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On Meta-Politics

July 2, 2019

I don't write about politics. The subject is too inflammatory, opinions so diverse, and often militancy replaces logic. And maybe my opinions are wrong. But maybe a few comments are in order about meta-politics.

I read widely, every morning looking at the NY Times, Washington Post, National Review, The American Conservative (TAC), and other sites. The Times drifts ever more leftward though does provide a platform for some conservative voices like Bret Stephens and David Brooks. The Post has become nearly hysterical in its railings against the current administration. National Review is, well, as it ever was though is mostly-silently not a fan of the current president. TAC hosts a number of writers, most prominently Daniel Larison, with whom I generally agree. But Larison writes the same three columns over and over. Rod Dreher is an excellent writer whose paranoia increasingly turns me off. Andrew Sullivan on NYmag is always interesting even when I disagree with him, and he writes beautifully.

I refuse to read hateful writers or screeds. Ann Coulter on the right and Maureen Dowd on the left profit handsomely from being nasty. Plenty of others fall into the same category. Their mission: rake in the bucks by feeding the flames of hate. Who would want to be part of that?

What I've observed over recent decades is this:

  • The GOP and the Democrats love enormous deficits. They may make noises against them, but Congress always votes for them and the president always signs those appropriation bills.
  • The GOP and the Democrats love open borders. Despite decades of opportunities, little action has been taken.
  • The GOP and the Democrats love war. My dad once told me that every president wants his war. I thought that was an odd statement, but the evidence over the past handful of decades supports that statement. And he said that long before the 2016 election, which, had it gone the other way, would likely mean I'd have to change "his war" to "his or her war."
  • The GOP and the Democrats craft their platforms and positions based on electability rather than the national good.
  • The GOP and the Democrats have one overriding objective: to get re-elected.

That last observation makes me despair. The good of the nation was once considered the ultimate objective, but is today rarely considered. Yes, partisan craziness has been with us since the early days of the Republic, but parties generally found common ground. Today, policy is driven by K-street. Long-term issues are neglected. Bills are introduced to satisfy a small portion of the electorate, an idea awfully close to the constitutionally-prohibited bill of attainder.

Governing is the art of the possible. Done correctly, everyone loses sometimes. As the Stones said, you can't always git what you want. But the nation gains something.

What's the difference between the parties? Abortion and guns, for sure. Today we see the left getting nutily lefter and the right more extreme. I have to believe, or at least hope, that the two extremes represent a minority of Americans whose voices are amplified by the media and the internet.

It's clear neither party has any interest in moderation or any sort of compromise.

And that sure seems to be mirrored in the vocal populace. Despite reading widely, my policy, never violated, is to not post comments to any political site. Articles in the Post often get thousands of comments. Who can read all of that stuff? National Review's commenters are too often more interested in tossing hand grenades than thoughtful engagement. TAC, which is heavily moderated, does get some interesting postings, but, like on all of these sites, comments are not carefully curated (see my thoughts about curation in the tech press here), and with limited time, I am more interested in what thoughtful authors have to say rather than some irate "Joe in DC".

Why add to the noise?

Author/theologian Stanley Hauerwas said something to the effect that you are what you do; do ugly things and that means you're morally ugly. That has been a guiding principle of mine for a long time. Mentally curse and rail, perhaps, but let only nice things come out of your mouth or keyboard. Vote for sure! Argue passionately and logically but listen closely to your interlocuter. Be willing to change your position. Pay attention to a wide range of opinions, because your carefully-considered views might lack data or nuance. This is especially hard for engineers as we're predisposed to assume we're correct. After all, we're judged on making something that demonstrably works. We unfortunately take that as proof of our wisdom in all things.

Above all, we need to be kind to and respectful of our fellow citizens.

Feel free to email me with comments.

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