SINISTER CONSPIRACIES

When Hillary Clinton suggested to the press that allegations against her husband were the tactics of a Republican conspiracy against Bill's presidency, the press smirked and implied that Hillary was a borderline paranoid. "A conspiracy? In Washington? Why, whoever heard of such a thing!" It never occurred to anybody that the Republican Party IS a conspiracy against ANY Democrat holding office and vice versa. I guess the press just had a visceral reaction against the "c" word.

Our culture abounds with conspiracies, but we are trained from birth not to think of them as such. We call them "parties," "companies," "churches," "schools," "agencies," "charities," "clubs;" but when you get right down to it, conspiracies is what they are. A bunch of people get together and plan to take actions which will affect people beyond the membership of their own group. If that ain't a conspiracy, tell me what a conspiracy is.

When I was in high school I used to hang out with some kids whose parents were John Birchers. I always thought they were just a little eccentric, a little paranoid, although not dangerously so. Good for a chuckle as they checked under the bed for hidden communists and made their pessimistic predictions about how, decades in the future, elements within our own society would cause our own government to take ever increasing control over our wages and our schools and gradually restrict our freedoms until the United States became a de facto socialist country suffocating under the burden of government regulation of all aspects of our lives.

So here we are twenty-five years later, and it looks like they weren't so crazy after all. I still don't believe that there's an organized socialist conspiracy behind all this, but it is interesting to me just how accurate the Birchers were and how closely they guessed the timetable. They had picked up on a very real trend within our society and had invented a sinister-but-imaginary conspiracy to pin it on.

So if there isn't a sinister commie conspiracy at work, how did things get so out of hand? Where did all these laws come from? How come taxes only go up?

Here's the answer. Are you ready? We have lawmakers, thousands of them from the halls of congress to the most modest town council; but we have no law-unmakers. We've got vast mechanisms for cranking out new laws day after day, but we've got no mechanisms for wiping up yesterday's good intentions. So the laws just pile up and pile up.

Those lawmakers are motivated, too, because that's how they keep score. That's how they tell themselves and their constituents that they are good legislators. Look at their campaign ads. "Joe Candidate fought for this law. Joe Candidate sponsored that law. Joe Candidate voted for such and such." If Joe Candidate ran an ad saying, "Joe Candidate voted against everything Joe Candidate voted to discontinue entitlements for buggy whip makers," well, folks would say he wasn't much of a lawmaker because he didn't make any laws, and he surely lost the votes of the three buggy whip makers in his district, and I'm sure Joe Candidate's opponent ran attack ads depicting a buggy whip maker's family standing in rags on a snowy street corner, and heartless Joe Candidate probably got voted out because of that.

Because there is no mechanism for weeding our legislative garden, the lawbooks have understanbably become overgrown. And because the laws are cobbled together in a come-as-you-are, pay-as-you-go, just-patch-it-in-anywhere kind of way, anybody looking at our laws (our tax code for instance) will find them baffling, confusing, mysterious, even contradictory.

The good news, then, is that there is no organized sinister, left-wing conspiracy. The bad news is that we are doing all this bad stuff to ourselves on purpose--all the stuff we complain about. The system is just set up this way and we are too complacent to notice. Our government, like every government in history, will eat until it explodes. The Romans did it. The Egyptians did it. The smarmy 18th century Continental royal families did it. I'll bet the ancient Bablylonians and Hittites did it with the best of intentions, too, and where are they all today?

RTJ--7/6/98


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