That Which Survives

This article is republished from an earlier version on the old Slobber And Spittle. Some minor alterations have been done, but little has changed since then, and a couple of Twitter conversations have brought it to mind.

Over at his blog, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Oscar, James Ala wrote this in response to a comment I’d left at his site:

it really begs the question “why bother contesting for a leadership position if you are not going to lead?” From Poppy Bush onwards we have been inflicted with empty suits that captured the Executive as resume padding. It has been all about blind ambition linked to ego gratification; with no real desire to do the heavy lifting the job required. You can see the downward spiral from Pappy Bush, to Bill Clinton, to Shrub and, finally, to Obama.

Each iteration, each candidate, was ever more solipsistic, ever more nihilist, ever more ego driven, ever more the unprincipled political hack. Each was ever more the dog chasing the bus; totally lost when said bus ended up in the dog’s possession.

I wish I was a systems engineer, or someone who could discern how systems work. I do not have the mental discipline or the framework to achieve that kind of analysis. I just know that our system of government, especially [its] political process is fundamentally flawed. I keep looking at the results of the process and keep being amazed on how badly it fails at delivering a more perfect union.

Going Along To Get Along

Since I am, or at least was, an engineer, let me explain the political system to you.

It’s not a system.

At least, it’s not in any sense that means anything. A system is designed to accomplish something, whether it’s a documentation system, a refining system, or a computer system. Whether that something is making a project’s design understandable, processing ore, or delivering porn and kittehs to your screen, the goals are clear enough that the people designing them can figure out how to accomplish them. What is the goal of our political “system”? Beyond electing candidates, I don’t see any. We as individual voters set those goals, and as any thorough survey of the blogosphere will demonstrate, there is no universal agreement on what those goals are, nor even what categories of goals there might be. Even progressives of like mind find it hard to agree, and we’re but a vanishingly small portion of the electorate.

I do, however, see an evolutionary process. Evolution isn’t a system. It doesn’t have any goals beyond surviving long enough to reproduce. As long as a type of organism can do that, it continues. There is no ultimate goal to achieve. There is no perfect ocelot or flawless poppy. There are only ocelots and poppies that survive long enough to spread their DNA around, and those that don’t. That’s how politics works, pretty much everywhere. Only the details, the environment if you will, are different.

And that’s the little bit of understanding I can offer. Politics is an evolutionary process, and survival is getting and staying in office. Understand the environment, and the reasons politicians are the way they are will be more clear. From what I’ve noted, the politicians who are most successful are those who somehow manage to convince voters that they’re all about whatever the voters are about, which usually entails not actually being about anything in particular. That’s certainly Barack Obama’s modus operandi, and it appears to be Mitt Romney’s, as well.

As any decent introductory biology text would tell you, biological evolution has two basic drivers – variation and natural selection. “Variation” is the ability of organisms to be somehow different from their parents. Mutation and sexual reproduction both create variation. “Natural selection” is the environment’s job. The conditions that exist in an organism’s environment determine whether it will survive long enough to reproduce. If the organism is able to produce offspring, its DNA is passed on.

In the area of politics, we the voters are the environment. The money, the news, the personalities, and all the other stuff that goes into shaping what the candidates offered do and believe, is the variation. Our choices as voters determine what politicians succeed and which ones don’t. In the end, if voters choose their leaders for fatuous, self-centered reasons, then what we will end up with is fatuous, self-centered candidates.

This is why there’s a series here called “The Price of Freedom”. It’s about why it’s important to understand the issues, to understand who the candidates are and what they really believe, and to not leave your thinking to the cool people on television or radio who, often as not, are also in the business of telling you what you want to hear.

In the end, whatever we as voters choose is what we will end up with. If you choose evil, you end up with evil. What’s worse is that the evil is what you’re selecting for, so it will almost certainly get worse. There are plenty of other choices available. If the ones the main parties offer aren’t good enough, I’d suggest choosing the one who best represents what you want. If enough of us do that, the variation will change. The Tea Party proved that.

In this environment, if you select what you want, you might get it. If you don’t, then you certainly will not.

Afterword: I think it should go without saying that the picture of Dr. Evil, a character in the Austin Powers movies, is just a reference to something that’s become a cultural icon. It does not represent an endorsement of this article by the producers, cast, or production staff of this movie.

The title of this article is, of course, the title of a bad Star Trek episode. Still, like the Enterprise crew members trying to survive on the same planet with Lee Meriwether’s homicidal avatar, we seem to be stuck with a problem we can barely understand, let alone deal with intelligently. Needless to say, the creators of Star Trek aren’t in any way responsible for the contents herein.

It’s humor. Get over it.


Sometimes, Progressives Get It

We are the 99 percent

From two years ago. For all I know, she’s sill looking for a job.

Yet another thing passed under my nose today that turned out to be worth a look. When I saw the title of this essay by Lynn Parramore, I figured it would be some sort of pseudo-feminist twaddle about how he cheated on his wife with call girls and he probably downloads porn all the time, so how could he possibly respect women?. Turns out, my first impressions can be wrong:

As a life-long feminist, I’ve often been struck by the lack of insight in the political realm into a simple fact: So-called “women’s issues” are everyone’s issues.

