The smiling politician

Copyright 2012 Michael Ramirez - Used by permission http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTY5NjA4Mjg=
Copyright 2012 Michael Ramirez – Used by permission http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTY5NjA4Mjg=

A main theme running through my “Restoring America” project is that of inviting government tyranny by taking government money. We call this “taking the cheese.” When we take the cheese, the trap slams down.

Unfortunately, this principle is ignored throughout American government at all levels. The progressive tyranny we’ve witnessed in American history has been the result of systematic applications and re-applications of baiting the American people into further centralized controls.

This is a thoroughly bipartisan effort. In the modern era, those politicians of either major party who have consistently resisted and opposed this tactic can almost be counted on one finger.

The problem can be described with this variation upon a familiar phrase: the political-industrial complex.

In this case, understand the words “political” and “industrial” in their widest senses possible, and you will begin to get a sense of the enormity of the problem.

Even the most conservative of politicians among us eat, sleep, and breathe government grants and handouts whenever it suits them politically. In doing so, they are generally voicing the interests of their most powerful and vocal donors and constituents. These may be liberal or they may be conservative. It doesn’t really matter. The principle is the same: the use of government to channel money to favored interests.

This is sold to the public under various ruses: the public good, the public interest, public necessity, the lesser of evils, meeting a crisis, the inability of free markets, alleged human rights, creating jobs, improving society, health, education, threats of chaos, crime, poverty, war, coming in second to another state or nation, or with the use of pictures of starving children, politicians kissing infants, or petting puppies.

In reality, the background story is that, for example, large local businesses could increase profits, say, by increasing truck traffic. But this requires larger highways. But this would be a major investment of capital—far beyond what those businesses would spend on their own and at their own risk. Thus, the Congressman gets a call.

But the proposal is not, “We want bigger highways so we can make more money, but we want someone else to pay for the highways.” This would hardly interest a politician unless he had a direct cut in the deal. But a direct cut in the deal would be corrupt. Immediate public exposure would likely end the politician’s career. Politicians are savvier than that. The proposal is, “If we had bigger highways, we could generate more business, and that could create more jobs in your district.” Further, “The increased business would also spur other local businesses: restaurants, etc.”

Now that is music to a politician’s ear. Would he not love to report next campaign season: “through my experience and leadership, I created a thousand new jobs in our state, and turned around or struggling economy”? He begins to work the marionette strings of the capitol hills. Tens, hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal highway grants roll in.

That campaign season, the same politician runs down his liberal opponent by accusing him of favoring big government and wasteful spending. He calls himself a “fiscal conservative.”

This is real life

This is not the embittered opinion of an idealistic Christian political theorist. I’ll give you a real life example. Let me tell you a story:

Last fall I attended a town hall meeting called over the issue of a toll road proposed to be built through our semi-rural county. The board of commissioners was encouraging this highway for some time, but the people clearly did not want it.

Thus the commissioners knew this would be an unpopular issue, but they were being pushed to address their support of it publicly.

They pulled out all the anti-populace tricks. The time and place of the meeting appeared to be chosen strategically to minimize attendance. It was held at a remote location: a park with a “community center” in the far north and rural end of the county. And it was set for 6pm, right when most people would be expecting to sit down to dinner.

It didn’t work. I estimate that well over 300 people turned out, which was far more than the commissioners expected, and far more than the seating could handle. Many of us stood in a tight crowd all around the seating area. Police were assigned to stand throughout the crowd.

They tried to stifle the voices of opposition. They said they would stay until every question was answered, but they would not take questions from the floor. They would only take written questions that were submitted to a moderator. We were given paper and pens, but everyone was standing around with nothing to write against. Nevertheless, a determined crowd submitted dozens of sheets many with multiple questions.

Before answers, however, the “moderator” was allowed to give an opening speech. He was obviously a man gifted in personality and speaking. He was older and gray, and tried to give some kind of Andy Griffith good ol’ boy down-home talk to win the hearts of the crowd. I’m just one of you guys, I’ve lived here all my life, I love this county, back in the good ol’ days, blah, blah.

It was a clear filibuster and propaganda tactic. He didn’t get two minutes in before a guy in the back shouted something to the effect: “Quit wasting our time and get to the point!”

