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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
10 Feb 2016
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Dumb Politicians Won't Get Elected


Politicians can be progressives, liberals, conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, and right-wingers. They just can't be dumb. The American people will never elect them to office. Let's look at it.

For years, I used to blame politicians for our economic and social mess. That changed during the 1980s as a result of several lunches with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., which produced an epiphany of sorts.

At the time, I had written several columns highly critical of farm subsidies and handouts. Helms agreed, saying something should be done. Then he asked me whether I could tell him how he could vote against them and remain a senator from North Carolina. He said that if he voted against them, North Carolinians would vote him out of office and replace him with somebody probably worse. My epiphany came when I asked myself whether it was reasonable to expect a politician to commit what he considered to be political suicide — in a word, be dumb.

The Office of Management and Budget calculates that more than 40 percent of federal spending is for entitlements for the elderly in the forms of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, housing and other assistance programs. Total entitlement spending comes to about 62 percent of federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that entitlement spending will consume all federal tax revenue by 2048.

Only a dumb politician would argue that something must be done immediately about the main components of entitlement spending: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Senior citizens indignantly would tell him that what they're receiving are not entitlements. It's their money that Congress put aside for them. They would attack any politician who told them that the only way they get Social Security and Medicare money is through taxes levied on current workers. The smart politician would go along with these people's vision that Social Security and Medicare are their money that the government was holding for them. The dumb politician, who is truthful about Social Security and Medicare and their devastating impact on our nation's future, would be run out of office.

Social Security and Medicare are by no means the only sources of unsustainable congressional spending.

There are billions upon billions in handouts going to farmers, corporations, poor people and thousands of federal programs that have no constitutional basis whatsoever. But a smart politician reasons that if Congress enables one group of Americans to live at the expense of another American, then in fairness, what possible argument can be made for not giving that same right to other groups of Americans? Making a constitutional and moral argument against the growth of handouts would qualify as dumb.

Let's examine some statements of past Americans whom we've mistakenly called great but would be deemed both heartless and dumb if they were around today. In 1794, James Madison, the father of our Constitution, irate over a $15,000 congressional appropriation to assist some French refugees, said, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." He added, "Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."

In 1854, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a bill intended to help the mentally ill, saying, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity" ... and to approve such spending "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded."

Grover Cleveland vetoed hundreds of congressional spending bills during his two terms as president in the late 1800s. His often stated veto message was, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution."

If these men were around today, making similar statements, Americans would hold them in contempt and disqualify them from office. That's a sad commentary on how we've trashed our Constitution.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at







8 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... This is the perfect season in which to remember what sort of idiot sacrifices his future for humanity... Not to say, of course, that those who sacrifice themselves and others for their mindless, heartless, abstract principals are on any sort of plane with those who see themselves sacrificed for humanity...Humanity too, can be a sort of an abstraction, but unlike many abstractions, humanity does have some reality, arguably, the only reality: of life, behind it, as vaporous as life is...
Think of the slender thread upon which life hangs, and how easily we must see it snatched away while we can only chorus our muted protest... So this is life, beautiful, N'es Pas; and then, sans everything... Consider the social institutions mankind builds to preserve life and make happiness more certain; and how people some times turn those forms to their own benefit, and hide their penury of morality behind grand and sweeping principals...Consider how a government conceived in freedom can stray into tyranny simply because those who created it trusted the rich and the able with the freedom of us all because they did not trust the people with their own freedom...
Consider how capricious it is to help people without the power to help themselves, and how broad is that aim, and how shallow is that kindness that gives good to those who cannot defend it from those who would take it back or take life from them... Were food stamps and farm subsidies even meant to help anyone but politicians and rich people??? If you knock a man off his high horse because you think everyone should walk, then he might violently object, but if you poison his horse until it dies, and he does not know it; then he will grow used to walking long before his horse dies... Freedom is a high horse for humanity, and the fear of revolution can only be prevented if the people are slowly demoralized, and if they find they fear to live without the very government that oppresses them...
Your notion that we must accept weasels in our government because those without the sense to hide their principals from the very people who must know them to elect the right person to office is a shame... You never consider how impossible it is for so many people to meet and know so few politicians holding such great power... Do you think this situation was intended by those who considered representative government to be the best we could manage???
Certainly, government is an intelligence test, but this government is also a test of our morality... Will we suffer it out of fear of something worst??? Will we suffer it for some personal gain while we see millions injured by it??? We have become demoralized, so we cannot raise a finger in our own defense, but only cry: Mercy...
This is proof that we cannot have a half way democracy, and that anything less than full democracy will land us forever back in tyranny- less able to revolt than before...We will never have a full democracy while it is possible for economic inequality to undermine political equality, and make us slaves...
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Dec 24, 2013 7:01 AM
Dumb politicians will get continue to elected because of millions of politically ignorant voters. What we won't see is statesman in congress. " When the people find they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic." George Washington
Comment: #2
Posted by: Bob Marshall
Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:02 AM
The rise of the tea party is a glimmering hope - and the contempt laid on the tea party by the beltway supplicants and their elitist overlords sadly confirm Dr. Williams's theme.
Comment: #3
Posted by: jm
Wed Dec 25, 2013 6:35 AM

