The key debate during this round of presidential elections seems to be which candidate is more likely to enact “change” in the country’s politics. The attempts by each candidate to capture this description can be seen clearly in the focus of their ads and their decisions leading up to the election. McCain’s attempts to capture this title can be seen in the constant description of himself as a “maverick” and his out-of-nowhere selection of Palin as running mate. Meanwhile, the phrase “more of the same” appears repeatedly in Obama’s ads when describing McCain, and Obama has frequently talked about his status as the true “candidate of change.” Clearly, both of these candidates are playing off of a discontent with the current state of the country (and the country’s current administration) by promising to be somehow different.
However, even as these two promise change, many of their moves thus far have shown extreme trepidation in seeming too radical or different. For one thing, running on the Republican ticket obviously gives McCain at least some connection to Bush, and his failure to renounce the current administration clearly shows an attempt to balance his “maverick” image with a desire to avoid alienating the party faithful. Meanwhile, Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as a running mate seems like a deliberate attempt to reach out to those perhaps turned off by perceptions of Obama as too extreme.
The unfortunate reality is that the real candidates of change were predestined to lose from the start. The two party system in U.S. politics is excellent at weeding out candidates who vary from the status quo. As a result, candidates who would truly change the country (whether for better or for worse) are never given any sort of chance. When these two candidates do run it is generally more of a political statement than a serious bid. People like Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, Ralph Nader, or Bob Barr would do some real damage to the status quo (and in some cases, to the country), but none of them will ever do so, because unfortunately the American people do not truly want change, but would rather things stay comfortably grim.
An interesting trend in recent politics in general which seems especially predominant in Obama’s campaign is a tendency to vilify oil companies. It is understandable that such a vast and profitable business would draw a great deal of resentment from people. This is especially understandable given the fact that gas prices continue to go up, despite the fact that, as many political ads point out, “Big Oil” is making record profits. This trend seems to many to be extremely unfair. This issue is especially personal for people since oil may be the single most important resource for our modern life style, and few people would know how to get along without it. Unfair though it may sound, however, the increase in the price of oil is not the result of companies being evil, but rather comes as the result of an increasing demand for a good with limited supply.
It is fairly elementary economics that when a good is in high demand but has a short supply, the price will go up, especially if that demand is as urgent as the United States’ demand for oil. In this situation, gas prices will increase, regardless of what politicians do. Obama’s suggestion that we need to punish oil companies for their success through higher taxes is counterproductive, as increasing the cost of production will only cause the price of oil to go up faster. Although it may be satisfying to enforce punitive taxes for companies’ success, striking at oil companies would only be biting the hand that feeds modern society.
Although Democrats and Republicans disagree on many things, one opinion shared by both is that if you vote Republican, you vote against increased control of the economy, whereas if you vote Democrat, then you are presumably in favor of the government’s economic intervention. However, in this field the line between Republican and Democrat is not as solid as many would like to believe. Any given government administration will inevitably increase government’s role in the economy and in society in general, regardless of political affiliation.
The recent bailout of the mortgaging industry and the Federal Reserve’s bailout of AIG are both perfect examples of corporate welfare at work. These two bailouts both involved the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars and increased federal control of what were previously privately owned businesses. In many ways, the businesses which required the government assistance were paying for past mistakes, and had not really done anything to deserve the bailout. However, when things go wrong, people will often demand that the government should be the force which sets them right again. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will pass up an opportunity to increase government influence, even if it means spending money the American people can’t really afford.
As long as people continue to turn to the government to solve all their problems, welfare will continue to increase, regardless of party stances.
One of the hot issues in this upcoming election is the idea of energy independence.Â Like synergy and compassionate conservative, energy independence is a catchy phrase, even though few people seem to grasp its implications.
The first issue with energy independence is the question of who exactly the United States wants to be independent from.Â More of our oil is imported from Canada than from any other nation.Â Are we afraid that the Canadians are going to turn on us?Â Of course, the logical response is that we want to be independent from the Middle East, what with it being an unstable region full of people who want to blow us up.Â This is especially true since those in the Middle East who don’t currently hate us are being pushed that way by our current policies (except Israel, but they don’t count, since they don’t have oil).Â However, the government cutting off trade with the Middle East would not exactly endear them to us.
This reflects one of the primary issues with the idea of “energy independence.”Â Cutting off trade with other countries shuts America off from the global community, and sends the message that we want as little contact with the outside world as possible.Â This isolationist idea may have been seen as acceptable in the days of the Monroe Doctrine, but in the modern world, paranoid isolationism is hopelessly antiquated.
Another issue with energy independence is the consequences for the United States itself.Â When the government restricts trade, nobody ever benefits.Â The government would simply be giving more power to the large American oil companies who it routinely vilifies by giving them a state-imposed stranglehold on the energy market.Â Some political ads would have you believe that energy independence would somehow magically cause lower gas prices.Â However, when you restrict supply without doing anything about demand, there’s no way that could lead to lower gas prices.Â The idea of relying on alternative energy sources is, at the moment, largely impractical.Â The issue with even the best alternative energy sources is that they are inferior to oil in nearly every way, and until that issue can be addressed oil will remain the energy king.Â Energy independence is a notion founded on xenophobia, and would hurt everybody involved.
Although reducing the government’s role in society is a clear step towards progress, there are definite questions as to what a government’s role in society should be. The answer is that the primary responsibility of the government and the law is to protect people’s freedoms. Any function that the government performs which does not directly pertain to the protection of people’s freedoms is inappropriate.
For example, we should all have the freedom of not getting killed by random strangers. Hopefully, the police will help prevent us from getting killed by random strangers from this country, while the military will help stop all the random strangers overseas. Therefore, functions such as police and military are valid uses of government power.
However, many people would argue that in addition to protection of basic rights, the government is also capable of giving us many nice, shiny things that we would not want to provide by ourselves, such as roads, education, and welfare for the poor.Â After all, nobody wants to have to worry about paying for roads, and charity is a lot more fun when it’s done by someone else. In these cases, the question arises as to whether it would be morally appropriate rob someone in order to pay for these things. After all, if you don’t pay taxes, the government will arrest you, and if you don’t go to jail, you’ll get shot. So using tax money for your personal influence is morally equivalent to robbery.Â In the case of welfare, there is no reason to use taxes, as the poor can just as easily rob people themselves, and they are much more likely to get themselves things that they actually want than the government is.