Conflicting Ideals

I have to admit that I sort of like Rand Paul. He has some good ideas, and some bad ideas, and he doesn’t always know which are which, but that’s common of all politicians; what I like about him is that he has a centeredness and honesty about his ideals. And I agree with some of his ideas, which would be great, and would probably drag me over towards libertarianism, if those ideals didn’t conflict with one another.

People have told me I should be a libertarian before. Actually, they’re told me that I am a libertarian; it’s just that I don’t really believe them. They always seemed to be making that judgment based on one view of one part of the world, and I never really found myself convinced by it.

The view they judge by is one Rand Paul has expressed nicely, and it sounds great on the face of it. He defined his libertarianism by saying (on Colbert that I saw most recently) that republicans want the government out of your business, and democrats want the government out of your private life, and libertarians want the government to stay out of both.

Like I said, that sounds good, but for me the question is what happens when those two conflict. Who’s going to keep other peoples’ businesses out of my private life? Who’s going to keep other people out of my business? Who’s going to keep the powerful from getting all the power?

For me, that is the entire fundamental role of government: to mediate among people and to make it so that other people with more power don’t also end up with more rights. Maybe that power is concentrated in influence, maybe in money, maybe in gender, maybe in race, maybe somewhere else; I don’t really care which it is, I just don’t want the people who have that greater power to also have a greater say in governing the rest of us. For democracy to work, we need to be able to make decisions that reflect the true majority of us. Sometimes that majority will make us proud, and sometimes it will expose the ugliest elements of our nature, but it absolutely must reflect us either way. When small groups get to have more power, our democracy starts to become their democracy.

That’s also my main issue with the whole idea of smaller government. I like it in theory, because government is an unwieldy, inefficient, capricious, biased machine that fails to work when we need it most. But I think that’s a reflection of us, not a reflection of the ideal of government. I don’t know what we’d do without our mediator, flawed and hated though it be.

So these are my tests for any politician: are they committed to well-considered ideals? And what will they do when those ideas conflict? Will they think, deliberate, and compromise in the service of democracy? Or will they double down on nonsense, lie and equivocate, and treat the public as something to play rather than something they serve?

There are a number of candidates who fail those tests for me, and several who pass them. I can’t say I agree completely with any of them, though there are some I lean toward much more strongly, but in the end it doesn’t matter much. I don’t care that we have leaders I agree with, I care that we have leaders I can respect.

Maybe that’s too much to ask for these days. Maybe respectable politicians are as real as fairies. But I do think democracy is a reflection of us. We’ll get what we all believe in, and if we only believe in a broken system, we’ll have one for a very long time indeed. If we believe it can work, well… maybe someday it can.

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