Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Couch potato voters are more dangerous than billionaires

The doomed complain about the rules and pray for rain. Turned off by their own prospects, they imagine others won’t show up for the game.

Op-ed columns have their own ritual: they fret about the corrosive influence of billionaire hobbyists and the delicate appetites of switch voters.

Frank Bruni swung out against “Bile and Billionaires” yesterday in The New York Times. His piece should have been filed as research for an obit on another one-term Democrat president.

Bruni isn’t interested in the ability of billionaires to pay higher taxes while continuing to live like kings. He’s upset about what they do with their pocket money. In backing candidates and nasty commercials, they’re corrupting American politics.

The “metasizing ranks of magnates with itchy millions,” he complains, concocted the “Newt & Calista’s Execrable Adventure” and want to use Rev. Jeremiah Wright to stir up hatred toward Barack Obama.

These are weak exhibits in favor of necessary election financing reform.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was eminently qualified to run for president. Primary voters smartly addressed his flaws. Free speech—and money to allow him to be heard effectively—didn’t have to be limited in order to hobble his campaign.

Furthermore, if there was a decent market for bile in the electorate, there would be plenty of hateful ads about Obama and Romney’s religious affiliations—with or without the money and malice of billionaires.

Under the strictest rules on campaign financing and free speech, politicians will keep saying the damnedest things about one another, if they think that saying it will work.

Bruni’s concern, however, is elsewhere:

“There’s a take-no-prisoners approach that does take prisoners: all of us, incarcerated in a system whose crippling partisanship is fueled in part by the hyperbolic language, bellicose tactics and Manichaean tone of candidates and their handlers.

“And the swing voters are turned off. Many of them recoil from meanness run amok and cynicism on steroids, which is why Ricketts’s redeployment of Wright would have been such folly. They want someone to make them feel calmer and more confident, not anxious and gross.”

No one admits to liking violence in sports or “take-no-prisoners” campaign politics. However, if you care about the outcome, you usually show up. In democracies, those who don’t show up aren’t more civilized than those who do; they’re just more willing to leave their fates to others.

Rather than pouting about those who are throwing their weight around, Bruni and liberal reformers should focus on getting those precious swing voters more excited. They’re adults; they don’t need to be warned that some of what they see may be disturbing.

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