the thunder rolled and lightening flashed. Sparks flew from the stage. I had never been in a venue where the atmosphere crackled with anticipation, the crowd hanging on every word, their voices causing the very air to shake when they showed their support and appreciation.
This presented a problem for me. Clearly McCain had struck gold by choosing this woman. But after a couple of days and some time to reflect on what both McCain and Palin had to say, there are a few observations I need to share with you about Palin and McCain’s idea of “reform” that may be my cynicism showing through but are also grounded in history and common sense.
Sarah Palin is like a virgin in the Sultan’s harem. She is so fresh, so new that it seems to me the corrupting influence of power has yet to perform its dastardly sorcery on her and turn the pure-as-the-driven-Alaskan-snow child into the coldly calculating political computer that will probably be her legacy once history is done with her.
To say that Sarah Palin will eventually become just another Washington pol if she is elected to high office may be taken by many readers as sacrilegious, akin to pronouncing the death of Santa Claus or exposing the tooth fairy as a fraud. Such criticism misses the point. Palin will become what she has to become in order to succeed. And to succeed in Washington, one must adopt the ways of our capitol city – the artful dodge, the 1,000 word answer to a question that reveals nothing and says even less; the thousand tiny compromises with principle in order to get things done; the deal making, the log rolling, the white lies that eventually turn into nose-growing whoppers – all of this and more will turn Palin from a Shield Maiden of Rohan into a female ork, a corrupted elf whose fall from immortality and goodness will become just another sad commentary on our political culture.
And lest we blame Washington for being the only outpost of cynicism and corruption, one might wonder what Palin would have become with just a few more years of experience even in Alaska. For proof, look at the current state of corruption in that state – corruption that Palin helped expose and was fighting even as she was chosen as McCain’s running mate. Would she have been so eager to take on the powers that be in 5 years? In ten? An honest answer would have to include the near certainty that over time, Sarah Palin would be absorbed by the very system she took on with such passion.
There have been a thousand Sarah Palin’s in our history and to each has come the decision whether to play ball or go home. Most have chosen the easy path of least resistance. Those that haven’t have been largely forgotten, casualties of their own conscience and history’s relentless judgment that in order to achieve some of your goals, you must compromise with the devil. Some, like John McCain, make the adjustment and learn to live with losing at least part of their soul. Others can’t abide the hypocrisy, the groveling for money, the back scratching, the trading of favor for favor and quit in disgust. They realize that real “reform” would include the reformation of something that not even Barack Obama and all his powers can effect; the reform of human nature.
Our Founders recognized human frailty and how the temptation of self aggrandizement can rob the people of their liberty. It is why they created a federal republic with mechanisms to spread the corrupting power inherent in all governments around and not allow a deadly concentration in a single political entity.
Past “reformers” took the exact opposite tack; that concentrating the power of government in one place made it easier to keep an eye on the shysters, the hustlers, the jobbers who beg, plead, and bribe their way to influence. That and the necessity of using the vast power of the central government to break the back of abominations like predatory capitalists, industrial and financial trusts, and finally the evils of segregation and Jim Crow made it imperative that we grow government to protect us from those who would abuse freedom to deny others their liberty.
Corruption was as much a part of early America as it is today with one significant difference; the ability of that corruption to dramatically effect the health of our democracy and the liberty of its citizens. Times change. And as America grew, corruption and the abuse of power grew with it. It took the idealism of early 20th century reformers to save democracy and keep America from turning into a plutocracy where the few oppressed the many and workers would have been little better than wage slaves, toiling away 12 hours a day, six days a week in mines and factories with no rights and fewer prospects to realize their dreams of a better life for their children.
But the way they accomplished this magnificent feat was to vastly expand the powers of the federal government. They sought to “scientifically” perfect society by applying new fangled theories advanced by a new kind of scientist; sociologists and the science of trying to predict and codify how and why people behave the way they do.
With the purest of intentions they and their descendants in the Wilson and FDR administrations destroyed the idea of federalism in favor of trying to “solve” the problems of poverty and inequality; as if there are laws that can be passed that can govern human nature and the natural state of man.
It is the reason I am a conservative. I do not believe in the “perfectibility” of society any more than I believe in the Easter Bunny. Nor do I believe – as the Communists still believe – that man himself can be changed and once put through the proper “re-education,” a “New Man” can emerge and create the perfect state that doesn’t even require a government. This is not to say that society can’t be improved or that we can, as humans, resist our basest impulses and act in the common good. It only means that you will never, ever be able to legislate such things into effect and anyone who tries is daft.
So just what is it that Obama and McCain want to “reform?” Do they wish to scrub original sin from men’s souls? Both wish to mitigate the effects of corruption by curtailing the activities of lobbyists. But we have tried such “reform” before with campaign financing.
And we know how well that has worked out, huh?
It seems to me that John McCain’s attempts to “reform” or, more accurately, improve the way that government delivers services and bring it into the 21st century is slightly more realistic than Obama’s crusade to remake America into some kind of social democracy. But neither has a clue really. They, and America, will continue to muddle through while the bureaucracy goes its merry way and lobbyists find their way around whatever legislation is passed to ostensibly hold them in check. Real reform would require a groundswell of grassroots support so stupendous that politicians could only ride the wave and not control it. It may come to that someday.
But not this day. Not this time. Not with these two candidates.