Hey kids. I know you're not all that interested in politics, and you don't like to read too much. But, God bless you, you vote. That's understandable. It's hip to vote. P. Diddy urges you to do it. Most of the doors in your college dorm are adorned with Obama posters and news clippings. In 2008, the 18-29 age group voted 2-to-1 for Obama. And your college campus went wild the night he won.
But before you vote again, please consider reading the rest of this article. I'll try to make clear points and keep the paragraphs short. It's OK to listen to your iPod while you read.
Politics is actually kind of important. There are about 200 countries in the world; 200 different governments. In some countries, like North Korea, people have died by the millions due to starvation in just the last few years. In others, like the Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and others, people have died by the millions due to civil war or mass murder - again, in only the last few years, while you've been alive. Yet in other countries, like the US, obesity is considered one of our worst problems. Whether the worst problem you face is being overweight or hacked to death with machetes depends much on your country's politics.
No one has it figured out yet. Humans have been around for thousands of years, yet we still have hunger, poverty, disease, war, racism, hatred and all kinds of things that have made life miserable over thousands of years. So when some politician tells you he can get rid of all of these problems in the next 4 to 8 years, or they would go away if we could just get rid of his political opponents, he is being what is called "less than truthful."
But we're not totally stupid, either. We actually have made great progress in eliminating hunger, poverty, disease, etc. Do you know that from 1900 to 2000, for example, life expectancy went from 47 to 77 in the US? Yet in other countries, like Zimbabwe, the life expectancy today is just 46. You have to believe we did some things better in the US over our history, and we are doing some things better than Zimbabwe today. Freedom is good. We actually have a good idea of what makes these kinds of differences among countries: freedom. Countries where people can own property and are free to buy and sell what they want, are the countries that are much better off. (Some people call this "capitalism", but it is really just freedom.) Countries where the government has more control over what you can have, buy and sell, do worse. For more reading on this, go here. Communism is bad. Communism is not just another "ism." In the last 100 years, Communism killed about 100 million people. While I'm sure you heard of Nazism's Jewish Holocaust of 6 million, you probably haven't heard about this 17-times-bigger Communist holocaust. But it's documented in the Black Book of Communism, and the numbers are not really disputed, just ignored. Also, communist countries like North Korea and Cuba kill citizens who simply try to leave the country - today. Communism, along with Nazism and fascism, represent one end of the political spectrum -- the one where government makes most of the decisions, or the opposite of freedom. For more reading on this, go here.
What to fix? Many of us want to make the world a better place. Where would you start: in one of the richest countries on earth where people live fairly long, like the US, or in one of the poorest countries where people die fairly young, like Zimbabwe? It seems kind of dumb to me that the first place we would try to change the most would be the US. It seems to me we should try to change the places that are the most miserable, like North Korea, Zimbabwe and a bunch of other countries on earth. Also, in a place already doing pretty well, like the US, should we try changing everything at once, or try just a few things at a time and see if they work out before we try the next things?
The US is really pretty good. You can convince yourself of this by looking up data like wealth and income statistics, life expectancies, number of patents, etc., not to mention putting man on the moon. Or you could travel. Here are some tips for things to look for when you travel: can you drink the water without getting sick? Do they have toilets, and if so, where does the stuff go when you flush it? The biggest boosts to life expectancy are clean drinking water and a good sewage system. It ain't rocket science, but there are many places on earth where it would be a good idea to bring your own bottled water and TP.
Republicans aren't driven by racism.
- Slavery started in the US colonies between 1619 and 1650. Abraham Lincoln, took office in 1861, or after more than 200 years of slavery in the US. The Republican Party originated as an anti-slavery party. And sure enough, Lincoln, the very first Republican President, did end slavery in the US. It took the Civil War and about 620,000 American lives, including Lincoln's own, but slavery ended.
