Published May 12, 2023, 4:08 p.m. by Naomi Charles
politics is a game. It's not a game of chance, like roulette, but a game of strategy, like chess. And, like chess, the object is to checkmate the opponent's king.
In politics, the king is the voting public. The object of the game is to get a majority of the votes. That's how you win elections.
But votes are not always easy to get. Sometimes they have to be coaxed, cajoled, or even bribed out of people. That is why there are professional politicians. That is their job.
And, just as in chess, there are different strategies for winning the game of politics. Some are more direct, while others are more indirect.
Some try to win by persuasion, by appealing to the voters' better angels. They try to convince the voters that their policies are in the voters' best interests.
Others try to win by force, by using the power of the government to coerce the voters into doing what they want. This is the strategy of the left, which believes that the ends justify the means.
Still others try to win by manipulation, by playing on the voters' fears and prejudices. This is the strategy of the right, which relies on wedge issues to divide the electorate.
The best strategy, of course, is a combination of all three. But, in the final analysis, it is the votes that count. And that is why, in the end, the game of politics is a numbers game.
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Whoever called politics “the art of the possible” must have had a strange idea of what is possible
or a strange idea of politics, where the impossible is one of the biggest vote-getters.
People can get the possible on their own. Politicians have to be able to offer the
voters something that they cannot get on their own. The impossible fills that bill perfectly.
As a noted economist has pointed out, nothing
“could prevent the California electorate from simultaneously demanding low electricity prices
and no new generating plants while using ever increasing amounts of electricity.”
You want the impossible? You got it. Politicians don’t get elected by saying “No” to voters.
Of course Californians also got electricity blackouts and, in order to deal with the
blackouts, a multi-billion dollar surplus in the state’s treasury was turned into
a multi-billion dollar deficit, followed by cutbacks in various other government programs,
followed by calls for higher taxes. You want the government to create
more jobs for people when there is widespread unemployment? It’s been done. During the Great
Depression of the 1930s, the government employed more young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps
than there were in the Army. The money to pay for all this had to come from somewhere—and
that meant that there was less money left to employ other people in the private sector.
While jobs created by the government may not have reduced total unemployment,
these jobs increased votes for the administration, which is the real bottom line in politics.
Are you for “open space” laws forbidding building
and also for “affordable housing”? Don’t be discouraged by the fact that severe
building restrictions have sent housing prices sky-rocketing in community after community.
It may be impossible to have “open space” laws and “affordable housing” at the same time,
but what are politicians there for, except to figure out ways to give us the impossible?
Palo Alto, California, where housing prices nearly quadrupled in one decade
after severe building restrictions were imposed, also pioneered in laws mandating
that each builder agree to sell a certain percentage of any new housing “below market.”
In other words, they combined “open space” laws with “affordable housing.” Who says
the impossible cannot be achieved? Of course this system can work only
where just a fraction of the new housing is sold “below market.”
Moreover, the market price of housing was raised so far above what it was by building restrictions
that even “below market” prices for condominiums in Palo Alto can run to $300,000 or $400,000.
This is hardly “affordable housing” for people on modest incomes. Only 7 percent of Palo Alto’s
police, for example, live in Palo Alto—probably older cops who bought their homes long ago.
But none of that matters politically. What matters is that people in Palo Alto can feel
good about themselves, by being for both “open space” and “affordable housing.”
Happy voters are what get politicians re-elected.
The big political crusade today is for “affordable” medical care through the government.
No one believes that government is just going to be more efficient, and thereby
have lower costs that will be reflected in lower prices for medications and medical treatment.
It might seem as if adding the costs of government bureaucracies to the costs of
medications and medical treatment would make it impossible for the total costs to go down.
But again, the impossible is no problem in politics.
Many countries around the world already have government-run medical care.
People who get sick in these countries usually wait much longer to get treatment, including
months on waiting lists for surgery, often paying in pain or debilitation, rather than in money.
High-tech medical devices like MRIs are also far less common in these countries than in
the United States. With medical care as with anything else, you can always get
poorer quality at a lower price, though that is no bargain, especially when you are sick.
What you may have in mind are lower prices with no reduction in quality.
While that may be impossible, don’t expect that fact to stop politicians from offering it,
even if they can’t deliver.
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