THE world’s first politician was the serpent in the Garden of Eden — “more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made,” according to the Bible’s magnificent King James Version. The serpent’s “campaign” promise? Change! Believe me and do as I say, the serpent told Eve, eat the forbidden fruit and you will be transformed into a better version of yourself. “Ye shall be as gods.” The serpent won that “election.”

Now don’t get me wrong. To quote PJ O’Rourke, “After all my time covering politics, I know a lot of politicians. They’re intelligent. They’re diligent. They’re talented. I like them. I count them as friends.” However,  when they “take their intelligence, their diligence, and their talent and they put these into the service of politics, ladies and gentlemen, when they do that, they turn into… dogs chasing the cat of freedom.” They become “cats tormenting the mouse of responsibility.” Or “mice gnawing on the insulated wiring of individualism. They are going to hell in a hand basket, and they stole that basket from you…. And this is what one of their friends says.”

There are basically only two campaign pledges throughout known human history. “Change,” of course, and “improve people’s lives.” However they phrase it, whatever the “issue” is, a politician seeking public office will promise “change!” or “improve people’s lives!” or both.

To be sure, there will be change after every election, and some people’s lives will improve. But the change usually pertains to government personnel, and the lives improved usually involve the supporters of the newly elected or reelected politician.

Of course when voters vote for change and/or improving people’s lives they expect so much more. Hence, their biennial and quadrennial disappointment. But of course most of them will still vote for “change!” and “improve people’s lives!” again. And again.

In the states, historian and economist Robert Higgs noted that for “wise men,” complaining about the U.S. Congress “is as futile as complaining about the weather. For as long as anyone can remember, members of Congress have been plundering the public to finance the largess they trade for reelection. By now, they have nearly perfected their system, as almost all incumbents who seek reelection are reelected….” And so “given the institutional realities, it is impossible to imagine a reform that would improve on the existing system, because the reformers would face the same incentives and constraints that got us where we are now. Reforms would only make the situation worse.” (My italics.)

In the CNMI, years ago, reformists sought to reduce the number of House seats to (somewhat) reduce government spending. Result? Two additional House seats were mandated by the local Supreme Court. Reformists also proposed, through a legislative initiative, a gubernatorial runoff in case none of the candidates would obtain a majority of the votes cast. The reformists were opposed to the then-governor who had narrowly won a four-way race. (The closest gubernatorial election in CNMI history.) Their runoff proposal was approved. Result? The “unpopular” governor was reelected in a runoff. His campaign slogan? “Let it be.” Quite possibly the three wisest words ever uttered in politics.

The list of “reforms” and their unintended or unwanted consequences is long, but not a lot of us seem to be aware that such a list exists.  Moreover, not a lot of us seem to notice that in every election year, we are usually complaining about the results of the policies we want our elected officials to implement and have implemented.

Back in the day, how many “concerned citizens” opposed the creation of a stupendously generous retirement fund for government employees (who also happened to be, and still are, the islands’ biggest bloc of voters)? How many opposed the creation of overlapping, redundant or duplicative government departments/agencies/programs/services and the seemingly ceaseless hiring of government personnel? How many said no to a beneficent medical referral program?

In every election year, many will continue to vote for “change,” but how many of the same voters are willing to change their expectations and the demands they make on the candidates running for office?

If we want change to happen we start with ourselves. But where’s the fun in that?

Send feedback to editor@mvariety.com

Zaldy Dandan is a recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His four books are available on amazon.com/.

comments powered by Disqus