Saipan — Recently, a local public official — one of the better ones — gave the worst possible piece of advice to a college student. He told the kid to, one day, run for office.
Why should anyone who is intelligent and well-meaning get into politics?
Why, of course, to do good things for the public.
But “that’s malarkey!” to quote its most famous practitioner, President Joe Biden.
And yet many — so many — intelligent and well-meaning people cling to the belief that politics is basically a magic wand. All we need is to elect someone like Cinderella’s fairy godmother (preferably someone much younger and with a degree or two from an Ivy League university). And then everything’s gonna be all right.
According to National Review’s Kyle Smith, gaining power through politics means — if you’re the president — having the power to approve laws for the good of all. The president can ask his aides to write down stuff that voters wish would happen, and once the prez signs a piece of paper, it will all come true!
Among the executive orders Smith would sign if he were president:
“Humidity levels in the United States of America, all associated territories and whatever the hell Guam is, will max out at 55 percent, except when it rains. Rain will be allowed only between midnight and 6 a.m. from May through September.”
Sadly, I do not jest. Many of us believe that’s how lawmaking “works.” We pass a law to ban littering, and littering will be a thing of the past. Hence, throughout human history, we have passed similar “good” laws against corruption, alcohol, narcotics, etc. etc., and yet these are still with us.
So, now and then, we lose our minds and elect tough-talking, theatrical politicians who promise to — once and for all — “solve problems.”
Apparently, many of us believe politics is like alchemy: it could transform base metal into gold. In the case of politics, good intentions will lead to good results, and legislation will do exactly what we want it to do. Let there be higher wages/lower prices/love/peace/and happiness! We truly, madly, deeply believe that politicians can speak reality into being, as Kevin Williamson would put it.
But what has history repeatedly taught us? What we have consistently refused to learn: the chief cause of problems, to quote James Q. Wilson, is solutions.
In the CNMI, a few years ago, lawmakers passed a bill to raise the salaries of elected officials. Result? Lawmakers received a pay cut. I’m not making this up.
In August this year, amid an economic downturn and a global pandemic, they passed a law to double the fees imposed on certain business enterprises. The business owners then announced that because of the law that raised their costs of doing business, they had to lay off their workers and, most likely, shut down their establishments. Revenue was lost not raised by a law that aimed to raise revenue.
Bad legislation is usually the rule not the exemption. The few pieces of “good” legislation in history are usually those that amended or repealed moronic laws. (See prohibition, tax hikes.)
Adults, especially those interested in politics and democracy and good governance, should know all this. So why do we tell kids to do well in school, get a degree, return to their home island and seek, of all things, elective office?
Did we, for once, consider the result of such advice? Did we ever think about all those kids who did well in school, obtained a degree, returned to their home island and were elected into office? And after a year or two in office we say that they’re just as bad, if not worse, than their predecessors. That they’re no good.
They broke their promises. They’re useless. They’re corrupt. They’re incompetent.
In short, we need change! (Again.) And by change we usually mean electing another set of well-meaning, educated, sincere, incorruptible, etc., etc. politicians.
In the CNMI, we have a Youth Congress to train “future leaders.” Train them in what exactly? How to “solve problems” through legislation?
But do we also tell them about the long list of laws that were supposed to do this or that but have, in the end, accomplished absolutely nothing? Do we also explain to them that many popular laws require funding, and funding must come from someone or somewhere?
Do we remind them that the budget law, which is the single most important measure that their government must pass each year, is actually based on “projections” — that is, funds that the government hopes to collect? Yet for many of us, a government budget is a fully funded check that can be cashed at a bank.
Fairy tales are for kids. And the adult version of fairy tales is politics.
From Herbert Spencer (who wrote these lines in 1853):
“The cautious thinker may reason: ‘If in…personal affairs, where all the conditions of the case were known to me, I have so often miscalculated, how much oftener shall I miscalculate in political affairs, where the conditions are too numerous, too widespread, too complex, too obscure to be understood….
“[W]hen I remember how many of my private schemes have miscarried; how speculations have failed, agents proved dishonest, marriage been a disappointment; how I did but pauperize the relative I sought to help; how my carefully governed son has turned out worse than most children; how the thing I desperately strove against as a misfortune did me immense good; how while the objects I ardently pursued brought me little happiness when gained, most of my pleasures have come from unexpected sources; when I recall these and hosts of like facts, I am struck with the incompetence of my intellect to prescribe for society….
“There is a great want of this practical humility in our political conduct.”
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety, and author of three books available on amazon.com. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org