I'm preparing myself for the coming election by wondering: why are some of us liberals and some conservatives, some Democrats, some Republicans?
According to one theory, we all start out in youth as liberals and harden into conservatives with age. Some, however, undergo radical conversions along the way. A precocious friend of mine, who marched for Harry Truman when he was 7, embraced an orthodox religion and became an arch-conservative when he grew up. Another, whose domineering father was a businessman and doctrinaire Republican, grew a Marxist beard and joined the ACLU. in part, I think, to tweak his dad.
Most of us don't have such epiphanies. We accumulate our opinions and prejudices like beachcombers and burnish them over time into sacred beliefs. Once set in our ways we shake our heads at the folly of others. Sometimes our bundles burst into flames and we manufacture hatred for those who don't see things our way.
My parents' indifference to politics left me free of pressure to become a conservative fish or a liberal fowl. I've voted for Republicans and Democrats for president, always on a lesser of evils basis. Still, I have my own eccentric collection of ideological geegaws and even moderates can rant.
I await Nov. 7 with more than the usual dread. What kind of choice is this? George Bush is a featherweight and Al Gore is simply the most repellent politician I've ever seen.
Besides, what meaning does "Democrat" or "Republican" have in the big money sweepstakes that is democracy in America today? Conservatives have plunged off the deep end into issues that politics can't answer. And the iberals' only working idea is, "The rich have more money than you do and it just isn't fair."
The two ideologies used to compliment and keep one another in check. But both have been gutted and debased. We have "conservatives" who are against conservation and "liberals" who are against school reform and free trade.
Politics has always been cynical and mendacious but politicians today don't even pretend to have beliefs. We shouldn't single out Joe Lieberman for betraying his values the moment they got in the way of his ambitions. He was only being a politician a member of the class which has discovered a lazy man's way to power using other people's money.
Politicians belong to the priesthood of a kind of theocracy in which government is God. And the hubris of these high priests! Bill Clinton actually claims that his administration "grew the economy," never mind the millions of energetic and inventive people who go to work each day.
Politicians have convinced many citizens that the government is their benefactor, that government programs are gifts. Where do these faithful think the money comes from? Some oppose a tax cut because they actually believe their money is better off in the government's hands. Anyone who believes that deserves to be fleeced.
The parties have become indistinguishable because they have the same agenda: to make the government grow. The bigger the government, the greater their power. A bigger federal bureaucracy means more votes in the incumbents' hands. The politicians are drooling over the surplus. The more they spend, the more dependent we become. Once conceived, their programs are immortal and it doesn't matter if they work. Failure is only an argument for more funds.
The most terrifying image in politics today is Al Gore pecking away at his lap top computer. Gore rails at Big Business. He's strangely silent about Big Government. But how different are the two? One is ravenous for profits, the other for taxes. Government is either in competition with business or in cahoots. Both have insatiable appetites. One thing Gore's got right: the Big Boys will be served. Big Business, Big Government, Big Labor. The little guys will have their pockets picked.
What we need is a commitment to control the growth of government, to weed out programs that have served their purpose or don't deliver. We need to encourage competitive alternates to government in the private and charitable spheres.
The next time you hear someone complain about how politicians can't work together and get things done, beat him with a stout witch hazel stick until he recants. The best thing we can hope for is a balance of power a president from one party and a congressional majority from the other.
In times of prosperity and absence of war, gridlock is good. Another name for it is checks and balances, the most blessed idea the Founding Fathers had. The first thing we should ask of government is that it be limited. If it is limited, it will almost certainly be good.
George Gurley is a Lawrence resident who writes a regular column for the Journal-World.