Watching President Obama deliver his State of the Union Address, I got to thinking of my dad.
Derb, Sr. was born in 1899 and was compulsorily retired from his job as a furniture-company repo man at age 65. That point in time—the mid-1960s—was one of great changes, in Britain as much as in the USA. Dad, who was of a reactionary temperament, disapproved of all such “great changes.”
Two things he especially frowned on were Britain’s entry into what was then called the European Common Market and mass immigration into Britain from the Caribbean and South Asia. From his retirement through to the late 1970s, dad occupied himself with writing angry letters to newspapers and politicians urging opposition to both things.
Dad wasn’t an educated man. His spelling was erratic and he had no prose skills. The recipients of his angry letters probably got hundreds like them and binned them on the handwriting alone. No newspaper ever published one of dad’s letters.
Not that it would have helped. The die had already been cast. All of British society’s important power centers agreed that union with Europe would be a jolly good thing and that opening the country to floods of Jamaicans and Pakistanis would be culturally and economically invigorating.
Both things were disastrous. The European project yoked Britain to a mercantilist bureaucracy tasked with “harmonizing” countries that had spent centuries developing widely differing approaches to public affairs. Mass immigration frontally assaulted Britain’s tolerant insularity, turned sleepy old working-class neighborhoods into hotbeds of crime, and introduced an aggressively hostile religion into one of the world’s least-religious nations.
The folly of all that is now obvious. The curious thing is that cranky, semi-literate old dad, firing off his misspelled letters to the local rag, was right on those issues, while all the credentialed panjandrums of politics, academia, business, and the media were wrong. For all his lack of education, dad was no fool.
I recall Lord Melbourne’s observation:
What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.
Watching the president deliver his speech tonight, listening to all the gassy cant and bogus concern, the promises to “create” jobs by “investing” in grand government projects, the hollow claims of benevolence and omnipotence, I kept thinking, “They don’t have a clue. None of them has a single [expletive] clue.”
That’s not specifically an observation about this president. Obama has been less of a calamity than I feared. He has probably done less harm to the nation, net-net, than his predecessor. He has conventionally leftist opinions but no real ideology, no grand transformative plan. His natural interest is in politics: raising funds, getting elected, making appointments—and in the hundreds of millions of dollars he will accumulate after leaving office. In British terms, he is a Tony Blair. I shouldn’t care to spend any time with Obama (and shall call myself blessed if I go to the grave never having spent a minute in the same room as his dimwitted shopaholic wife). If we were to trade opinions on matters of public policy I doubt we’d have a single point of agreement, but I don’t feel any animosity toward him.
I merely don’t think he has a clue. Not him, not Geithner or Mrs. Clinton, not Reid or Pelosi, not Romney or Gingrich or Boehner—I don’t believe any of them has a clue.
Not that our rulers and legislators are all stupid (though some of them undoubtedly are). It’s that I don’t think any of them is more likely to be right on any specific matter of governance than the average retired repo man composing ill-written Letters to the Editor in his back parlor. This has probably always been the case. Lord Melbourne, after all, was speaking in 1830.
A nation of some tens of millions of people is a mighty complicated thing. The individual human brain, which evolved to assist the survival of its host organism in a hunting-gathering band of a few dozen, is not equipped to understand human affairs on the tens-of-millions scale. If you are seriously well-read on one narrow aspect of public policy, it is dismaying to try to engage a politician in conversation about that topic—even a politician that you admire. All you get is a handful of vapid slogans. International commerce? “Free trade, but fair trade!” Education? “Improve the schools!” Immigration? “Guest worker program!” I’ve mixed with politicians a fair amount. Let me tell you: They don’t have much of a clue.
The difference between Lord Melbourne’s time and ours is that we expect far, far more of our governments than the Britons of 1830 did of theirs. The mismatch between the wisdom and capability we expect from our politicians and the blundering cluelessness they actually display is correspondingly more glaring.
The smart move for a voter, therefore, is to support the candidate who promises the least government, whatever reservations one might have with that candidate’s style, associations, age, or tailoring, even if the candidate is a cranky geezer who looks like he spends his free time writing angry, ungrammatical Letters to the Editor.
In this election, that would be Ron Paul.
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