The safe thing to say on an Election Day is that whoever wins, the sun will come up next day. Which it will — on the way to rising on another Election Day, such is our present habit of living and dying by elections. The just concluded campaign should suggest to us why such a habit is deadlier than a carton-a-day cigarette addiction.
You have to have politics. You just don’t need to give the political enterprise the daily centrality it has come to enjoy in our affairs. When you do, it raises up less-than-salubrious people offering to make everything salubrious in return for our vote — a promise that, if kept (which it never is), would abolish the need for further promises. We’d all be happy as clams. We never are. Witness 2016.
What’s the point? The point is, we’d all likelier be happy if the vote-seekers would just let us alone most of the time: Leave us to find our ways through life’s tangles with the help of family and friends and community. Jefferson’s arguments for small, non-intrusive government have never, it seems to me, seemed more trenchant. The Affordable Care Act comes to mind, as it made so many lavish promises about singlehandedly improving the insurance system. And then there was the idea that if we just ripped down all the Confederate battle flags, voila: We’d have racial understanding. And then there was the movement to compel — look here, you dumb, beer-guzzling college riffraff, look here! — mutual consent for sexual relations at beer-guzzling frat parties!
Of the two major political groupings, Republicans show the lesser inclination to boss people around in the name of some greater good. Democrats remind me of the old-time schoolmarms who, with a steely glare, cracked rulers across the knuckles of the refractory. Not that that lets Republicans off the hook for their too-frequent encouragement of centrally conceived, centrally managed projects intended to upstage the Democrats: No Child Left Behind, for instance. Politics is a profession, and professions need objectives, and objectives need to be enforced for the general good. No politician is innocent of the willingness to compel: “Stop what you’re doing! Do this instead!”
The current obsession with Title IX rules governing sex on college campuses shows how political types seem to benefit by drawing up rules and regulations. That’s what we used to have the moral law for: defining what we did and what we didn’t do. Your mom told you. Your dad told you. They not only told you what to do; they told you why and how come. It was because (when the telling was accurate) God and the community had defined, or tried to, the relationship between men and women and the reasons for decency, kindness, respect, and honor. And it didn’t always work. But it provided a basis for the discourse that civilized societies are regarded as favoring.
You see, it was about character. About who you were. Who you were was supposed to bear strongly on the question of personal conduct.
There’s something to put to the bureaucracy: Oh, please, sirs, who do you want us to be? And how shall we become such? By attending seminars for the wayward? Certainly not through the ministrations of family. And certainly not through those of the church: an entity intended, so you gather from the media, to effect obedience to authoritarian jerks (distinguished from bureaucrats by their ministerial robes).
Enough of that for now. There will be more. There has to be. The politicians have us coming and going, and they won’t let go, no matter who prevails in the soul-searing contests of 2016. They won’t let go, that is, until their subjects compel them to do so, by dogged assertion of the true role of a democratic society. That role is to protect the inborn right to be ever so much more than the political regulators would have us become. That right — once familiar to Americans but, alas, less so now — is the right to a life of freedom, of virtue and, in the end, contentment.
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