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The Independent Institute
Commentary

Partisan Politics—A Fool’s Game for the Masses


Because I despise politics in general, and the two major parties in this country in particular, I go through life constantly bemused by all the weight that people put on partisan political loyalties and on adherence to the normative demarcations the parties promote. Henry Adams observed that “politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” This marshalling of hatreds is not the whole of politics, to be sure, but it is an essential element. Thus, Democrats encourage people to hate big corporations, and Republicans encourage people to hate welfare recipients.

Of course, it’s all a fraud, designed to distract people from the overriding reality of political life, which is that the state and its principal supporters are constantly screwing the rest of us, regardless of which party happens to control the presidency and the Congress. Amid all the partisan sound and fury, hardly anybody notices that political reality boils down to two “parties”: (1) those who, in one way or another, use state power to bully and live at the expense of others; and (2) those unfortunate others.

Even when politics seems to involve life-and-death issues, the partisan divisions often only obscure the overriding political realities. So, Democrats say that anti-abortion Republicans, who claim to have such tremendous concern for saving the lives of the unborn, have no interest whatever in saving the lives of those already born, such as the poor children living in the ghetto. And Republicans say that Democrats, who claim to have such tremendous concern for the poor, systematically contribute to the perpetuation of poverty by the countless taxes and regulations they load onto business owners who would otherwise be in better position to hire and train the poor and thereby to hasten their escape from poverty.

If the unborn children happen to be living in the wombs of women on whom U.S. bombs and rockets rain down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, however, all Republican concerns for the unborn evaporate completely, as do the Democrats’ concerns for the poor children living in the selfsame bombarded villages. Both parties’ positions would seem to rest on very flexible and selective morality, if indeed either party may be said to have any moral basis at all, notwithstanding their chronic public displays of “moral” wailing and gnashing of teeth.

In any event, the parties’ principles of hatred have never passed the sniff test; indeed, they reek of hypocrisy. Thus, while railing against the “corporate rich,” the Democrats rely heavily on the financial support of Hollywood moguls and multi-millionaire trial lawyers, among other fat cats. And the Republicans, while denouncing the welfare mother who makes off with a few hundred undeserved bucks a month, vociferously support the hundreds of billions of dollars in welfare channeled to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Electric, among many other companies, via larcenous “defense” contracts, Export-Import Bank subsidies, and countless other forms of government support for “national security” and service to “the public interest” as Republicans conceive of these nebulous, yet rhetorically useful entities.

Notice, too, that although ordinary Democrats and Republicans often harbor intense mutual hatreds, the party leaders in Congress rub shoulders quite amiably as a rule. Regardless of which party has control, the loyal opposition can always be counted on to remain ever so loyal and ready to cut a deal. And why not? These ostensible political opponents are engaged in a process of plunder from which the bigwigs in both parties can expect to profit, whatever the ebb and flow of party politics. At bottom, the United States has a one-party state, cleverly designed to disguise the country’s true class division and to divert the masses from a recognition that unless you are a political insider connected with one of the major parties, you almost certainly will be ripped off on balance. Such exploitation, after all, is precisely what the state and the political parties that operate it are for.

Yet, rather than hating the predatory state, the masses have been conditioned to love this blood-soaked beast and even, if called upon, to lay down their lives and the lives of their children on its behalf. From my vantage point on the outside, peering in, I am perpetually mystified that so many people are taken in by the phony claims and obscurantist party rhetoric. As the song says, “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,” but unlike the fellow in the song, I am not “stuck in the middle.” Instead, I float above all of this wasted emotion, looking down on it with disgust and sadness. Moreover, as an economist, I am compelled to regret such an enormously inefficient allocation of hatred.


Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute and Editor at Large of the Institute’s quarterly journal The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation. He is the author of many books, including Depression, War, and Cold War.

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