Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Political Convictions

There's this idea that it is admirable for people to have strong convictions, no matter what those convictions are. An example of this (and what got me thinking about this in the first place) are liberals who say they don't agree with Ron Paul, but like that he's standing firm on his convictions. As if strong convictions are automatically a good thing.

But that's idiotic. Racists have strong convictions. Hitler and Stalin had strong convictions. The Spanish Inquisitors had strong convictions. In fact, I suspect that almost all of the worst people in history had strong convictions. So tell me, what's so admirable about any of these people? Particularly once you realize that they all thought they were doing the right thing. Hitler and Stalin didn't start killing people because it polled well. They firmly believed in what they were doing. Strong convictions didn't help these people at all. In fact, it was the strength of their convictions that got these villains in trouble in the first place. So what's so great about that?

That isn't to suggest that I think wishy-washy zombies are always preferable to those with convictions. But when it comes to a wishy-washy person versus a person with firm convictions that I strongly disagree with, I'll go for the wishy-washy person every time. To be honest, I'd sort of prefer a wishy-washy person over anyone I even mildly disagree with. Because I've got pretty strong convictions of what life's about and what we need to do to make it better; so anyone with a firm conviction to stop me is clearly going to mess me up. I'd much rather be able to persuade someone than be opposed by them. That's not to say I think it'd be good if everyone agreed with me, but...

And sure, if you're a reader of this site, you'd probably prefer a Democratic politician who stands firm with his convictions, but what about a Republican? I don't know about you, but I'd much rather see a President Romney than a President Gingrich. Because Romney will want to remain popular and will adopt whatever position he needs to do so; while Gingrich will pull a Bush and do whatever the hell he wants, popularity be damned. Heck, a President Giuliani scares me most of all. While he only has one conviction, it's that he deserves more power and attention, and nothing will dissuade him of that.

Open-Mindeder Than Thou

And the basic premise behind the people who admire strong convictions is that they're more open-minded than the rest of us, and therefore more intelligent. Because they're willing to listen to people they disagree with. But that's totally bogus. Because first off, I have no problem with listening to people I disagree with. But that doesn't mean I'll admire them. And if I think they're crazy, I'll say they're crazy, no matter how firm their convictions are.

And secondly, these people are not actually listening to these people they supposedly admire. They're just paying lip service. For as much as they pretend as if they're hoisting the message over the man, they're doing the exact opposite. They find people that they personally like, and completely ignore what the person stands for. They think this makes them high-minded, but it just makes them dopes.

This is how Bush got into office: Thanks to lots of people who disagreed with the conservative agenda but admired Bush for being a "straight-talker." But as we all know, that was a joke. Not only was he not being straight, he was always being coached on what he was going to talk about in the first place.

Beyond that, the concept of the "straight-talker" is still clearly screwed up. It's supposed to mean that you're a truth teller. But as we've seen, Republicans don't believe in truth. Not objective truth, anyway. To them, truth is whatever they want the truth to be. And you score "straight-talker" points if you're willing to say certain things that aren't considered politically correct. Yet...they keep scoring political points when they do so.

And whenever a politician says anything that is truly politically incorrect (ie, it hurts them politically), it's not called straight-talk; it's called a gaffe. In fact, I'm continually amazed at how well some people do politically by saying things that are politically "incorrect". The rule of thumb is: If it helped you win the election, it was politically correct. Or at least it should be, if these people knew what they were talking about.

Brave Flip-Floppers

And then there was the case of George Bush Sr. breaking his election pledge to not raise taxes. Politically, it was a huge mistake and might have cost him the election. But it was a good policy because we needed the money. And hindsight showed us clearly that these tax increases did not cripple the economy as we were told they were. So by breaking his promise, he took the risky action, but did the right thing.

And we see the same thing now. Bush Jr. has always stated that taxes hurt the economy, and he probably believes it. But whether or not he wanted to raise taxes, it would hurt him politically. Even now, Republicans taunt Democrats with a "tax-and-spend" label, while our national debt continues to spiral out of control. I'm not sure why people imagine that it's always brave to stand by one's convictions, but that is clearly an absurdity. Sometimes, standing by one's convictions is the cowardly thing to do. It just depends on what the convictions are.

Similarly, we wouldn't even be talking about Ron Paul if he hadn't "bravely" kept repeating the same conservative lines that most conservatives have long since abandoned. But what has this bravery cost him? People act as if his convictions are hurting his presidential aspirations; but it's the exact opposite. He'd be completely ignored were he a loyal Bushie and he wouldn't even be running for president. Sure, his "convictions" hurt him with a majority of Americans, as well as the MSM. But for the segment of the electorate he's wooing, it would destroy him to do anything different.

So what exactly is so brave about doing the thing that helps you most? Same thing with Mike Huckabee and his open references to Jesus. How are "convictions" distinguishable from political gambits when they serve the same purpose? These people have their small group of followers and they'd risk political disaster if they abandoned the "convictions" that got them those followers. Hell, that's even the same boat Bush is in. He can never gain back the 70% of people who disapprove of him, so if he abandons the war, he'll just lose everyone else.

As with these other men of conviction, Bush's convictions coincidentally also happen to help him politically. But the cynic in me says this isn't a coincidence. Bush, Huckabee, and Paul will never state convictions that go against their core followers. That's not necessarily to say there's anything wrong with what they're doing. But it's obvious that "bravery" really isn't the proper word here. As I said, the worst thing Ron Paul could do would be to start mimicking the other Republicans.

Overriding Convictions

And what's so great about a politician installing his vision on us, if it's not the vision we want? People act as if this is some sort of elective dictatorship. As if we're electing leaders who will guide us for a certain number of years. But it's not. It's a representative democracy. They're working for us. They're supposed to do what we want. They're not our leaders any more than a CEO is the leader of the shareholders who hired him.

That's not to say politicians should change their policies with every poll result (which is clearly a strawman, as even poll-driven politicians don't actually do that), but when the polls repeatedly tell them that we want something different than what they're giving us, they should give us what we want. I don't care what they promised during the election. Times change. Policies should change too.

And strong convictions can completely get in the way of that. It was good for America that George Bush I broke his promise and raised taxes, and it's horrible that George Bush II hasn't. And if I was elected president and realized that some of my liberal plans wouldn't work, I'd be a fool to not back down from them. We're hiring administrators, not fucking psychics. I don't want some dude who can accurately predict America's needs eight years into the future. I want a dude who can understand what America needs from this moment forward.

And the big question is: Will these people let their "convictions" overrule commonsense? If they start to get some sense that their policies are wrong, will they back down? Or will they continue to plow ahead in their own self-righteousness? Again, I'll take a President Romney over a President Gingrich anytime. And if a President Obama or Clinton or Edwards or whoever finds themselves in a spot where their liberal convictions prevent them from taking a wiser course of action, I want them to lose those convictions immediately.

Sure, convictions are a good thing to have, but they're not a death pact. We need to keep our options open. Again, we're hiring administrators; not dictators or psychics. It's ok for them to re-evaluate a situation and change course.

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