The noise of politics

I am a political scientist biased in favor of politics. I see it as the essence of civilization. One of the hallmarks is the line attributed to Winston Churchill, that jaw jaw is better than war war.
Verbal dispute is better than violence. And a corollary is that dispute followed by voting is the most civilized way of selecting one’s leadership, or letting the public decide an issue of public policy.
All that is true, but there is more.
Politics is only part of government, and in civilized societies, it is only a small part, but a noisy part.
Most of what governs us comes from administration, with an occasional input from courts keeping the bureaucrats in order.
The vast majority of politics is best described as blah blah, or the assertions of candidates and elected officials about what is best for us. We ignore most of what they say and write, or it's drowned out in the noise of other politicians competing for attention.
Jaw jaw is, without a doubt, better than war war, but it’s not much more than society’s way of venting its concerns.
We can measure all of this by the incidence of measures introduced to a legislature, as opposed to the incidence of them actually enacted into law.
A study of the US Congress in a recent year found that 9,342 bills were introduced into the House and Senate, while only 56 became law. We can only guess about how much of those enactments passed through the filters of the White House and Departments to eventual implementation. Other research finds that it ain’t likely to be much.
If politics is the sign of a healthy society, the constraints on politicians are part of what keeps it healthy.
We can view those constraints as the Ritalin of society, meant to keep our temptations to be overactive and excitable in check, or to keep us from drowning in our own good intentions. Call those constraints the understated elements in the separation of powers, or the overwhelming weight of professionals to modify or overlook what the politicians decide.
Some of those professionals are paid aides to legislators. Many more of them are the employees of government departments who actually decide what to implement, and how to do it.
There is little need for new legislation in established societies. The US has nearly 240 years of legislative history, along with archives full of the regulations enacted within the framework of those laws. Israel’s record is a lot shorter, with only 70 years of Knesset legislation. But there’s also about 2,500 years of rabbinical decisions that feed into the work of the Knesset, administrators, and judges.
The most recent blah blah of Knesset Members suggests that the findings about noise vs enactments in the US Congress may be about right for Israel’s parliament; and most likely the parliaments of other established democracies, whose archives are waiting to be mined by ambitious political scientists.
Most claims that we need a law aren't any more enlightening than commercials about tooth paste, cell phones, or retirement communities.
Israel’s State Comptroller is the equivalent of the US Government Accountability Office and a host of audit bodies associated with other governments. They record the features of enacted law that are not implemented, or not done as a fair reading of the legislation suggests. Their reports amount to thousands of pages annually, and in turn provoke journalists to summarize their reports and highlight the most interesting aspects of what is not done.
Is all this a shame and a waste of time and resources? Or the price that is appropriate for keeping us relatively peaceful and orderly?
Both the US and Israel are involved in what’s likely to be very long processes of criticizing, investigating, and maybe holding their chief executives to account is what may ultimately be dismissal or jail time.
Ultimately is a long time.
It shouldn’t be easy getting rid of an elected official. Using a guillotine or gallows in a prominent place is quick and entertaining, but is likely to produce an ongoing process that can get to you or me.
Serious inquiry can find a lot that is unpleasant, distasteful, and even corrupt in what has come from the White House of Donald Trump or the Prime Minister’s Office of Benjamin Netanyahu. One can pity the judges who will eventually sit through months or years of hearing evidence and defense in the case of Bibi, and reading the tons of evidence being produced. An indictment may force his resignation. Polls are showing that a majority of Israelis think he is guilty of something, but he is still the favorite among the list of those hoping to become Prime Minister.
American procedures are more complex, with constitutional provisions of impeachment so far difficult enough to be useless.
Tricky Dick’s forced resignation gives some hope to those wanting to dump Trump, but so far none of the issues being discussed has done the job.
The most recent brouhaha over what he said during and after meeting with Vladimir Putin makes us wonder how the Americans managed to put someone so unreliable and unbelievable in the White House.
Many Israelis applaud his statements about Bibi, Jerusalem, and the Palestinians. Others wonder about trust in a man whose record is more like Neville Chamberlain at Munich than George Washington and the cherry tree.
Politics is a cynic’s paradise. Sound and fury productive of nothing but more of the same.
It’s appropriate to close with yet another reminder that it’s a symptom of a working civilization, better than most alternatives.
And they all provide enough room for us to get on with our lives without too much attention to politics. Enthusiasm for socialism has departed from the desirable places, to be replaced with mixed economies. Our American friends are struggling on the margins of civilization—killing themselves at rates far above the norm, seeing even more guns as the solution, with many of the activists working to keep taxes below anyone else’s and to assure that there’ll not be decent health care affordable for anyone but themselves.
Serious folks are worrying about Trump’s heroic efforts to protect American workers with higher tariffs, and what he’ll produce for those workers and the rest of us who depend at least a bit on a stable US economy.
It could be worse. More of those proposals might be enacted and implemented.
Make you own noise.