The focus on now

In libertarian or internet circles, you sometimes hear people talk about the “false left-right paradigm.” The idea is that manipulators create divisive issues that get people riled up to expend their energies fighting one another, while nothing much changes behind the throne or curtain. Same bureaucracy. Same elites running the show. Same face, different mask.

I think there’s some truth in this.

Barack Obama is a terrible president, but when I hear someone bringing everything back to Obama this, Obama that, I check out. Not because it’s mean. Or dull (although it is really dull). No, mainly because it’s destructive.

For one, it obscures systemic issues. Obamacare is terrible, but it’s just another brick in the socialized medicine wall that’s been under construction for a half century. Yes, Obama is a state worshipper, but George W Bush was a great enemy of liberty too. The Republican party doesn’t want you poking into why federal spending has gone up every year since 1946. They’d rather keep you focused on why Obama went golfing again yesterday. Petty resentments must be a boon for contributions (back when I was a teen, “Ted Kennedy” was the magic word in fundraising appeals). If only we could get the latest jerk out of office, why then we’d have what… Mitt Romney, the pre-eminent Rockefeller Republican of his generation? Even after the Obama hand has been played, haven’t we been around long enough to know that there’ll be another joker dealt in the next round? Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren, anyone? There’s always a long supply of rotten eggs seeking political power.

More importantly, this focus on the daily “How is Obama falling short today?” political grind yields a bias toward the now, toward winning the news cycle. Ebola has been all over the news recently, and thanks partly to Republican pressure Obama acted now and we got another (unconstitutional) czar. George W Bush acted now back in 2008 with his back against the wall, and we got TARP. Acting now never involves acting wisely. (I think back, with some amusement,to when oil was $4 a gallon a few years ago and conservative Republicans were lamenting the lack of a “national energy policy.” Why if only the Fuhrer would come up with a plan to drill more oil wells! Such is the state of modern conservatism.)

In his book on democracy, Hans Herman Hoppe noted that an absolute king will try to act in ways that further the long-term wealth of his realm (he’s like a private owner of the kingdom), whereas a president or legislator in a democracy owns only the current use of the treasury. As short-term caretakers and not owners, our “public servants,” as the government-lovers call them, lack the incentive to act wisely, to think long-term. Instead they act with an eye toward whipping up the most votes in the next election. They’ll empty the till as long as they can keep the party going until they’ve left office.

The party hacks and campaign consultants are cut from the same cloth as our “public servants.” They care about power. They care about this election cycle. They care about now. They want you to care about now too and help them win the next election. If I can’t convince you to disregard these ad men altogether, at least step back and be discerning. They’re good manipulators.

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