- When blacks were being lynched in the decades following the Civil War, it was Republicans in the US Congress who tried to pass anti-lynching laws. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was sponsored by US Congressman L.C. Dyer, Republican of Missouri, in 1922. It was passed by the House of Representatives, majority Republican at the time. It was supported by President Warren G. Harding, Republican, as well as the NAACP. But it was defeated in the Senate by a filibuster from Democrats.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 won a higher percentage of Republican votes (about 4-to-1 in favor) than it did of Democrat votes (about 2-to-1 in favor). Al Gore's father, for example, was a Senator who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Republicans have been fairly consistent about race over the decades: they want the law to be blind to race. When government forms have a box for you to check what race you are, that is not color-blind. When your college has different ACT/SAT/LSAT test score cutoffs for applicants of different races, that is not color-blind. And you know that.
Fat cats vs. the little guy. This is one of the best cases of "branding" and one of the biggest myths ever perpetrated by political public relations. But you can follow the money yourself, on web sites like OpenSecrets or Newsmeat. For example, if we look at the top contributing industries in the 2007-8 Congressional cycle, all of the top ten gave most of their money to Democrats (in fact, the top 14 did). Here are some of those top industries and what percent of their political contributions went to Democrats.
- Lawyers and law firms (78%)
- Securities/Investment (65%)
- Real Estate (57%)
- Misc. Business (70%)
- Business Services (73%)
- Misc. Finance (54%).
You know your poor, dedicated, underpaid teachers? They constituted the 6th highest-ranking industry in political contributions, and gave 88% of their money to Democrats. Of course you know Big Oil has to give more than your underpaid teachers, right? Wrong. The oil and gas industry ranked 19th; teachers contributed more than twice as much as Big Oil. Lawyers gave over seven times as much.
It might be a rip-off. Maybe you've heard of Bernie Madoff or R. Allen Stanford. They were both investment fund managers, but arrested this past year for ripping off their customers for billions of dollars. Madoff was recently convicted. They both gave big to politicians, over a million dollars combined, with almost all of it going to Democrats. Although the Bob Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone is old now it's still considered pretty cool. Ponder these lyrics from that song.
"Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal."
When someone says he can make wonderful things happen if you would just give him more of your money (including a tax hike), consider that he might be Bob Dylan's diplomat who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat. He's not really where it's at.
The rip-off, small or large, is an old, old game. The best test of whether someone is ripping you off is not how nice his smile is; it's whether he's asking you to give him something.
Conservative can be cool. You probably wouldn't know it, but the following people are either outright Republican or have expressed support for Republican candidates or conservative or libertarian ideas.
- Stephen Baldwin (yes, Alec's brother)
- Drew Carey
- Jeff Foxworthy
- Kelsey Grammer
- Sammy Hagar
- Angie Harmon
- Patricia Heaton
- Dennis Hopper
- Kathy Ireland
- Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
- Larry the Cable Guy
- Kid Rock
- Gary Sinise
- Lynn Swan
- Jon Voight
- Bruce Willis
- James Woods
- And a whole lot more
Use your head. Virtually everything you've watched on TV or the movies in your lifetime, from the Care Bears to Oprah Winfrey and the latest Terminator movie, told you to follow your heart, not your head.
Tell me, the last time you got ripped off, was it because you followed your head too much? What about your friends who got pregnant or got someone else pregnant when they didn't want to -- was it their head that got them in trouble? Do you think Hitler's main fault was too much reason and rationality? When you really, really want to hit someone, does that urge come from your head, your heart or your gut?
I don't know about you, but my heart always told me to sleep late, skip school, tell my boss what I really think of this job, have another drink, and call the ex-girlfriend. My head, to my chagrin, said stay in school, keep my pants on, don't quit this job until I have another one, and apologize to my wife whether I did something wrong or not. In my experience, listening to my head paid off better.
You have a brain, and it's OK to use it. No one else can think for you. And now you have easier access to information than humans have ever had before. A few decent links to information-laden web sites are here. And my advice is to go for the raw data and not rely too much on someone else's analysis -- not Al Gore's, and not even mine.
That's enough for now, kids. And before you start thinking about how to "give back," try paying your own car insurance and cell phone bill.