Sunday, December 04, 2011

We don’t need no stinkin’ principles

I think pieces like this, which analyze the incoherent, inconsistent public positions of candidates, in this case Newt Gingrich (with an honorable mention to Mitt Romney's "ever-changing stripes"), while valuable in calling bullshit in very specific terms on bullshit artists masquerading as public servants, miss the larger point.

If politicians' words and deeds seem to be connected more to the prevailing political winds than to the deeply held beliefs of the speaker, maybe there's a reason for that. Maybe it's time to abandon the notion that these politicians apply their deeply held principles and values to their public utterances and policy positions, or that such deeply held principles and values even exist. Rather than respond with shock and outrage every time a politician does or says something that contradicts what they have done and said in the past, we should look for a metric that more consistently explains (and could predict) what we see. Maybe the only underlying political philosophy at work here is winning, and the only relevant deeply held values are those of the wealthy individuals and institutions that can make or break the political ambitions of these aspiring lapdogs.

If the trainwreck George W. Bush administration was good for anything, it was for the development of a powerful sense of political cynicism. That administration's polices were widely criticized as being dumb because they did nothing to help the vast majority of Americans (99 percent, according to some estimates), let alone mankind. But those policies appear dumb only if one assumes they are actually designed to help the vast majority of Americans and/or mankind. If one assumes that those same policies were designed to move vast amounts of money into the hands of the wealthiest humans on earth, then one can't possibly argue with the ruthless effectiveness of those policies.

Here's a handy rule of thumb: If politicians have to stop to think before discussing one of their "deeply held values," it ain't all that deeply held. Peoples' principles don't have to be written on note cards (or their palms) to be remembered. And unless you are very rich, stop assuming that politicians care about you. Their individual utterances might change, but the class of people that benefits from their actions doesn't.

And those stories that call bullshit would be more valuable if they focused less on the bullshit and more on who benefits.

Cross-posted at Suburban Guerilla.

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