modern politics

If you’re not liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative when you’re old, you have no brains.

This cleverly constructed insult is very hard to refute from personal knowledge: if you’re young, you only have half the knowledge required to speak from experience; if you’re old, disagreement is evidence of stupidity. There does actually seem to be some correlation between age and political philosophy, but fitting statistics over politics is an exercise in explaining music with numbers – it explains everything except what it actually feels like to hear a song, which is only everything that matters about music.

On the few occasions that I pay attention to politics, I feel like the crabby old man railing about what the kids are listening to these days – it sounds like so much noise, and each election seems to bring only a dismaying choice between two unpalatable options. I wish that elections weren’t about making the “least worst” choice. But I don’t pine for the days of big band music, bebop or classic rock – to the contrary, what bothers me is that no choice ever seems to offer anything that aligns with my sense of a modern world.

The essay “Why I left the GOP” is a journey from one pre-modern society to another. The author explains his privileged background, mainstream education and birthright belief in competition and free markets – but then war, Katrina, and actual contact with honest-to-goodness poor people opened his eyes. He had no choice but to flee the GOP for the liberal heart of the Democratic party. I’ve seen this article triumphantly distributed by my left-leaning friends, but it’s sad how his story is all about what he’s fleeing from – there’s nothing at all about what he’s fleeing to. I like everything about the article but its ending – it’s the story of a man who ran out of a burning building only to sprint blindly towards a cliff.

Most of my “intelligent” friends lean Democratic, in no small part because of the anti-intellectualism of today’s Republican party. The irony here is that the intelligent citizen recognizes that the conservative values of community, decency, humanity and individual strength require that we extend these benefits to everyone in our society. But there is stunning intellectual inconsistency in the failure to acknowledge the evidence of governmental incompetence in providing the most basic services. Is there anyone who would sing the praises of their most recent interaction with the DMV, IRS, Post Office, or community planning board? Is there any large governmental agency that provides the daily benefit of America’s largest corporations? Oh sure, you can rail against Exxon or Bank of America, but can you remember the last time you couldn’t put gas in your tank or find a working ATM? Who brought you more joy yesterday, the federal or state government, or Apple or Google or Amazon?

Rich people who don’t want want to pay taxes because they don’t want to help poor people are just being assholes. But rich people who don’t want to pay taxes because they have no faith that government can help poor people are just being rational, they are just responding to the daily evidence before their eyes. Why isn’t there a third party that can satisfy both the liberal heart and conservative brain? The largest third party in the U.S. is the Libertarian party, which has succeeded only in being more heartless than conservatives and more senseless than liberals. Can’t we do better than that?

I am waiting and hoping for the day when technology will transform politics. So far, the incredible rise of the Internet, social media, mobile devices, and electronic payment have only been used in politics for the same old purposes: raising money for existing political parties. Someday these modern advances will come together to form a new political party that is committed to direct change in our society without relying on the fundamentally outdated infrastructure of the old political system. We will see a political party formed on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, organized on Facebook and Twitter and Google+, funded through Paypal and Amazon and Square – and it will improve people’s lives through Donors Choose and other direct means of helping society without the inefficiency of governmental oversight. We need political leaders who recognize that this is not just the future, this is the unevenly distributed present, and government needs to be reconstructed to enable this transformation.