October 14, 2013

A simple argument for conservatism

I have a number of liberal friends and acquaintances, and have been considering how to make the best and simplest argument for the conservative cause – which I take to be the cause of limited government. This is that argument.

If you are a US citizen, your Congressional Representative in the US House now represents more than half a million people. If you live in one of the least populous states, your Senators represent about the same number. In the most populous states, the Senators each represent tens of millions of people. The odds are very good that you have never seen your Congressional Representative or either of your Senators. The odds are even better that you have never spoken to them. If you write any of these federal legislators, you will be virtually guaranteed a form letter rubber stamped by (and probably also written by) some minor member of the legislator’s staff. If you write on a matter of general concern, you can expect that the rough content of your letter will be compiled with thousands of others into a statistic. If your concerns are unique, you can expect they will be more-or-less politely ignored.

When your Congressman or Congresswoman and your two Senators climb the stairs to do the peoples’ business, it is a rare thing anymore for them to write or haggle over the detailed content of new laws. Rather, they vote on bundles of paper they have neither written nor even read. Documents thousands of pages long, written by staffers, lobbyists and federal bureaucrats – documents your representatives could not possibly read regardless of their level of public spiritedness and good intentions. They vote on their ideas about what the bundles might contain – typically along ideological or party lines.

Frequently, these legislators you have never seen or spoken to don’t even get to vote on the bundles of paper they have neither written nor read. Two people, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader set the agenda for Congress, deciding what is brought up for a vote and what gets dropped into the legislative abyss. When your legislators do get to help vote a bundle of paper into law, and the President decides neither to veto the bundle nor to direct the bureaucracy not to enforce it, dozens or hundreds of faceless people you will never have the privilege of voting for implement and flesh-out the bundle of paper in ways that could profoundly change your life.

These are simply the facts. You may think that your party is good and the other party is evil, but in the best of circumstances the form of government you have is almost wholly untroubled by your wishes. You don’t have even weak representation – you have only a ghost of representation – a pathetic parody of the common will. You might, through some incredible act of blind optimism, believe that the people running things are the best, brightest, and most well-intentioned in society – but you cannot possibly believe they express your will. If you believe such a thing, it is only because you have chosen to align your will with theirs.

Send a letter to your state representative, and you have some chance of getting an actual response. Send a letter to your local city councilperson and you will very likely get one. The odds are better, too, that they will understand the issue you’re addressing. Putting more and more power into the hands of the central government is, straightforwardly, to surrender both freedom and representation. It cannot be otherwise. To advocate for such a course is, ultimately, to argue for your own political irrelevance.

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