A wealth manager, appropriately enough, once told me that when it came to life, information came in three categories: What you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know. It is the last category that is the most dangerous.
In following David Mamet’s public journey towards an alteration of his political philosophy, I recalled my own transformation. How was it that I was a die-hard Liberal Democrat until the mid-1990’s, spent a decade in political exile, before emerging with an “Indepentarian” philosophy?
I realized it was because I started using my mind, in the manner a high school math teacher had taught me. I used reason.
Join me as I go back in time and recount my journey.
I went to a high school where the population was decidedly Liberal. Consequently, upon arriving at Cornell University, I expected to find the same. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. Still, I found myself in the presence of a far greater number of Conservatives than I’d ever encountered before and, even worse, they were my intellectual superiors. With the opportunity to vote in my first Presidential election approaching, and a palpable hatred for Reagan, I eagerly sought out discussion with other like-minded individuals (notice how I only sought the echo chamber). When confronted with the boisterous Texans down the hall, who challenged my every assertion, I quickly turned away.
“Dave,” I asked the the short, nebbishy kid who lived in the adjacent dorm room, “you don’t believe any of that garbage, do you?” I was totally confident that Dave would be an ally.
Wrong. Dave was one of them.
What could these idiots be thinking? Didn’t they know Reagan was crazy, even senile, and he was ready to launch nukes and destroy us all any second? Didn’t they understand that any problem could be solved by the government? Why shouldn’t Mondale raise taxes if it helps more people get services and programs they needed?
The only problem was those darn Texans and their ilk kept making these really good arguments that I couldn’t counter. So I would change the subject; bring up things I didn’t realize were logical fallacies that they would then catch me in; I’d say Reagan was crazy and they asked for examples and I wouldn’t really have any. Then they’d hit me with all these economic arguments and I didn’t even know what they were talking about.
In short, there was a boatload of stuff I didn’t know. Even worse, there was tons of stuff that I didn’t know I didn’t know. Most significantly, it was the first time I was ever really exposed to thinking that was not Liberal.
I had been really impressed with Bill Clinton. Of all the things either candidate said in 1992, this one line stuck with me during a debate, “Mr. President, you’ve had it your way for twelve years. It’s time for a change”. Yeah, it was. Why not? Plus, Clinton laid out some pretty specific plans. I also decided I would pay really close attention to his performance. Well, 1994 came around, and despite having a Democratic Congress, something didn’t feel right. For reasons I just could not articulate, I felt like Clinton had let me down.
I felt it. I couldn’t articulate why. It just didn’t feel right.
Starting to see a pattern?
Not that I had any love for the Republicans. I couldn’t stand Newt Gingrich. There was no way I would ever punch a hole in the voting booth for one of them. But in 1994, I stopped automatically punching the hole for the Democratic candidate, regardless of what they were running for. Instead, I punched third-party candidates across the board.
I might have been persuaded to come back to the Democrats, or even at least considered Republicans, if it hadn’t been for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. All my Democrat friends said, “it’s just sex”. All my Republican friends said, “He lied under oath”. I didn’t think either of them had it right. Simply put, I felt Clinton had disgraced the Office of the President. For reasons I couldn’t articulate — because I’d never felt this way about much of anything — I just felt what he did was disgraceful. It revolted me. But equally revolting was the Republican-driven impeachment process, which was entirely political and never would have resulted in Clinton being convicted.
Of course, during these years, and in subsequent years, it became apparent to me that politicians were only interested in themselves and corruption was rampant.
I voted exclusively third-party through 2004.
The tragedy of Chris Mathews is that he is a brilliant political commentator who has gone completely off the rails. His books on politics are must-reads. In one of them, he wrote that the first rule of politics is survival. Once you understand that concept, you realize that politicians are not acting in the public’s best interest, except by coincidence. That was my big revelation concerning government.
That central concept was solidified when I became a financial journalist and businessman. As I delved into many different industries, and became a specialist in consumer credit, I noticed a pattern. Someone would get angry about something (an activist), and they would partner with someone with an economic motivation (a mercenary), and put pressure on a politician to “do something”. 95% of the time, the “something” was legislation or regulation that would attempt to put a stop to this terrible practice, and make things worse for the very people the legislation was designed to protect.
I saw this happen over and over and over again, first-hand, in-the-trenches. It really drove me nuts. And that’s when my new philosophy took shape. It was a very simple philosophy.
Don’t tell them what to do.
Don’t tell me what to do.
So every time some policy debate came up, I just asked myself, “Do I really need the government to get involved in this?” Most of the time, the answer was “no”.
I don’t like 99% of politicians for the reasons stated above. I’ve got plenty of problems with the policies endorsed by both sides. As a friend of mine says, “Today’s Democrats have no plans, and today’s Republicans have bad plans”. I think that’s about right — not entirely, but close. That’s what makes me an Independent. I don’t want government meddling in much of anything. That’s what makes me a Libertarian. I don’t see what the big deal is about letting gays get married. That’s what makes me a Leftie. I’ve seen first-hand that fiscal restraint regarding spending leads to economic prosperity. That’s what makes me a Right-Winger.
This is a far cry from 1984, because between now and then, I discovered reason. When I talk with Liberals today, I just nod my head knowingly because I hear my own voice in their words — the voice of people who don’t know what they don’t know. They ask why I’m smiling and nodding and all I say is, “You’ll figure it out someday”.
I invite them for a drink. And I don’t discuss politics.