Campaign promises: the truth

by ammophila

Editor’s note: I don’t know what has been getting into Monty Skew lately.  It may be hard to keep a good man down, but it’s no easier doing the same to Mr Skew when he’s in such an excited state.  I confess it’s easier to give him his head, though I’m going to ask him to make sure he has a cold shower before he comes in, mornings.  Isabelita (with us again!) supports that move.

Monty Skew, political correspondent writes

            There has been a lot of twaddle talked lately about an evil said to be among us, namely the gap between what politicians say on the stump, and what they do when they have stuck the photo of their wife and kids on the ministerial desk (and the black lace undies for their mistress in the ministerial briefcase). This is a profound misunderstanding. The trouble with electoral democracy – quite apart from any particular troubles with particular (alleged) democracies – is the exact opposite to the failing normally attributed to it. The usual claim is that democracy leads inexorably to demagoguery, with ever cheaper politicians making ever more expensive promises to do what the electorate wants, in order to get into office.  And these promises in turn will lead inevitably to the economic ruin of the country.

            Pausing for thought here and taking a quick glance round some of the more adjacent supposed democracies I must concede that the point has a certain specious charm. But the deterioration in today’s politician (I put it down to the weakness in the ozone layer myself,the cosmic radiation having caused degeneration of their political backbone) is starting to turn an amusing ceremonial nicety – like the contorted wording that almost, but not quite, admits that the presidential candidate has experimented with forbidden chemicals – into a thoroughly inconvenient constitutional straitjacket. . The fact is that there is a structural requirement in representative democracy that politicians should lie in order to gain office. Among the very few to have recognised this in public is the late, but still admirable, Huey Long, Governor of Lousiana; when a deputation of citizens came in high indignation to ask why he was breaking his election promises he looked them straight in the eye and said, “I lied.” And this is how it should be.  Yet today, with the honourable, indeed laudable, exception of M.Juncker, this evident truth is suppressed.  The People are told that they are the sovereign authorities of a country, that the system is there to do their will; it is in this belief that they vote in elections, and yet it is perfectly obvious that when a government comes to power it will not do the will of The People. If its policies accurately reflected those of The People there would be no need to elect it in the first place – there is no need to elect a government to know that we are against murder and for the freedom to import grapefruit. The organisation of the details can be left in the hands of the civil service and the police and the judiciary, and the proof of this is that they are running things anyway. Therefore election of a government only ceases to be a hollow enterprise when the government is to introduce policies other than those favoured by The People. It is equally obvious that if the politicians openly stated in their campaigns that they were not going to act in accordance with the will of The People then they would not get elected; after all this would be contrary to the fundamental principle of democracy. Actually it is already accepted that this necessary gap between theory (technically known here as `morality’) and practice exists in the case of many non-contentious issues. Every member of the public wants lower taxes for example, and longer drinking hours; every government restricts the latter and raises taxes. We all react with an indulgent smile when the campaigning politician denies that such policies will be put in place if he or she wins a majority.

            Now it may be urged that I am talking nonsense; such generally agreed issues are the rarity, and the aim of democracy is to enable The People to choose between competing alternatives each of which is supported by a section of the populace. It is certainly true that elections consist of an amalgam largely composed of such issues, but this does not change the situation one whit. The truth deficit is required here every bit as much. It is immediately evident that a politician who told the truth on every issue would place herself or himself at an insurmountable disadvantage vis-à-vis the politician who steadfastly maintains a falsehood wherever it will bring out the votes. And since it would be a disgraceful abuse of the electoral process for a candidate to take part intending to lose, and thus to make useless the votes of her supporters, it follows at once that it is the duty of campaigning politicians to lie.

            All very straightforward, really.  As for the economic ruin of the country, that is irrelevant, since it is going to come to pass in any case.

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