Over the past few years, I have repeatedly heard a disturbing mantra from many Conservatives: "I'm sick and tired of voting for the lesser of two evils."
This attitude frightens me because it is so dangerous. It is not only philosophically wrongheaded but - if it grows - it will lead to a permanent Liberal establishment taking power in America.
The truth is that if we can successfully and consistently elect "the lesser of two evils" in the majority of elections around the Nation, we will be winning a significant victory. Expecting to do more than that is not only unrealistic, it is impossible. The nature of both politics and Government guarantee that.
Thomas Paine once told us that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” That sounds profound and self-explanatory but little in the realm of politics and government is truly what it seems to be on the surface.
What exactly does it mean when we say that Government is a necessary evil?
Primarily, we need to understand that Government is fundamentally incapable of being beneficial. The fact is that Government is always and without fail both corrupt and incompetent. Despite the best efforts of humanity, it is impossible to make Government good. A cat will always be a cat and a dog will always be a dog. We cannot turn one into another. Government will always be both corrupt and incompetent. We cannot change that fact of human existence.
The reason for that is not rooted in cynicism. It comes from the function of Government. Simply put, Government is a sewer. I don't mean that in a pejorative or offensive manner. That description is not hyperbole or an exaggeration meant to disgust people. It is a very apt metaphor.
The function of a sewer is to carry away that which is disgusting and harmful, to isolate it from our communities and our everyday lives. That is also the prime function of Government. Government is called upon to defend the people, to defend our lives and our rights from criminals, from foreign military forces, from terrorists and others who wish to do us harm.
Government is a sewer. It carries away the waste of humanity and isolates it from the rest of us. Doing so guarantees that Government cannot be good or beneficial or desirable. Its prime function is not attractive. It is not nice. It destroys the bad which is not the same as doing good. This sewer is a “necessary evil.”
No sane person would propose putting a hospital in a sewer or using one to try to do good for our neighbors. Yet, when we look at the human sewers which function in our State Capitals or Washington DC, we have no problem expanding their functions to have them try to do good. Doing so is like putting a restaurant in a waste treatment plant.
Politics is – essentially – the process of selecting people to work in and manage the sewer, to direct the functions of that “necessary evil.”
Yet, we get upset when the people whom we are presented as possible choices are not perfect examples of humanity. We want them to be great leaders, paragons of honor and true believers in our values. They aren’t and – with some few rare exceptions – they never will be.
Why? Because sewers attract rats, not saints. If we’re lucky, we might get the occasional legendary alligator that will clear away large numbers of rats. But saints? Angels? True leaders? Only on the most rare of occasions.
Of course, this leads us to the question of whether or not the major parties differ if they both seek to rule the sewer. There is no doubt that they are different.
In one episode of the TV series, “The Big Bang Theory,” two of the characters are arguing over whether or not there are gradations of “wrongness.” One maintains that wrong does not have degrees, to which the other answers that of course, there are: “It's a little wrong to call a tomato a vegetable. It's very wrong to call it a suspension bridge.”
Well, it's a little wrong to call the GOP a Party which safeguards our Conservative values out of a sense of principle. It's very wrong to say that the GOP and the Democrat Party are even close to being the same.
They differ – at the very least – in that one Party is our conglomeration of rats and the other belongs to our opposition. We cannot expect politicians to act in accordance with principles and values. Such an expectation is rooted in wishful thinking, not in a real understanding of human nature. But we can pressure Republican politicians to do what we want by applying massive leverage. We cannot do the same with Democrats.
Famed author Robert Heinlein once wrote: “Never appeal to a man's ‘better nature.’ He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.”
Appeals to politicians to “Do the right thing” are useless wastes of time. Letting them know – in no uncertain terms – what we expect them to do and that we will give our votes and support to someone else in the next primary if they fail to do what we want is the only effective way to motivate them to “do the right thing.” Expecting them to do it on principle does not work.
The truth is we have no other option. Third parties will not get us anywhere. Despite our wishes and complaints to the contrary, the system has been rigged for well over a century to ensure that the vast majority of major elections will be won by either Republicans or Democrats.
Remember, politicians are motivated by self-interest. They learned from the demise of the Whig and Federalist Parties. Accordingly, they have created a web of laws and regulations which make it impossible for a third party to rise to a position of any significant influence. And that web cannot be unraveled in short order.
Were we to succeed in creating an influential third party, it would make no difference. Government is a sewer and the political process caters to that sewer. Any third party will quickly succumb to the temptations of power. The same people who are attracted to the GOP and Democrats today will rapidly rise to positions of power within a new third party.
The problem does not come from the Parties we already have. It comes from the nature of Government and the kinds of people who enter politics as a profession. All a third party would do is give them another venue to use.
No, the problem is not the GOP. And while the source of the issue is the nature of Government, that is not the real problem we are facing. The problem is what we expect. We expect goodness and light and values from our politicians. And then we sit back and hope beyond hope that our expectations will be fulfilled. They will not be.
What we should expect is for the rats in the sewer to do what is in their best interests. And then we must work – unceasingly – to ensure that their best interests lie in doing what we demand and that they are made well aware of this fact.
Government is a sewer and it is populated by rats. Politics can be either the process of keeping the rats in their places or of letting them rule our lives. The lesser of two evils lies in keeping the rats in their cages. And the lesser of two evils is the best we can expect.