Sunday, January 20, 2008

A political education

“Your sister thinks Huckabee is great.”

“Mom,” I told the phone, exasperated, “He’s not even Republican!”

My first participation in politics was a proudly worn “I (heart) DRNBGR” button that some son-of-a-Democrat defaced at a high school speech competition. (What gave him the right to wreck my property?) I went with my Mom as an alternate delegate to our local Republican party convention when I was 17. Later that fall I volunteered to work phones to get the vote out.

But even then I recognized that I got my party affiliation from my parents. I recognized that I didn’t know enough to decide between parties. And I couldn’t get answers to simple questions such as, “What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans?”

The fact that there wasn’t an answer to that question was disturbing to my teenaged understanding of the world. There had to be a difference. So why was it so hard to get an answer to that question?

Even with the harsh rhetoric and hot emotion in politics today that question doesn’t have a distinct or objective answer. Both parties are Statist. Both are tax and spend. Both function on earmarks and pork. Neither doubt the role of government as a social safety net. Democrats are more rush ahead to do good and make a difference in the world. Republicans are more conservative… which simply means that they rush ahead in the same direction slightly slower, getting to the international interventionist party when the liberals are done with that and ready to go home.

When I was in high school no one thought to talk about other political ideas, (with the exception of communism which was still the essential evil in those early Reagan years.) No one mentioned Objectivism or Libertarianism. The idea of third parties never entered in to it. Not even the Green party. I don’t know if the Constitution party existed in the early 1980’s. What other third parties are out there today?

Whenever I suggest that the various efforts to educate young people about politics, in school or on Nickelodeon or wherever, should focus on those myriad third parties as much as the two big ones, or at the very least Libertarians (who sometimes get a few percentages in national elections), most often the response is, “Why? They can’t win.”

The “why” is because viewing government through the conservative-liberal axis of political thought is deceptive and inadequate. It can hardly be called an axis. It’s more like a continuum.

The “why” is because it’s not about who can “win”, it’s about education. It’s about exposing young people to opposing ideas about government and its purpose. It’s about having an informed electorate.

What we’ve got is government run and funded schools teaching government (can you say, “conflict of interest,” I knew you could,) MTV and Linda Ellerby.

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