In the shower this morning, I was thinking of writing an April Fool's post where I made up some junk about how common sense took over in Washington DC and in the nation's collective psyche. But once I got to work, I stopped really caring enough to put out that kind of effort. I don't feel like being creative. Being pissed off and introspective is so much easier.
So to my delight, I came across a completely apolitical article on Slate about the juxtaposition of economics and dictatorship in Zimbabwe. I, of course, found a great political lesson in the story. Now, Zimbabwe is one of those countries that is so far outside of the average American's conscious that it may as well be on Mars. (Actually, Mars has been stirring up a lot of imagination lately - a lot more than Sub-Saharan Africa has since Henry Stanley asked, "Dr. Livingston, I presume?".)
Zimbabwe is a virtual dictatorship, having an evil ruler-for-life, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was the first leader in the country since the end of apartheid there in 1980, but his regime has been marked by violence and intimidation. Anyway, the point is he's a sucky leader and his people are starving. Why? Well, Zimbabwe isn't what you would call "developed". They can't seem to grow enough food to feed themselves and have in the past relied on food aid from other countries. Due to the shortages, the government has taken control of food distribution and has actually outlawed private sales of food. In theory this makes sense - there's not enough food to go around and since food happens to be essential to life, which most Americans agree everyone is entitled to (plus liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but that's another story). The government's role is to make sure that food does not enter the open market where it can potentially outprice the poorest people (of which there are many) thus causing great starvation and death.
Preventing starvation and death of its citizens is a primary function of government, one that even the most hardened Libertarians might agree with (although the most hardened Objectivists probably won't). Unfortunately, Mugabe has royally screwed this ideal up. You see, in order to remain in power despite the fact that the country is a democracy, he rewards loyalty and punishes dissent. (Starting to sound familiar?) Citizens of Zimbabwe are scared to vote against him. The vote is anonymous, but Mugabe's party looks at the results from each district. The districts that give Mugabe an overwhelming landslide tend to get more food and more attention from the party. The districts that vote for the opposition, even a little bit, have a tendency to starve to death because of "bureaucratic errors" and maybe the schools or clinics run out of money.
This is where the Slate story ends, and it's a sad story. Of course it's wrong for the government to withhold food from people simply for voting the way they want. One of the most wonderfully amazing things about the United States government is the orderly transfer of power. Losing incumbents might bitch and groan, but when inauguration day rolls around, the lights are turned off and the key is left in the lock for the next person. And we don't ask you to swear your allegiance to the flag, the president, or the city councilmember before you vote or get water service or pick up your Medicare check.
Maybe you see where this is going. Bush's main doctrine is "Loyalty". You may recall in 2004, Bush refused to speak at the NAACP convention - the first President in 75 years not to do so. The NAACP is not exactly a Republic stronghold. Its leaders regularly criticize Bush's policies and appointments. And 80%+ of Black voters in the US vote Democrat. Bush supporters countered, "Why should Bush pay attention to them, if they didn't even vote for him?" Conservative pundits fueled the fire. Bill O'Reilly said in an interview, "...the blacks hate Bush, NAACP hates Bush. And I wouldn't take the chance if I'm the chief executive of this country." Trying to appear "fair and balanced", he later said, "I do think the Republicans should reach out to the African-American community, because now they have something to offer. The Republican Party has a lot to offer blacks, I believe, and they should try to sell it. They should try to come on in and, as you said, siphon off some votes..." In other words, the only legitimate reason to address an organization that represents up to 13% of the population is because you might be able to get votes??? You may not realize it, or you may be in denial, but this is a major shift in US policy. We are not Zimbabwe, but maybe you can see faint shadows of Mugabe's regime in our current political climate...