Know the issues

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Within the last seven days, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and various Web pages have all featured articles on the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, generally describing it as a "political showdown" in the Show Me State.

There is no question that current U.S. Sen. Jim Talent has a formidable opponent in State Auditor Claire McCaskill, but the U.S. Senate is more important that just a race or game between two people to be played out in the media by polls, contribution comparisons, campaign schedules and advertising.

I will write more on this race later, and I hope both candidates will make every effort not to distort their opponent's records. Certainly their issue positions are different enough to give an informed voter a clear choice.

However, today I write to call attention to the recent McCaskill newspaper and radio ads that imply Talent is not on the side of Missouri ethanol producers and Missouri farmers.

The fact is that Talent has been endorsed for re-election by the 1,700-member Missouri Soybean Association for his "leadership on renewable fuels, his effectiveness in passing tax credits for biofuels and small producers."

Talent also has been endorsed by the Missouri Corn Growers.

McCaskill opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore drilling. I like to hear both candidates discuss nuclear-energy plants. (France gets 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants.) Nuclear plants are the cleanest and safest form of generating electricity.

The election is not until Nov. 7. That is three and a half months for Missouri voters to become better informed before casting their votes.

The complexity crisis: We are asking too much of our politicians. I am thinking about the huge and crushing number of issues we force politicians to understand and make decisions on. These are issues of great variety, complexity and, in some cases, unknowability.

All of us, as good citizens, feel we must know something about them, study them, come to conclusions. But there are too many, and they are too complicated, or the information on them is contradictory or incomplete.

For politicians it is the same but more so. They not only have to try to understand complicated and demanding questions, they have to vote on them.

We are asking our politicians, our senators and congressmen, to make judgments, decisions and policy on:

Stem-cell research, SDI, NATO composition, G-8 agreements, the history and state of play of judicial and legislative actions regarding press freedoms, the history of Sunni-Shiites tensions, Kurd, tax rate, federal spending, hurricane prediction and response, the building of a library annex in Missoula, the most recent thinking on when human life begins, including the thinking of the theologians of antiquity on when the soul enters the body, chemical weaponry, the Supreme Court, U.S.-North Korea relations, bioethics, cloning, public college curriculums, India-Pakistan relations, the enduring Muslim-Hindu conflict, the constitutional implications of McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform, homeland security, Securities and Exchange Commission authority, energy policy, environmental policy, nuclear proliferation, global warming, the stability of Venezuela's Chavez regime and its implications for U.S. oil prices, the future of Cuba after Castro, progress in gender bias as suggested by comparisons of the number of girls who pursued college-track studies in American public high schools circa 1950 to those on a college track today, outsourcing, immigration, the comparative efficacy of charter and magnet schools, land use, health care, HMOs, what to do with victims of child abuse, the history of marriage, the nature and origin of homosexuality, V-chips, foreign competition in the making of computer chips, fat levels in potato chips, national policy on the humanities, U.N. reform and privacy law.

And that was just this week.

Just seven days in the modern political world.

Luck for us, our congressmen and senators are smart as Einstein, good as Mother Teresa, knowledgeable as Henry Kissinger times Robert Kaplan and wise as Solomon.

Oh, wait.

We are asking too much. Of ourselves and of the mere mortals who lead us.

With their areas of responsibility defined as the world, the universe and the cosmos, is it any wonder our politicians and network anchors -- our most visible American leaders -- tend to act like they have attention-deficit disorder? In their professions, attention-deficit disorder is a plus.

The increasing complexity of everything is good for liberalism (government should be vital and large and bestow much) and not for conservatism (government should be smaller, less powerful, less demanding of the treasure and liberty of its citizenry).

When everything is a big, complicated morass, regular, normal people, voters, constituents become intellectually disheartened. They can also lose sight of core principles. A leftist who is Machiavellian in his impulses just might look at the lay of the land and think, Good, snow 'em under. They'll get confused. Keep hitting them with new issues and they'll start to make mistakes. They may stop us on gun control, but while they're busy fighting that we'll get Congress to mandate limits on CEO pay.

One feels as a voter not argued into agreement or persuaded into support, but complicated into submission.

How do politicians feel about it? I would like to think many of them, and I know some of them, occasionally have a drink with friends at night and let out their surprise and dismay. "I'm just a guy who loved politics! I buy my suits at Moe's Big and Tall! I'm not a theologian! I'm not a scientist! Don't make me make these decisions! I'm stupider than you understand!"

That turns into: "I'm not Plato! I'm not Socrates! Do you really want me to pretend I am?" -- Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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