How to Train a Political Animal to Restrain Itself

“There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between a Republican and a Democrat.”

This outcry typically comes from someone on the far left or the far right.  In America, today’s Democrats are a left-center party, and today’s Republicans are a right-center party.  So the distinctions between the parties seem miniscule when viewed from a political position far away from both parties.

But are the two major parties really almost identical?  Unfortunately I can show you one way they are pretty similar.

For starters, here’s my cut at a short objective sentence describing the essence of each party’s vision.  These are clearly oversimplified, but I believe I’m at least being even-handed in my simplicity:

  • The Democrats generally believe in a relatively unconstrained government role that continuously evolves in response to current issues and the perceived urgent needs of the country.
  • Generally speaking, the Republicans believe in a relatively limited government role that is constrained fairly closely to the original intended scope of the Constitution.

So why, since the end of the Eisenhower era, has federal spending grown steadily, regardless of which party controls the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and the White House?  The rate of growth has varied, but the direction has always been up.

Look at the red line (federal spending) in my chart (click to enlarge): 

(Click here, here, and here to see my data sources.)

Conservative politicians SAY they’re for limited government, but the chart doesn’t show much evidence they behave that way.  Even during times when the Republicans controlled 2 or all 3 of the law-making / law-executing bodies, the red line has never fallen.

Why is this, and what should we start doing about it?

Please read on….

·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·

Ever stop and think what goes through the mind of a would-be politician at that instant they decide to leave their private world and become a candidate for their first election?  For all but the selfish ones, it’s probably something like this:

“I see a situation I think could be improved.  I think I’m uniquely qualified to make a difference, and I’m willing to give it a try.  If I get elected, I’ll do my absolute best to help the people I represent.”

Whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, politicians are a self-selected group of active thinkers who earnestly believe they have a unique plan of action for solving an issue or improving a situation.  They are activists by nature, or they wouldn’t have stepped into the elected public arena.  They want to achieve a successful outcome for large groups of people.

Because of this distinctive DNA strand they have, I am hereforth calling them Political Animals.

Next, stop and consider whether these Political Animals are really much different than any other thinking two-legged or four-legged animal.  For their efforts, do Political Animals want criticism or praise?  They’ll get lots of both, but which do they PREFER?  Answer:  Obviously they yearn to be praised and appreciated.

So now, the key question:

If you’re a conservative voter and you’ve successfully elected your chosen Political Animal to public office, how should you go about training it to restrain itself?

My answer involves simple behavioral psychology, applied to the real world of politics.  Any thinking animal will, consciously or not, tend to continue doing what it receives praise and adulation for, and it will tend to cease what it receives criticism and disapproval for.  This is pure common sense.  Where I live we call it horse sense.

Conservative voters must get smarter as political consumers, and learn to praise a Political Animal that has the guts to actually downsize government.  Cheerfully and publically say to it, with sincere happiness displayed on your face,  “Thank you sir/madam for passing legislation that does less for me.  In fact, please double down.  Next year, I want you to take it even further, and do even less for me.  Indeed, the less you do for me, the more I will vote for you.”

If you’re a conservative voter, you have probably criticized your – or somebody else’s – Political Animal when it voted to enlarge the scope of government.  Great!  But that’s only half the job of training it.  That’s the stick.  What about the carrot?  When’s the last time you heaped praise and adulation on your Political Animal for doing little or nothing for you?  If you believe in conservatism, I say it’s high time you started.

And while you’re at it, your Political Animal appreciates a pat on the head and a scratch behind the ear too.

About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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4 Responses to How to Train a Political Animal to Restrain Itself

  1. Daniel P. says:

    As much as I agree with the theory of this political point of view, it fails in practice. For example, imagine a modern US politician (R or D) proposing the dismantling of the Dept. of education. Impossibility.

    However, that was a mainstream Republican view in the 80’s. Similarly, the last president who spoke negatively and who attempted (but without much strength) against government debt and deficits was Reagan. GHWB was useless and rode Reagan’s coattails, Clinton didn’t care becuase of the internet bubble, GWB’s VP said deficits don’t matter, and Obama, mainly because of Republican prodding and sequestering, has actually seen a slight decrease in debt and deficit’s rate of increase.

    So what am I trying to say here? What I want to say is that debt and deficits are a way of extracting wealth from future generations. It is a short sighted attempt to promote a view, which crosses party lines, that liberty is only defined as ‘how much can I consume today?’ with no interest in what strain that puts on the military or future generations. That’s not relevant to most Americans. But don’t worry, they have a bumper sticker on their car, and they say they’re in favor of limited government.


    • Hi Daniel. Welcome. Thx for the comment.

      I agree that the “advice” I give at the end of the article isn’t really a serious action to take. I was really trying to get a point across, and your first sentence tells me I succeeded.

      I sought a unique way to get across why ANY version of big government, no matter who’s in control, will always tend to steadily grow in scope. And I sought to explain the human nature aspect of it by putting a reader in the head & heart of the politicians. I mean, OF COURSE their natural instinct is to please their constituents. One day it occurred to me that the problem is conservatives suck at giving positive feedback to the politicians when they do what we sent them to Washington to do. So I devised this exaggerated story in order to illustrate the psychology of the situation.

      It so happens that today I heard an interview on talk radio in which the guest mentioned Margaret Thatcher’s observations about the ever-leftward “ratchet effect” of big government. I just googled the phrase and found this National Review article that’s pertinent to our exchange here, Daniel. Here’s a 2-sentence quote from it: “Margaret Thatcher used to talk about the ‘ratchet effect.’ When the Left gets power, she said, they drive everything Left; when the Right gets power, they slow the Leftward drive, perhaps even halt it for a spell; but nothing ever gets moved to the Right.”

      The best answer to preventing conservative politicians from gradually succumbing to “big spending disease” is to impose federal term limits. I originally posted this article 16 months ago. Since then, Mark Levin has published his new book “The Liberty Amendments.” One of the twelve amendments he proposes is for term limits:

      No person may serve more than twelve years as a member of Congress, whether such service is exclusively in the House or the Senate or combined in both Houses.

      Have you considered getting that book? If you’ve read it, what do you think?

      Hope to hear more from you.
      – Jeff


  2. xPraetorius says:

    Yep. Love the post. Nicely said. While you say that your “advice” is not prescriptive, I think that, down deep, to some extent it really is.

    If we were to get enough limited-government people letting politicians know that we would reward them with our “praise” — our votes — then we just might get some elected officials committed to limiting the doberman that is government.

    All movements take time and require constant maintenance in order to grow, and eventually take over, Please, please, please keep up the good fight. In the meantime, I’m enjoying immensely my visits to your blog.


    — x


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