Monday, June 23, 2008

Just Another Politician. (And Your Point Was What, Again?)

Ever since Barack Obama sewed up the Democratic nomination, it has been both frustrating and interesting to see the way the news media has proceeded to chip away at his reputation as a reformer and as a new face in Washington. Some of these issues give me reason to pause, but most I shrug off as part and parcel of any politician running for high elective office.

I can understand why few people are willing to go into the meat grinder of politics. Those who run for elective office can never do much right but are capable of doing practically everything wrong. Political culture thrives on scandal and negative reinforcement, appealing to the part of us biologically programmed to recoil in disgust at the sinister side of human behavior. Every press expose seems to be designed specifically to induce outrage and rise everyone's blood pressure.

The role of lobbyists and money interests in politics is so deeply embedded in the framework that I would frankly be made uncomfortable if any candidate renounced them altogether. I'm not sure how any politician could escape their taint completely. The latest New York Times article that ties Obama to the ethanol industry is one such example.

While I agree that increased ethanol production is no panacea, it does provide a cottage industry and creates jobs. In this day and age, where many traditionally sound jobs in industry have been uprooted to other areas of the world where they are more cost-efficient, ethanol appears to be an effective way to boost employment, or at minimum reduce the unemployment created by the growing recession. It's certainly not a flawless attempt to reduce this country's dependence on foreign oil, but the underlying intentions are good.

Eliminating the graft and corruption that goes along with any industry is easy said, hard to accomplish in reality. And underneath this recent ethanol flap is the peculiarly American deficiency of failing to understand that instant gratification is a product of good luck, obscene wealth, and material excess. It is not a God-given right or entitlement.

Many of us good-government liberals insist that the natural role of regulation and oversight ought to be to aim to eliminate these kind of offenses. In theory, that is how government ought to function, but when compromise, power, and profit meet, the net result is usually far less noble. Reform ought to be a constant process, since for every layer of oversight and regulation we provide, those whose inner motive is purely profit and material gain will push the envelope and attempt to exploit existing loopholes, create new ones, and in the process dare gatekeepers to catch them.

So reform isn't a destination, it's a journey. Furthermore, it's a journey that requires our participation and our attention, else it be rendered worthless.

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