When women have access to reproductive healthcare, when they are supported in the workplace, when they can enjoy a dignified retirement, when they are protected from Wall Street predators, when they are economically secure, everyone wins.

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

I was hooked already, but of course she goes on:

Enter a candidate for New York City Comptroller who has an outstanding record on all of these issues. One who has shown an unmatched enthusiasm for challenging Wall Street abuses that disproportionately impact women, one who has championed women’s workplace rights and access to healthcare — and one who even publicly calls himself a feminist.

Incredibly, some women, like NOW New York president Sonia Ossorio, have chosen to actually team up with business leaders to spend $1.5 million to skew the election and defeat Eliot Spitzer in his bid for office.

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

OK, now I want to kiss the woman. Calling out progressive leaders who don’t even serve the narrow agendas of their organizations, much less a generally progressive philosophy, would be a full-time job. This is a textbook example. Parramore goes on to name several reasons why Spitzer qualifies as a feminist. From my perspective, they’re excellent reasons for most women to support him. When it comes right down to it, legislation that mandates family leave time or abortion rights ought to count for more than what the guy does in his free time.

Ms. Parramore doesn’t stop there, though:

5. Wall Street Watchdog: What does Wall Street have to do with women? A lot, actually. Wall Street predations and reckless activities have cost millions of women their jobs, homes, and pensions. Swindlers in business suits have triggered massive funding crises in cities across America by charging outrageous fees, setting up harmful financial deals, and other shenanigans.

Women pay disproportionately for all this. They endure cuts to the social services they rely on to keep themselves and their families afloat in times of need.

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

Now I want to have her baby. Why in the world isn’t this the default position of every women’s organization, not to mention just about any cause that could be considered progressive? Yet, as she already observed, this is clearly not the New York NOW’s position. When do progressives wake up to the idea that the organizations they send money to and do volunteer work for should be pursuing an agenda that benefits the society and the world that we all live in, rather than just their own interests?

The inability to realize that in many ways our prosperity and how that prosperity is gained and distributed among us affects just about all those quality of life issues women, and men, too, come to think of it, care about is something that progressives seem incapable of understanding. To me, the widespread support for Hillary Clinton by women and feminists has been a case in point. Clinton has been very vocal and has done many things in support of women’s rights, it’s true. Unfortunately, she has never shown any more interest in fixing the undemocratic and increasingly unfair distribution of wealth and income in America any more than Barack Obama has. When we finally become the feudal economy that the New Democrats appear to want as badly as any Republican, I don’t think women’s lives will be looking any too shiny. I keep pointing this out to Clinton supporters, and have yet to be told about something she did that indicates otherwise.

Labor’s handling of the Affordable Care Act is yet another. They thought they could cut out their own little deal that would exempt their workers and their profitable health care networks from extra taxation, and supported the ACA even though it was clearly not good for either their workers or the public generally. Then Obama and the congressional Democrats screwed them. I didn’t notice any heads rolling among the unions after this, even though there should have been.

This, I’m afraid, is the fundamental reason progressives can’t get ahead. Their tone deafness and their inability to understand the reality of politics doesn’t help, but this is perhaps the most fundamental reason no one with any sense listens to them. They don’t recognize that they benefit from the things that benefit us all. Instead of hanging together, they each get boned separately.

Still, every once in a while there’s a progressive who reminds me that we aren’t all that stupid. I’d like to thank Lynn Parramore for doing that today.

Another (Former) Politician Who Remembers His Oath

Besides Jimmy Carter, there is at least one other former politician in America who remembers the oath of office that he took. Alas, he’s a Republican:

Former two-term GOP Senator Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire emailed Edward Snowden yesterday:

Mr. Snowden,

Provided you have not leaked information that would put in harms way any intelligence agent, I believe you have done the right thing in exposing what I regard as massive violation of the United States Constitution.

Having served in the United States Senate for twelve years as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee, I think I have a good grounding to reach my conclusion.

I wish you well in your efforts to secure asylum and encourage you to persevere.

Kindly acknowledge this message, so that I will know it reached you.

Gordon J. Humphrey
Former United States Senator
New Hampshire

Email exchange between Edward Snowden and former GOP Senator Gordon Humphrey

One of the sad ironies of this is that if this guy were running against either of my Senators, Murray or Cantwell, he’d have my vote for at least that election. Neither of my Senators, nor most of the other Democrats, have raised a peep about this issue. Maybe they feel they’re not informed enough to have an opinion, but at the very least they should be concerned about the obvious possibilities of tyranny and corruption implicit in a government agency listening in on its own citizens without any outside constraints. Since Humphrey is a Republican, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t agree with him on most issues of the day. But anyone who is concerned about this issue realizes that making our society better is something that won’t be done by secret agencies working beyond the supervision of anyone. That my Senators, and most of the others, seem to want to maintain that condition tells me that they’re really not interested in progress of any sort, whatever they might be saying on those issues.

I have to agree with Lambert Strether’s observation that progressives and liberals who aren’t willing to stand with folks like President Carter and Senator Humphrey aren’t worth very much, partly because they’re all too plentiful.

Being able to argue about issues without fear of retribution by our government is one of the most fundamental conditions for freedom. When our government seems hell-bent on making sure that condition never exists again, politicians who recognize this fact have priority over those who don’t, or won’t acknowledge it.