The problem with reform politicians - The Explorer: Editorials

The problem with reform politicians

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Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

“All politicians are non-productive. The only commodity any politician has to offer is jawbone. His personal integrity — meaning, if he gives his word, can you rely on it? A successful business politician knows this and guards his reputation for sticking by his commitments — because he wants to stay in business — go on stealing that is — not only this week but next week and years after….

“But a reform politician has no such lodestone. His devotion is to the welfare of all the people, an abstraction of very high order and therefore capable of endless definitions. …. In consequence your utterly sincere and incorruptible reform politician is capable of breaking his word three times before breakfast … after he gets hardened he’s even capable of cheating at solitaire.”

— Lazarus Long – Time Enough for Love, Page 110, Berkeley Medallion edition.

That remind you of anybody we know? Apply it to presidential candidates. Edwards is obvious, Obama less so, as we haven’t caught him in a really big one yet. He could still be just another Chicago business pol with a polished image. That’s doubtful, but possible.

Two others from 2008 are perilously close, Ralph Nader and Ron Paul. Both add to the mix something Lazarus doesn’t directly approach — narcissism. Like all who talk principle too much, it’s really about them.

Unlike some reform pols (RP) who have no consistent epistemology, both Nader and Paul are often painfully consistent. Nader has never seen a government regulation he didn’t embrace, only opposing those that don’t go far enough. Paul has never found a foreign threat to America he considered real since George III. Together they cornered the market on sanctimoniousness barely leaving enough for later arrivals like Edwards and Obama. Ultimately both profile somewhere near another humorless zealot — Robespierre.

Like all RPs, they constructed their respective ideologies around things that are reasonably evident. Nader started with the sensible observation that automotive safety was not a priority with most auto builders, particularly American. He has been a peripheral, if unique figure in American politics since the 1960s. Paul adopted the basically sound economic system known as the Austrian School propagated and developed by von Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt and Rothbard. He spent a partial term in Congress as a Republican in the ‘70s, and was the Libertarian Party candidate for President in 1988.

Throughout their lives, both have projected the image of dedicated ideologs. Good - the world needs those. It’s when they start running for stuff that they muck things up and take on the characteristics of the RP.

Nader has been more successful idea-wise, as many of his quasi-socialist policies fit comfortably in current Democrat platforms. He comes so close to them that they blame his third party shot in 2000 as resulting in sucking enough votes away from Gore in Florida to elect Bush 43.

Paul had more low-level success, representing Texas in Congress as a Republican for eight terms. His recent run for President — which some claim is somehow still going on — was as a Republican, sort of. Like a typical RP, Paul accepts the brand without accepting the obligations that entails. He kept his Congressional seat as an R against a weak primary opponent but won’t support the winner of his party’s presidential nomination.

He has no excuse for this behavior. He got an inordinate amount of media coverage and raised a batch of money but couldn’t convert either into very many votes. He spent far more per vote than Mitt Romney. Ethically, he should either support John McCain or resign his House seat and run on or support another ticket in November.

Nader at least has that part right. But then he has nothing to give up.

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