Back in 2007 — specifically in Vent #526 — I declared myself to be "largely apolitical," noting that "I resent bitterly the contemporary notion that everyday life and politics are utterly inseparable." With an election upon us, an election that is routinely characterized as Damn Near Apocalyptic in its potential import, I find that resentment growing by leaps and bounds, and I figure I'd better drain off some of it here before it starts aggravating my hypertension.

I have, I readily admit, a rather 18th-century concept of the responsibilities of the citizen. I bear arms, and have done so under my country's flag when called upon; I show up to vote; other than that, I rely on my elected representatives to take care of those things I am not in a position to take care of on my own, using the Constitution as their guide. And actually, this sort of thing worked pretty well for the rest of the 18th century and most of the 19th. It was the 20th when everything went to hell.

Depending on whom you ask, the first step on the road to perdition was the enactment of the income tax (16th Amendment), popular election of Senators (17th Amendment), or any random act by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Maybe. I leave the particulars to the pundits. But real acceleration didn't come until after World War II, for this reason: politicians observed that citizens would make all manner of sacrifices — food, fuel, building materials, transportation, even nylon — for the sake of the war effort, and reasoned that the easy way to get the proles to do their bidding was to create something with, in Jimmy Carter's unfortunate phrase, "the moral equivalent of war." William James had said it first, back in 1910, but James was serious; Carter, arguably the prototype for today's fundamentally-unserious politician, was trying to apply it to an "energy crisis" for which he bore much of the responsibility.

But this sort of malfeasance predates Jimmy Carter. Consider Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." Forty-odd years later, we have a permanent underclass that's overfed, surrounded by the latest conveniences, and condemned to remain forever defined as "poor" — mostly because the permanent overclass created to oversee the War has no interest in an exit strategy that might cost them their phoney-baloney jobs. Lest you think this phenomenon is confined to Democrats, consider that it was Richard Nixon who first floated the idea of a War on Drugs as such. We've had almost forty years of that, with exactly three tangible results: gang warfare here and there, the disappearance of proper cold remedies, and the appearance of another permanent bureaucracy.

Eventually, they figured out that "War on [whatever]" wasn't selling the programs anymore. Barack Obama's first Drug Czar said that the term was counterproductive, though he also said that the actual war effort wasn't going to change radically. The Climate-Change Worriers have avoided, for the most part, calling their demand for the crippling of the world economy a "war," though their proposed actions are entirely consistent with all those other failed "wars."

So you'll forgive me if I seem a bit cynical as I stand in line at the precinct tomorrow. Quite apart from the largely-indistinguishable names on the ballot, and the barrage of mostly-legislative initiatives on the other side, there's nothing there to answer Mark Steyn's question about the war-making machinery: "Where do you go to vote out the CPSC? Or OSHA? Or the EPA? Or any of the rest of the acronyms uncountable drowning America in alphabet soup?"

I will, of course, continue to perform my civic duty. But every year that nothing is done to curb the politicization of Damn Near Everything, you can expect me to perform it with less enthusiasm. If, two years from now, someone hasn't thrown Barney Frank into Boston Harbor, I'll consider the entire two years a complete and utter waste.

The Vent

#699
  1 November 2010

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