The Least Important Election of Your Lifetime

The November midterm elections are around the corner and as usual, the airwaves are filled with frenzied appeals to vote for one candidate or another and reminding us of the unusual importance of this particular election—the latest “most important” election in a long list that already includes almost every national election in recent history. Pardon me if I tune it all out.

The truth is that this upcoming midterm election, for all of the breathtaking amounts of cash being poured into it, will likely change very little in Washington. Both Republicans and Democrats, especially in their fight over control of the Senate, are spending considerable effort to persuade “their” voters to show up to the polls, even when it means voting against their own principles.

You read that right. Democrats are urging environmentalists to vote for “fossil-fuel loving” candidates, while Republicans are urging Tea Party activists to vote for the same people they sought to defeat in primaries. I’ve long believed there are no permanent victories in politics, but Washington’s new modus operandi seems like preemptive surrender to the status quo.

Given the number of veteran political operators directing strategy on both sides, it’s strange how the various campaigns seem to be betting everything on the naïve belief that if they can just get more of their people in office, everything will turn out for the better. Fans of the free markets and limited government—supposedly the domain of Republican Party—can certainly testify to how little faith should be placed in such a strategy.

Take the George W. Bush years, half of which saw Republicans in control of not only the White House, but both houses of Congress. The party of small government gave the country a massive expansion of the federal role in education (No Child Left Behind), a massive expansion of federal spending on health care (Medicare Part D), new restrictions on political speech (McCain-Feingold), and unprecedented (though, at the time, largely secret) federal intrusion into the civil liberties of U.S. citizens. If that’s the best Americans can expect from a party supposedly hell-bent on slashing the size of the government, Democrats can put up their feet up and relax.

Politics should be about more than flipping the control of Congress from Party A to Party B. If the goal is to return America to the economic and civil freedoms envisioned by our Founders, we must recognize that changing the colors of an airport windsock won’t affect the way the wind blows.

Elections plant “trees” in the political landscape, but those young saplings need guide wires if they are to remain upright. Recent polls show that Americans are concerned most about economic growth and jobs, yet are also extremely skeptical about the ability of the government to provide those things with new laws and regulations. Perhaps the average American voter is wiser than we’ve been giving her credit for?

Those two facts—that a growing economy is vital to everyone’s interests, and that government does a poor job of achieving that goal—would make for a winning political platform. As my colleague Wayne Crews likes to say, “You don’t have to teach the grass how to grow, you just need to take the rocks off of it.”

A party that applied that analogy to economic growth by lifting major legal and regulatory burdens from American innovators and entrepreneurs would actually deserve to win on its own merits, rather than just to keep out a worse option. That neither major party has actually done this suggests we need to think less about who and more about what we are voting for.

Let’s start with a few core principles. The vocation of the businessman is an honorable one, voluntary agreements in a free market bring advantages to both sides, and increasing prosperity allows people to solve more of their own problems. Public policy based on these principles will do more to advance the public interest than betting on your team’s latest racehorse.

Until we broaden the cultural understanding of why a free economy is necessary for the maintenance of a free society and long-term prosperity, politicians of both parties will continue to cave in to the temptation to try to engineer public prosperity via lever-pulling and blame-shifting.

When national politics becomes a choice between which party gets to bash you over the head with big government in its own preferred way, election night becomes a lot less of a cliffhanger.