That brave soul changed the tone of the whole event. They quickly got to the point. For the next two hours the Chairman was on the defensive answering questions, both written and from the floor.

He explained over and over again that “there’s not going to be a toll road,” because some of the neighboring counties had already voted against forming the joint authority needed to do it. He repeated this multiple times until most people, satisfied there would be no road, went home.

But then something interesting happened. When most of the people had left, maybe 30 or 40 remaining, someone asked, “Let me get this clear just to be sure: you’re saying for certain there’s not going to be a major highway running through our back yards?” The Chairman now jumped: “Oh, no, no, no! I never said that. I said there’s not going to be a toll road. The state may still decide to build a highway through here.”

Had all those 300+ people still been there, I am sure they would have been livid. I would have been too save that I already suspected this was the case the whole time. So I asked from the floor: “If the state tries to put a road through here which the people clearly don’t want, will you as our elected representatives stand firm and represent the people’s will and resist the state’s attempt?”

I was not surprised by the answer, but by the fact he seemed shocked someone would intimate the question. “Why no, I think we need to support our governor; we may need his help some day.”

I didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: “And whom do you represent, actually?” I didn’t need to. I already knew.

The sad news is that there will probably be a large, divided, controlled access highway though my county someday. Local businesses want it, the local government wants it, and the state wants it. There’s too much money at stake to worry about displeasing a few hundred land owners. Their property will likely be seized through imminent domain, and they will have no other option.

And those other residents who are not directly affected won’t care. Besides, they’ll be convinced that this new road is good for the economy, adds jobs, and those out-of-touch people opposing it don’t care about society and only want to impede progress. Selfish them.

So the only people who end up standing for freedom are those who stand to lose, and those who believe in standing for liberty as a principle. Selfish them.

The smiling politician

What also came out near the end of that meeting was that there are big state forces behind the desire for such a road. It was said almost in passing, and no one noted anything about it or questioned it.

Here’s my paraphrase: “The transportation authority has said that when the Port of Savannah is deepened, truck traffic through Atlanta is going to increase by 50 percent. But we all know how badly congested Atlanta already is. So the powers that be have been looking to build a bypass for some time. The east side of the city is way more expensive to build through that our side.”

The implication was left: you do the math. But the conversation soon moved on to more details.

But this point stuck with me keenly. This whole thing hinges on the deepening the Port of Savannah. That’s when the coin dropped.

And that’s when the whole thing got really interesting.

A few months earlier I had been invited to a local function breakfast where my Congressman would speak. He’s a great conservative. I even voted for him once. I did so specifically because he had voted “no” on the 2008 bailout both times. This was rare, as the pressure and fear tactics applied on that second-round vote caused many conservatives to defy their constituencies and vote “yes.” This guy didn’t. Remember, this was under Bush, not Obama. I was impressed.

At breakfast we got a talking-to about how great the TEA party influence in the 2010 class of Congressmen is. We heard about how bad Obama is and how our number one objective should be to get him out in 2012. We heard a lot about fiscal conservatism and stopping this ridiculous spending going on in Washington. We’ve got to end all these bailouts and handouts and stimulus plans. And we’ve got to get this economy going again . . . .

Then, as if he had not said all that he had already said, this champion fiscal conservative congressman continued with a big smile (again, paraphrasing from memory):

So, we’re trying to get Washington to help us deepen the Port of Savannah.

Behind the scenes

What most of those fine people in my town hall meeting as well as the people at that breakfast don’t hear about are the vast financial forces at work behind the scenes in all of this.

You see, in 2006, the citizens of Panama (77 percent of them) voted to fund the expansion of the Panama Canal by over double its current capacity. Doing so will allow much larger cargo ships to pass through.

Because much larger cargo ships will be coming through, cargo volume at Eastern American sea ports is expected to increase. This will begin as early as 2014.

Savannah is one of the largest of these ports by volume, but is by far the shallowest port of all major ports in the U.S. It’s so shall in fact that some ships even now only dock there at high tide, but the larger container vessels coming through the Panama Canal will not be able to dock there at all.

The Port of Savannah therefore fears it will lose all of that potential increase of volume to Charleston, Norfolk, and New York. That’s billions of dollars floating by!