I have a question. Is there such an entity as "James Sweeney"? I cannot conceive of one man, even working eight hours a day seven days a week, creating the volume of verbiage that goes over the name of Mr. Sweeney. No, it must be a committee. Only four or five people working assiduously could turnout the volume of incoherent drivel credited to him.
Comment: #4
Posted by: F. Schubert
Wed Dec 25, 2013 7:26 AM
Re: F. Schubert;... Thank you so much; but the hard work of writing is for the most part all behind me... I read a lot, and to regurgitate knowledge with little addition of imagination is hardly a task...I still read a lot, and have four books going at the moment... One, the Forgotten Ally; about China during WWII, A good book on the writings of Saint Paul, and two books on Freud... I just turned 60, and don't need reading glasses, if you can believe it, and I guess it is because I always exercise my eyes... I think you would be hard pressed to find a subject I have not read about, or know nothing about... History and philosophy make up the bulk of my reading, though to be correct, history is a branch of philosophy... I have quite a bit on the softer sciences, Anthropology for the most part, Theology, Psychology...Some of Sports, some Engineering, Physics, some Mechanics... I used to be a pretty good mechanic, rebuilding my own starters, engines, carburators and transmission, and most of your average auto componants...I got a lot of that out of books too, usually with a lot of illustrations... I am a pretty good welder, and a used to be ironworker...I usually give two hours a day to writing, and far too much to suit anyone around here... Otherwise, I am about average; too many interests and not enough hours in one life...
How about yourself... What is your story... What makes Schubert Schubert???
As the old saying goes, Don't take any advice you don't pay for... My writing is free to anyone with the sense to appreciate it...If that means you owe me, then give my wages to NAHA... Tell them I sent you... They give a good receipt...My contributions have never been questioned by the IRS, and my books are in order...
Comment: #5
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Dec 25, 2013 3:27 PM
Re: Bob Marshall;... Politicians get elected because with Partocracy, the people are not given a choice except the one we are used to, between bad and worse...
It is not just the people who are ignorant, but the people they elect... Okay; if they are smart according to Mr. Williams, then they know how to get elected; but with the power they are given with government, they ought to have one hellova lot of moxxi on the ball, and they do not... They need more than the ability to gerrymander, play political partisanship, and divide and conquer this people... If you only have to gain the support of 51% to be elected, where is the incentive to serve the whole people??? In fact, they get the votes, but less and less of the support of the people, and you may take this situation for granted, but divided societies are at risk societies...
Today we are conquered by our rich... What if they are then conquered by others??? We would not be so vulnerable if our rich and their politicians did not believe they could win any war, even against this people without popular support... The very technology that for the first time makes democracy possible for this whole people could be turned against us by the rich who simply think we are unnecessary, excess baggage that can be thrown overboard to lighten the load...
How educated does a man have to be to know thing are not working for him no matter how hard he works???
How educated does a man have to be to have a sense of his own best interest???
Democracy was denied to this people because the rich feared the rabble, and because we had no real political power, there was no reason to wish us educated... It was the first catch 22... Regardless; if people understand the limits of rights and democracy there is no reason everyone has to be college edufied, even if they might democratically decide that is what they do want, and it is do-able..
If you had a whole nation of tea partiers, they could take this land, and as soon lose it because they have a childish, and weird idea or government... Regardless; the people are the law, and the will of the people should be law, and if the people may think that no one should have anything from government they don't pay for then only consider how much this people and our forefathers have invested in this land only to see the rich reap the fruit of that investment...
