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Well, That’s Politics


So Barack Obama, the man who promises to reform Washington, has picked as his running mate someone who has been a fixture of the U.S. Senate nearly his entire adult life. Sen. Joseph Biden of course had no trouble accepting the honor. Insider, outsider hes whatever youre looking for.

Well, thats politics.

When Biden was running for president, he said of Obama, Right now I dont believe he is [ready to be president]. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training. Now he says Obama is a wise leader. A leader a leader who can deliver. A leader who can deliver the change we need.

Well, thats politics.

What changed Bidens mind? He says he saw Obama in action. Actually, what he saw was Obama campaigning. A political campaign is theater. The candidate, guided by his consultants and their focus groups, says what he needs to say promises what he needs to promise to create a certain mood in the relevant constituencies in order to win their votes. In other contexts wed call this activity huckstering, and it would be suspect.

Well, thats politics.

Obamas last primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, also thought he was unqualified to be president. She tried to frighten us with the thought that hed be the one to answer the ringing red White House phone at 3 a.m. Now she thinks otherwise: When Barack Obama is in the White House, hell revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our times. On the seventh day, presumably he will rest. This inexperienced, unqualified man has come a long way in a few months.

Well, thats politics.

Senator Clintons husband, the former president, Bill Clinton, declared at the convention, Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States. Yet just a couple of weeks ago, when asked about Obamas qualifications, he said no one was prepared to be president. He neglected to mention that when his wife was in the race.

Well, thats politics.

George Orwell, who understood the nature of politics like no one else, defined doublethink in his novel 1984 as the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in ones mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed….

You saw this power in the faces of the cheering crowds in Denver. (Republicans are no different.) Everyone knows that Obama has now been declared both unqualified and qualified for the presidency by at least three prominent leaders of his own party. But by the grace of doublethink, we need not be troubled by this contradiction.

Well, that is politics.

The upshot is that its best not to believe anything anyone in politics says. The line about spotting a politicians lies by the moving of his lips isnt a joke. Its a pearl of wisdom.

Is this just cynicism? No, it is idealism of the highest order. When one is passionately dedicated to truth, justice, and freedom, one necessarily despises the insults to our intelligence routinely delivered by politicians of all stripes. The condescension is bad enough, but it is worse by being for the sake of acquiring power. When the only method political leaders can think of for accomplishing their social goals is the threat of physical force, idealistic people will scorn them and their fraudulent humanitarianism.

Physical force? That charge may come as a shock. If so, ask yourself what program any leading political figure proposes that does not ultimately require forcing the taxpayers to surrender their earnings under threat of imprisonment.

The next time a politician talks about how much he cares about the middle class or the poor, ask why he or she doesnt use the method the rest of us are expected to use when we need other peoples cooperation: persuasion.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.