So, “we need a bigger port so we can make more money, but we want someone else to pay for the deepening of the port.” Except what we hear is, “If we deepen the port, we will create jobs and stimulate the economy, and Georgia will have a world class cargo facility.”

Make no mistake, federal money is being sought aggressively.

A huge part of the problem is that this has been the standard approach of government and much of industry for centuries now (see my essay on George Washington). Few question whether government should even be involved in funding industry at all. Few balk at voting “yes” for a referendum they know will bring tax dollars to them in some way.

In short, we talk doubly just like that smiling politician: “Government shouldn’t be involved in business! That’s not government’s job.” But, “We need a government grant to bring jobs, highways, hospitals, school buildings, or to study cow flatulent.”

When it profits us or ours, we don’t question the morality or ethics of having a central government indebted by 15 trillion dollars due to such spending in every nook, cranny, and granny.

We barely balk at the existence of an institution that can create such debt-money on demand to the tune of hundreds of billions so that the federal government can continue to keep the bread buttered and the politicians smiling at local breakfasts.

The liberal left loves it. It wants the money for “education” and welfare. The right loves it, too. It wants the money for military contracts and big business. So if you oppose the spending system in general, the liberal will say you hate children and the needy, and the conservative will say you hate business and want to weaken the nation’s defenses. It thus has a monopoly on the rhetoric so that that excludes and punishes true fiscal conservatives.

Both sides love the system as it feeds the many corporations and banks that in turn feed them back. It’s the political-industrial complex. And it’s the real status quo.

It plans on being here a long time, and its vision is for the world. For example, the massive bureaucracy in my state (every state has one) known as the Department of Transportation “Office of Planning” already has detailed logistics, highway, and rail expansion plans for what they’d like to see for the next forty years. It has a vision statement:

Georgia will be the global gateway of choice, providing reduced time to market, superior supply-chain efficiency and reliability from origin to end customer.

And a Mission Statement:

The State, in partnership with private sector and local and federal governments, will identify and promote the implementation of activities that improve the capacity, capability, and connectivity for today’s supply chains. . . .

Get that: “The State, in partnership with private sector and local and federal governments. . . .

It’s the political-industrial complex. It’s all about getting money from above through loopholes, leverages, and lies. The local interests want the dough, and the politicians are at work at every level of government in every government promising the interested that they know how to get at that free money and can make it work for them if you just vote for them.

Is there hope?

Our government spending problem is not a result of recent elections or administrations, however much those have exacerbated the problem. Our problem is cultural and structural: we have a culture of government funding. It is difficult even to conceive of freedom in some areas of life simply because they have been so thoroughly dominated by the culture of dependence upon government appropriation for so long.

Until we begin to make significant headway in eliminating the Federal Reserve, government monopoly over money, deficit spending by governments, massive bureaucracy and regulation is various areas of industry, and a political system which seeks out and rewards people who facilitate special interest transactions of this nature, we will not begin to see much movement toward freedom.

Thankfully, the beginnings of this are happening. The Liberty Movement, TEA Patry, and similar mind sets have produced several local and state level candidates who have been elected to office on platforms of refusing to take the cheese. To stop the special interest pigs, you have to get rid of the trough. And we have to be willing to stop receiving the money and “benefits” ourselves as well. This message is spreading, and literally millions of people are behind it. Millions of people would rather sacrifice personally than continue down the path of debt- and state-imposed tyranny.

The advances are not coming without significant push-back. Local good ol’ boys have been used to getting their tax and grant revenues for decades, and they don’t want to let go. But with God’s help, honesty and fiscal conservatism will advance, and these corrupt self-interested forces will be elected out by honest people over time.

The best we can do in the meantime is to keep spreading the message: keep spreading the facts and keep persuading hearts and minds one at a time.

And most importantly, practice it yourself. Embrace the discipline and habits of self-sacrifice that are required to maintain a society without government corruption and handouts. And do it with fortitude and courage: this attitude crested upon your sacrificing face is exactly what your neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to see to be inspired to make difficult change themselves.

If they don’t see that from you, they’ll only see that politician’s smile. And they’ll think he’s a fiscal conservative.

There are many other facets to this battle. Not taking the cheese is a vital one. Follow this yourself, and work to start exposing it in your own local governments. Take heart in the victories that have been won already, and expect more to come as we keep fighting. For with these things, there is indeed hope.

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