Sunday, September 07, 2008

It Doesn't Matter Who Is President

It is nearly impossible to know what a politician will do in office. I blame pragmatism for that difficulty. Nearly every politician succumbs to pragmatism, and pragmatism means that his ideas are divorced from his actions. Ideas are floating, unreal constructs to him, and actions are taken in response to range-of-the-moment considerations. As a result, any politician who proclaims certain ideals will not take those ideals seriously when he is in office. Instead, when he arrives in office, he responds to the day-to-day pressures that buffet him.

The question then becomes, what kind of pressures buffet him? When Jimmy Carter was president in the 1970s, an intellectual rebellion against regulation had arisen, led by figures such as Milton Friedman. Given the country’s economic malaise that Carter’s and his predecessors’ policies had produced and the need to “do something” new, Carter acquiesced to the de-regulationary proposals of Alfred Kahn and others. As a result, it was under Jimmy Carter’s administration, a left-wing Democrat, that airlines, trucking, and railroads were deregulated in the United States.

Consider also the example of Bill Clinton. Faced with the “swing to the Right” embodied in the 1994 elections, Bill Clinton, a conventional left-winger, relented and inaugurated partial welfare reform that reduced the future growth of welfare spending by billions of dollars.

Then consider the examples of Bush Sr. & Jr. Each Bush claimed to be for free markets. We “read the lips” of Bush Sr. on “no new taxes.” We also heard the claims of Bush Jr. to be for free markets. Yet Bush Sr. raised taxes when he was confronted by the pressure of Democrats and fellow Republicans complaining about a large budget deficit. For his part, despite his avowed “free market” stance, Bush Jr. could not resist the cries for protection from steel producers, most of whom, undoubtedly, donated large amounts of money to his election campaign. Therefore, he raised steel tariffs.

The examples I have cited show that party affiliation is a poor predictor of what a candidate will do in office. Also, his stated views have little bearing on what he will do. Rather, because of pragmatism, each candidate responded in a range-of-the-moment fashion to the general pressures around him. Carter and Clinton, although ostensibly anti-business Democrats, partially reduced regulation and the growth rate of welfare. Bush Sr. & Bush Jr., two ostensibly free market Republicans, presided over tax increases and protectionist policies, among other statist measures.

All four presidents were pragmatically responding to the “pressures of the day,” not the dictates of party or conscience.

I suggest that we try to understand what will be the “pressures of the day” tomorrow that will bear on McBama, when he is elected. I posit that those pressures will determine the policies, not the man. Moreover, I will venture that there are two sets of strong pressures that will influence him: (1) environmentalism, and (2) fear of intransigence vis-à-vis Islam. Thus, the next President, whoever he may be, will continue to enact alternative energy and anti-carbon policies, and will continue to take half-measures against the Islamists. I do not think it matters which man is President.


Note: This post first appeared as a response to Burgess Laughlin's comment on my prior post.


Myrhaf said...

It sounds like you're leaning toward abstention.

Galileo Blogs said...

Yes. My main point is simply that who is president matters a lot less than what ideas he is influenced by. The battle remains one of ideas. Many people find that frustrating because it takes time, but there really is no alternative. For example, why was Jimmy Carter pressured to deregulate? The reason is that Milton Friedman and others, no doubt many influenced by Ayn Rand, took the time to write countless books, articles, and even produce television shows explaining the evils of regulation.

While the principal battle remains in the realm of ideas, the vote for president is not meaningless. One should vote for his preferred candidate, if he can find enough reason to pull the switch for one versus the other.

As for my vote, it is "none of the above." As for my reasons, I agree with Craig Biddle's "McBama vs. America" article (linked in my post above), as well as many arguments that you and others have made.

Scott said...

I've come to basically the same conclusion, and especially after watching John Stossel's report on 20/20 tonight about the candidates' "promises"

There's really not much point in voting, because it simply doesn't matter.