"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Was It Something I Said?
I wrote last week that I was disavowing the Republican Party due to reckless spending, the Patriot Act, and President Bush's reluctance to directly address us on the dearth of Iraqi weapons. Without meaning to come across as self-important, the response to my column has been so overwhelming that I'd like to spend this week examining how it was received.
All right, all right. I mean to come across as self-important. Just a little bit, though. Work with me here.
Anyway, reactions to "A Warhawk Flies the Coop" were positive, by and large, even among self-proclaimed conservatives -- in fact, especially among self-proclaimed conservatives. Some folks wrote to me saying something to the effect of, "I hope they don't call you an anti-American traitor now," but these emails outnumbered those actually calling me an anti-American traitor. That's a good thing, from where I stand, since I'd prefer not to think of myself as one.
I was, however, accused of a few things. For example, I was accused of being a jackass, a socialist, and a Jew -- which sounds to me like a bad joke about a schizo walking into a bar. I was also accused of condoning violence because I said I want to learn how to handle a firearm. Thing is, I don't want to learn how to use a gun in hopes that I'll use it, but rather in hopes that I won't. Japan's Admiral Yamamoto once said, "You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass." Indeed, and what better way to deter threats both foreign and domestic?
Then there's the space program, which I apparently "oppose." The truth is I'm all for exploring the final frontier. I happen to think it's a worthwhile cause. But there are some brilliant men living here in America. Bill Gates and Dean Kamen come to mind. These guys have deep thoughts and the pockets to match. So if we're going to go to Mars, I'd like to believe the market can provide us with a cost-efficient way of getting there. Or maybe it can't. I don't know. I'm not an expert. Maybe we ought to democratize the moon after all, and establish a governing council there.
Speaking of democracy, I was also informed by a few people that the fact that Bush can't count on my vote this November means the Democrats can. Short of claiming Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flashdance was accidental, nothing could be further from the truth. But this brings me to my main reason for revisiting last week's column.
While self-proclaimed conservatives either embraced what I said or said they could sympathize, many self-proclaimed Republicans disagreed. For example, I was told by one Web site that regularly syndicates my columns that they're "disappointed" by the direction I've gone in. I'm not sure I've gone in any direction at all. If anything, by standing for small government, I'm standing right where I've been standing all along. The GOP is the one that's been moving, and last week's column just acknowledged that fact.
Another site that regularly prints me says it will regularly ignore me from now on -- not in as many words, mind you, but suffice it to say I've been canned. I won't mention which site it was; they were kind to me, and I respect their editorial vision. I will say, though, that I got the axe because they said their readers might find my questioning of the president "offensive." So it's all right when I question Bill Clinton -- which I haven't done enough of lately; thanks for the reminder -- but not when I question George Bush.
Again, if that's their opinion, I'm fine with it. I respect it. But I do think it's emblematic of something much larger than my dinky little writing career -- such as a rift between Republicans and conservatives.
According to the aforementioned former syndicator, one day, I will hopefully realize that no man or political party is "always right," thanks in large part to sin. I don't disagree with the main point here. No man's perfect, it's true. But if this is the doctrine of "Christian conservatives," so to speak, then I would think I made the right decision in denouncing my having had "faith" in the president. I mean, it's all right to like the occasional statesman, but putting your faith in him? Should you really be putting your faith in any human being? This is a question many conservatives seem to be asking. Yet many Republicans don't seem interested in the answer.
In December, I wrote, "Our civil liberties are at risk in America, but it isn't a George Bush thing. It isn't a Bill Clinton thing. It's a government thing." But the way we put such trust in these people, you'd think that we think they're our gods. Is it any wonder, then, they act as though they're omnipotent?
A few days after I handed in last week's column, Bush said he'd ask Congress for an $18 million increase for the National Endowment of the Arts. It was also revealed that the changes to Medicare would cost -- surprise, surprise -- more than initial estimates. No president can be everything to everyone, but this one tries. They all do. Being everything to everyone is the best way to get votes. But it's also the best way to accumulate far too much power, which is precisely what our presidents have done.
You can see this at work in the candidates, too. When mad cow disease grabbed headlines late last year, Howard Dean pinned it on Bush. He said the outbreak "raises serious concerns about the ability of this administration to protect the safety of our nation's food supply." And meanwhile, John Kerry proposed "a national tracking system' to follow animals 'from birth to slaughter'" -- a scenario that somehow manages to combine the eeriest elements of 1984 and Animal Farm.
I understand their point, of course, as well as the seriousness of the situation. But these things were said when the disease had been found in a single cow. A single cow! But that's all it takes, in their minds, for the federal government to get involved.
This is the sort of overzealous micromanagement we can expect in a country where Washington, D.C., is supposed to solve problems local to the state of Washington.
I often tell friends that my favorite president is Ben Franklin because he's the only president with the decency to never hold the office. The line's getting old and I plan on retiring it shortly, but the point remains the same: The Oval Office has never been easy to keep clean. Scandals of various shapes and sizes were old news generations ago. This isn't a knock on Bush's WMD-gate, nor a knock on Clinton's Monicagate. It's just a general statement that power corrupts and that we'd do well not to centralize it.
Think about it: When was the last time someone made a run for the White House without promising to bring honor and integrity back to Washington? Hell, even Beltway insiders advertise themselves as outsiders now. There's something wrong with this. It suggests P.J. O'Rourke was right to call our government a "Parliament of Whores." It also suggests that our government knows it.
The demise of self-rule is the greatest crisis we face in America. We're all too willing to consolidate power in this country -- sometimes because of expedience, sometimes because we like the guy in charge. It's always something, though. We always find an excuse to trade liberty for security. We tell the feds, "Sure, come raid my home," so as to protect ourselves from terrorism. We say, "Sure, socialize healthcare," so as to emphasize the nanny function of our nanny-state. We pledge allegiance to political factions, believing the worst guy from our party is better than the best guy on the other side. As the McDonald's lawsuits show us, we're addicted not to fast food but to subservience -- indeed, when the government puts its greasy hands in our back pockets, we refuse to "just say no."
Well, I, for one, don't plan on voting Republican this November. Nor do I plan to vote Democrat. In all likelihood, I will submit a blank slate straight down the line, or I will stay home. Our government's got enough consent as it is. It doesn't need my support.
If the letters I've received since last week are any indication, at least now I know I'm not the only one who thinks this way.