Thursday, May 7, 2009

Politicians Don't Lie

We put far too much faith in our leaders.

Suppose a guy ran for Mayor somewhere, and as part of his campaign, he promised the city's professional sports team would make the playoffs if people elected him.

People really love their sports. Making that kind of promise should give a candidate enough votes to win the election, but the sports-loving candidate came in last place. Why is that?

Nobody believed him. They probably would vote for a guy who could deliver a spot in the playoffs, but most people know politicians can't really do much about sports, so the guy who promises wins on the field if he's elected mayor is either deluded or stupid or just lying.

This sort of thing happens every election though, and people fall for it all the time.

When you see a candidate promising things like more jobs and less crime, try and remember these are things politicians can't really do very much about. If they could, somebody would have done it long ago and these things wouldn't be problems anymore.

People have this blind faith that the right leader can do almost anything, but it's simply not true. Leaders are great, and a good leader can make a difference, but in the real world, individual people have far more control over what happens to them and around them than any politician ever could.

Lyndon Johnson energized America when he promised a war on poverty. For forty years we've acted on his promise and done our best to deliver on it, but statistically there's just about as much poverty now as there was when we started.

Johnson really did want to "do something" about poverty. So did all the people who followed in his footsteps. It's just not that easy though. What Johnson should have promised was to make life easier for poor people. That's a promise he could deliver on, and the way things turned out, that's exactly what we did. There's still as much poverty now as there was forty years ago, but it doesn't suck quite so bad to be poor.

Frank Melton is another example. Melton was elected on the promise that he'd "do something" about crime. He meant it too. Once elected, I never saw a politician try harder to "do something" about crime as Frank Melton. He was fanatical about it, and repeatedly put his own life and reputation and fortune on the line in the effort to fight crime.

If all it took was devoted leadership to diminish crime, then Jackson would be crime-free by now. That's not what happened though. Crime actually went up a little when Melton was mayor. It wasn't his fault though. In the real world, politicians simply can't do all that much about crime, no matter how much they may want to.

The only thing politicians can actually do to reduce crime is build really big prisons and put as many people in them as they can. Your city has less crime, but it also has a lot of people in prison who shouldn't be. Iran is a great example of this. They have far less crime than the United States, but the people live in constant fear of false persecution. Would you really want to trade your life for theirs?

We need politicians to administer our shared resources and make our laws. You have to be realistic about them though, and remember it's a lot easier to make promises than to deliver on them. Most of these guys believe what they say, they really do, but that doesn't mean they'll actually be able to do it. It's true what they say: when somebody tells you something that's too good to be true, it usually is.

Saying this is probably pointless though. The next time a Ronald Reagan or Barak Obama comes along, people are going to line up in the desert ready to be led to the promised land just like they always have. Try to remember this though. You're far more likely to make it to the promised land under your own guidance than by following anyone.

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