5 Ways to Fight Hobgoblins

panic-button

By Mike Cronin

I often refer to H.L. Mencken’s “hobgoblins” quote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” We see this every day, often with the enthusiastic pot-stirring of the main stream media.

Take today’s headlines, for example.  Rising tensions with Russia over the imbroglio in Syria. Hurricane Matthew. Gold prices. Stock prices. Jobs growth. Giving up control of the internet.  Hillary’s scandals. Trump’s crudities.  Duterte’s bombast. NFL ratings. Crazy clown sightings.

How is all of that really important? How can we ignore the hobgoblins and glean the “ground truth?”

A few rules of thumb can be useful:

  1. Always keep Mencken’s quote in mind, together with Thomas Sowell’s observation:1931497_10156430011180515_9052930332313088412_n
  2. Get your news from a variety of sources. Journalism has evolved, or more precisely, de-volved, in the face of 24/7 cable news cycles, citizen-chroniclers, and the web.  According to the authors of Blur, the old media’s apex occurred at about the time of the Three Mile Island incident in 1979. CNN came online shortly after in 1980, and the 24/7 news cycle was born. The term spin as euphemism for truth-shaping entered the lexicon at about the same time. Consumers have had to contend with an ever more clamorous, ratings-driven media ever since. Every outlet is biased, but some do a better job of admitting what their bias is (my own, for example, is for individualism, reason, and laissez-faire capitalism) and/or mitigating for it (this reporter, for example, does a commendable job on reporting from Washington D.C. without interjecting his ideology). Alternately, check out the US news from a foreign source, such as BBC, Al Jazeera, or Xinhua.  They are biased as well, but perhaps not about the same things we are. It can be enlightening.
  3. Once the main-stream media have added unique theme music to a particular story, it’s not breaking news anymore. They are trying to turn it into a cash-cow and milk it for ratings.
  4. Most mainstream media operations lean left/liberal/progressive/Democrat, while Drudge, Breitbart, and Fox News (at least until the recent departure of Roger Ailes) tilt right/conservative/Republican – but what if both of those factions are two sides of the same coin? In order to see liberals and conservatives as opposites, you are supposed to accept a left-right political spectrum model with socialism on one end and fascism on the other. To the subjugated souls living under either, there is no practical difference. As the saying goes: All models are wrong, some models are useful.  A left-right / liberal-conservative model keeps you scared of the hobgoblins.  What if we look through a different lens? What if we put individual liberty on one end, and absolute tyranny on the other?  I contend that on such a model, “liberal” and “conservative” establishment politicians are continuously dragging us closer to the tyranny cliff, with only the flavor of tyranny at issue. Using a better model might get us closer to “ground truth.”  Who will lead us to liberty or drag us to tyranny?
  5. One kind of real hobgoblins we must watch for: luminaries with enough wattage to force the public eye to “look away.” Such wattage could come in the form of personal charm or charisma, whereby the figure is judged by their reputation instead of earning a reputation based on considered judgement (e.g. President Obama’s anticipatory Nobel Peace Prize), or via “wagging the dog” (e.g. President Johnson’s incandescent “Gulf of Tonkin” lie).

 

The Battle Begins. How Will you Fare?

trump-clinton

By Mike Cronin

Barring a “black swan” event, the race for president is down to Trump vs. Clinton.  Who will you vote for, and why?  Will you even vote?  Will your vote matter?

There are so many marginal factors that can shape an election, but there are some basic election fundamentals that seldom get explained.

First: From 1932 to 2012, the average voter turnout has never been higher than 63% or less than 49%.  That means on average only a little over half of the eligible population votes in any given presidential election.  Of the half that votes, roughly 32% are dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrats and will always vote for the Democrat candidate.  Roughly another 22% of the half that votes is comprised of hard-core conservative Republicans who will always vote for the Republican candidate.  These groups are the “base” for a given candidate/party.  Once you exclude the 54% of voters that are going to automatically vote D or R in any given election, the real battle takes place over the remaining half of the half of Americans who are going to vote. Expressed another way: Presidential elections hinge on the lever pulls of slightly less than 25% of the adult population!

It gets better.  Where those 25% reside is crucial.  If a majority of them reside in states that are overwhelmingly likely to vote a certain way, their votes aren’t going to mean very much.  Conversely, if the bulk of those independent voters reside in states that could go either way (the so-called battleground states), their votes could wield enormous influence!

Are you one of the independents or third party members who vote but don’t blindly punch holes for any party’s candidate (or against the other party’s!)?  Where do you live?  Will your vote count?

If you are, how will you make your decision? Party loyalty isn’t your thing, so what does it for you?  Unfortunately, some will waste their votes on frivolous criteria such as the looks, race, or gender of the candidate, or on candidate’s oratorical prowess.

To do justice to our system and not waste my vote, I’ve developed a small list of criteria that I can rate each candidate against using a survey technique called a Likert scale.  Here it is:

Rate each candidate on how you believe they would:

Honor the Oath of Office and abide by the Constitution & the laws of the land Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Appoint Supreme Court Justices that will uphold the Constitution Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Command the armed forces and employ military force only to counter serious threats to the United States Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Act with integrity & honesty, and demonstrate character Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Govern transparently Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Reduce dysfunction and corruption in the Executive Branch Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Work to reign in government spending, promote capitalism and demonize socialism Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Work to audit, and possibly end, the Federal Reserve Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Work to end, or at least lessen and simplify, the income tax Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary
Overhaul the immigration system to allow maximum freedom to enter and remain in the country  consistent with preventing criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors in and without yielding an automatic electoral advantage to any party Fail Marginal Mediocre Good Exemplary

Obviously, you might prefer different criteria than what I’ve settled on, but whatever thoughtful criteria you select can still work.  Once you establish your criteria and rate each candidate, score them thus: 1 point for each Fail, 2 points for each Marginal, 3 points for each Mediocre, 4 points for each Good, and 5 points for each Exemplary. Total up the scores and vote for the candidate that earns the highest marks.

Still, there is at least one other major contextual factor that is seldom examined during presidential elections: Congress.  We can elect a president based on the most cogent criteria, but if he or she must deal with a Congress skewed to the opposing party, it is likely they will face high resistance to carrying out their plans or their mandate.  Even if he or she gets to work with a same-party Congress, your candidate could still find it hard to make headway if, like Donald Trump, they come from outside the beltway political establishment.

There is a simple (not easy!) fix to that: Help your presidential candidate get a sympathetic, same-party Congress to work with!