There is plenty for everyone, and certainly enough... And if government is costing too much; consider how much goes into the defense of wealth taken from this land and exported as capital around the world... If the tea party says that we can not export all of our industry, and still support world conquest; they must be right... They should consider how often national bankruptcy has been the primary cause of revolutions around the world, including our own...
Our government most certainly understands its precarious position, or it would not stoop to treating all Americans as suspects, terrorist, and enemies... They are afraid of us... That fact,- is what makes the government dangerous to us all...If the government only considered us all with the contempt so often reserved for the tea party, then we might all feel safe... The beligerent tone of the tea party marks them as radicals, but then, much of America is ready to go radical... Since so much of the anger of the tea party is directed at the people, I must ask: who do you hate???
You can't tell me you love some abstraction called America, and hate the people in it...The people are the only real part of this or any society...
Comment: #6
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Dec 25, 2013 4:30 PM
Re: Bob Marshall;... George Washington was certainly aware that in paying off the debts of the confederation, that many who wrote the constitution stood to vote themselves large sums of money... Jefferson warned against deficit spending, and the reason we have so much of it now is the income tax... The rich had privilages granted to them, but for the most part they paid for those privilages with taxes... This never stopped them from running up the debt and loading the cost on to the backs of other Americans...The debt has also excused the outrageous process of selling off the commonwealth, and if the rich did not own the government still, then the government would put pressure through taxes for the return of that wealth to the commonwealth... If the rich were paying the debt, they would be more careful what they blew their coin on... Instead, taxes on labor have run more and more people into poverty while it has protected wealth from taxation... Only the rich are in a position to direct wealth their own way through control of government, and if they throw the poor a bone- the nearly poor will pay for, who are they really helping???
From day one, the rich were given an edge with our constitution, and through their parties they have made our sole democratic body almost entirely unrepresentative of the people... The republican party would not hold the house if the popular vote counted... But then, districts are carved up to ensure the election of one party, and the denial of representation to vast number approaching 50% of the people... Mr. Williams is cynical to say politicians have to be smart, which amounts to lying well to get elected... The fact is that more and more the People of this land need their government to work while those on the right sabotage it... This people would reject the tea party and the right- if it were possible to do so, but not by a great margin... Look at what the rich have done with a small margin of profit, and much of the wealth... You have to build on your margin, and the right is marginalizing itself, pure and simple... Since the rank and file republicans and the tea party are led to believe they have morality on their side, and they have the guns; how do you think they will take being squeezed out of power, year after year because they are thought stupid and no one loves their guts??? I expect insurrection... What do you think???
Comment: #7
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Dec 25, 2013 4:54 PM
The Solicall Security, and Medicare funds are funds that were paid into by most of those receiving payment.
I totally agree that the government should not be in the business of give-aways. But these funds were created and paid into by law. By desire the social security fund has been raided and the interest on the money wasn't even replaced. Social security is still raided under SSI. Those who make to little money or those who worked under-the-table and never paid into the funds are drawing it. So don't tell us that as we age and need the funds that you are going to remove them. James Madison in 1794 and Grover Cleveland lived at a time when the governments job was to defend the country not house cloth and feed them.
Comment: #8
Posted by: M. Mobley
Mon Dec 30, 2013 4:47 PM
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