There are some similarities in the USA and UK with the convergence of practical politics into a ‘radical centre’ of regulatory big government statists, whose ‘left’ and ‘right’ labels are rather like those of Coke and Pepsi… sure there are differences, but in the end they are still selling sweet brown fizzy drinks… or selling a vision of state in which the mainstream ‘right’, be it Dave Cameron or George W. Bush, are not talking about shrinking the state (even a bit) and freeing the individual (or even the community) but rather just increasing the pace of regulation a bit slower and in different places than the ‘left’.
Similarly the mainstream ‘left’ like Tony Blair or Al Gore are not selling wholesale paleo-socialist nationalisation of businesses as they did in the past, because they, like the mainstream ‘right’, now follow a more (technically) fascist economic model in which property can be ‘private’ but control of it is contingent upon being in accord with national political objectives and permission from some local political authority.
The ‘left’ and ‘right’ use different metaphors, different cultural references, different symbolism, but in truth they are selling much the same product. They put huge effort into fetishising their product differentiation precisely because there is so little difference in their core beliefs. In the USA, even the issue of self-defence and opposition to victim disarmament is less than solid with the Republicans than it once was as Bush made is clear he was ‘flexible’ regarding anti-gun legislation and needed hard lobbying to not renew the so-called ‘assault rifle’ ban (i.e. semi-automatic rifles which look ‘scary’). Put simply, all mainstream political parties (at the moment) are statist centrists, neither in favour of overt nationalisation nor of individual autonomy, regardless of their sales schpiel.
Why this is true is not hard to glean. Professional politicians are people who have the psychological disposition to both meddle in other people’s lives and to use force to have their views imposed. They are people who value having power over others above all else and the more aspects of society that are subject to political direction, the more important politicians become regardless of their hue.
So the natural order of things, if you are a person who makes their living out of being a politician, is to work to extend the state into more and more areas of life because the state is what you have influence over, thereby making yourself more important to ever more people. Politicians who do not want to constantly expand their power do exist of course, trying to work within the system to limit the system’s power over people. But the very nature of politics makes such folks a rarity, particularly as decency, honesty and frankness are hardly survival traits in in their chosen profession. Centrist politicians keep themselves in power by identifying a group of people that want to hear certain things and then by adjusting their sales techniques to appeal to them whilst being pragmatic about moving your ‘opinions’ to wherever advantages lie.
Most importantly, politicians use what can only be called ‘tribal loyalties’ to act as a base upon which they can rely regardless of their actual voting records. They do this by carefully genuflecting towards a few of the sacred cows the people who vote for them seem to regard as important (hence the obsessive fetishisation of minor differences with the Other Party)… and then by adjusting their actual policy-making to buy voters less concerned with appearances, by diverting bits of national wealth to them either directly or more usually by regulating in ways that favour a narrow sectonal interest. A classical example is Dave Cameron promising all manner of big state interventionism and yet praising the antithetical set of principles offered up by Conservative Way Forward. Thus the quixotic faithful are given a gleaming golden thread upon which to hang their fantasies that their chosen leader actually shares their values and when elected will act completely differently from how he has been telling everyone he intends to.
But the Chosen Leader knows that as long as he can highlight one or two differences with his political opponents, the fact he will leave 99% of the state more or less unchanged if he finds himself in power does not matter to the loyalists. After all, even though conservatives groan about the way George Bush has expanded the state in the USA, or the way Dave Cameron promises to add more ‘green’ regulations and not cut taxes in the UK, those men know that most loyal Tories/Republican would not be able to break the habit of a lifetime and vote for the Bad Guys… why? Because “vote for the lesser evil” has been drummed into them. You are told to be realistic and as you will never get want you really want, you have to vote for the least-worst choice.
And so after years of voting for the lesser evil, Tory and Republican voters have only themselves to blame when all that is on offer is evil. Just slightly less of it than the Other Guys. Or so you are lead to believe.
But to ever have even a chance of getting what you really want, you have to be prepared to let the old party of your tribal affections lose and for the Even Worse Guys to get into office. Again and again if that is what it takes, which is not a pleasant prospect, I grant you.
But in the end, “spare the rod, spoil the child”. Even better (if you think The System is salvageable in the long run) if there is another party which more correctly reflects your views, vote for them rather than staying at home. You may not win but voting for another ‘fringe’ party does make it clear why your previous party lost your vote. At worst you send a message to your old party to reform in ways you can support, at best your new party starts to actually make a difference itself. If you vote for a party which does not really share your convictions, you are part of the problem. In the UK in particular, there is no excuse for any conservative to vote ‘Conservative’ when there is an alternative party that actually is conservative (i.e. UKIP) in a more or less classical liberal sense. It is unrealistic to expect something like a political party to be in complete lock-step with all your views but for a socialist (say someone who wants Harold Wilson style nationalisation of industry) to still be a member of Blair’s Labour Party or a conservative (say someone who wants society strengthened rather than replaced by the state) to still be a member of Cameron’s Conservative Party, that must require some extreme cognitive gymnastics when it has been clear for years that neither party will give those folks what they want.
‘The Blogging Caesar’ makes an impassioned plea for Republicans to get out and vote regardless of the scandals and ever bigger government. He makes a direct “Or the Even Worse Guys will win” argument… and of course that is true. But if you really do not like the fact the GOP has expanded the state, abridged civil liberties and a passable attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq (force levels too low, refusal to allow country to be partitioned) and Afghanistan (sub-moronic ally alienating anti-drugs policy), voting for the party which did those things is tantamount to saying “fine… keep on doing that”. Sure, if the Democrats win control of the house and/or senate, they will do even worse things, but only a bit worse. However by making Big Government the ONLY political reality for both parties, you will never, ever get anything except Big Government.