Tuesday, October 26, 2004

GOLDEN OLDIE -- Now is not the time to turn away from politics

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:09 AM |  

November 10, 2002

[Some ideas are perennials that keep popping up every year. Others are annuals that need to be replanted and nurtured each season. The following column, which appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press following the 2002 elections, is a little bit of both. That every year politicians flatter voters before elections and insult their intelligence following the election is a hardy perennial occurrence. Nonetheless, annual nurturing of the fact is valuable before, as well as following, an election. It just might help decide who is really worth voting for.]


The election is over. It was a long and difficult campaign season in which the hand of Fate foiled the best-laid plans of parties and politicians. And although each election has its unique story, some themes never change.

It is a paradox of democracy that during campaigns, politicians flatter us with the virtue of wisdom, but after elections they denigrate the wisdom of the daily decisions we make.

Before elections politicians, endow us with an admirable intuition. Our understanding of issues and knowledge of candidates is taken for granted. Our will is always right and always a mandate. Our motives are always noble.

Before elections politicians encourage universal participation in the political process. Each of us is urged to vote. By voting, they say, we control our own destinies.

But after elections what do we hear?

Why, the omnipotent wisdom of politicians-anointed-leaders proclaiming the infallibility of plans that determine our destinies and "the futures of our children and our children's children."

"Not a moment is to be lost!" our leaders warn. "We face a plethora of problems that only legislation can solve."

And who caused this crisis?

Why we did, of course! We individuals, who before the election were all wise and all knowing, after the election prove to be anything but.

We made bad choices. We chose to live in the wrong neighborhoods. We bought the wrong kinds of houses. We spent too much on the wrong things; we didn't spend enough on the right things. We harbored the wrong prejudices. We held the wrong beliefs.

We didn't use public transportation. We drove too far to work in the wrong kind of vehicles. Consumed too much of the wrong kind of energy. We ignored our mother, the Earth.

We lacked compassion. We ignored the needs of the sick and the elderly, the children, the disabled and the homeless. We gave to the wrong charities; we didn't give enough. We didn't make enough sacrifices.

Is it any wonder our leaders don't allow us to manage our own lives?

We may be wise voters, but we are incapable of choosing proper education for our children. We won't make wise decisions about our retirement or informed decisions about our health care. We can't even make the right choices about what we eat, drink or inhale.

We are sometimes offensive.

Clearly, we need legislation to ensure we make correct choices about how we live. Clearly we need leaders to teach us the manners of compassion and legislation to enforce the compassion of politically correct manners.

We need politicians to make us good people. To instruct us in our duties. To ensure we succeed.
Or not.

"Too many people place themselves above mankind in order to guide its footsteps," wrote French economic theorist Frederic Bastiat in opposition to policies proposing ever-increasing control over the lives of French citizens. "[T]oo many people," Bastiat lamented, "make a career of being concerned with mankind."

The campaign literature of those whose careers are now guiding the footsteps of Minnesotans declares that each is a "proven leader." Where are all these "leaders" leading us? And why?

Our leaders imply that if we, the people, were allowed to live by our own reason and our own resources, we would surely destroy our communities and ourselves.

They demand the power to impose a better direction — their direction — than we might choose on our own.

They want us to be the means by which their plans are implemented. They want not our minds, but are souls.

Bastiat again: "They want to be shepherds, and they want us to be their sheep."

Now — post election — is not the time to turn away from politics. Now, more than ever, we must be involved and hold elected officials accountable, not to our whims and prejudices, not to emotionally driven initiatives born of tragedy, but to the fundamental principles of just governance.

Just governance is not found in the promise of green pastures for herded sheep; it lies in the quiet humility of one who is lost and seeking directions of a stranger.

Election or not, when it comes to managing your life, who knows the territory better than you?

Don't hesitate to say so.