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April 04, 2002
Self-Interest vs. Well, Self-Interest

I>The New York Times reports that the pro-market Bush administration's energy policy is, shockingly, pro-market, and favored by the energy industry. This is scandalous, if one is to believe the wink-wink verbiage that has come to characterize national media reporting. This takes roughly the following form:

Paragraph One: Bush administration action, statement of benefits for industry (but never consumers or employees)

Paragraph Two: Outraged statement from self-styled left-wing activist.

Paragraph Three: Report of how much campaign support Bush received from industry in question.

Get it? If a pro-market conservative favors policy that is pro-market and conservative, then he must be doing so because of campaign contributions, rather than political and economic principles. If an anti-market leftist favors policy that is anti-market and leftist, then he must be doing so because of his principles, and not because he is in the pocket of unions, trial attorneys, anti-trade industries, corporate welfare recipients, and environmental groups. Does anyone recall a newspaper article on the ergonomics debate which cast Democrats as favoring onerous regulation because it was backed by unions and trial attorneys? Of course not. The Democrats were cast as wanting to protect the little man, while Republicans were cast as protecting their contributors.

But let's assume, for sake of an additional point, that journalists are right, that conservatives act on contributions rather than ideology, while liberals act on ideology rather than contributions. Is the latter really better? Both are behaving in self-interested fashion; one simply wants a new vacation home, while the other wants to force you to use a toilet that only consumes one teaspoon of water per flush.

At least if you know someone is for sale, you can take up a collection to try to sway him. And if enough people agree with you, there's a good chance you can buy him off. What's more, you know his decisions aren't personal -- he's not out to get you, he's just a guy trying to make a living by selling his vote to the highest bidder.

But when a politician is driven by ideology, you will have little sway over him. And when he comes to shut down your business, or throw you in jail for accidentally stepping on a Northeastern Slippery Snail, or threaten you with prison for speaking your mind about him when he is running for re-election, then you can be darn sure that it is personal.

Yet the latter is exactly the kind of person who routinely wins the Kennedy "Profile in Courage" award. The real courage, it seems to me, lies with leaders willing to do what's best for the country even when they know they'll be savaged by the likes of New York Times reporters.

Posted by Woodlief on April 04, 2002 at 11:25 AM