On The Third Day ...
By William Westmiller
All right, I didn't exactly create every computer. But, if Al Gore can take credit for creating the Internet, I can take credit for creating computers. After all, I bought one of the first TRS-80 microcomputers at the dawn of the digital age. If I hadn't done that, the microcomputer revolution might never have gotten off the ground. Which simply demonstrates the absurdity of the credit or blame game, played with alacrity by nearly every politician.
If you'd like to play the game, be sure you know the rules and the relevant facts. Republicans wanted to blame the Clinton administration for lapses in security at Los Alamos, allegedly compromising nuclear technology. While blaming executives for the lapses of a single employee is within the rules, the relevant facts may cast a pall over Ronald Reagan's Energy Department, not Clinton's. Ooops. If Los Alamos sent a nuclear researcher to China with instructions to cooperate in a scientific exchange program, it was done under the watch of a Republican administration. Boomerang play in the blame game.
The first rule of the game is to fudge. Don't try to claim credit for low inflation. Instead, take credit for encouraging policies that reduced inflationary pressures. Of course, everyone can take that kind of credit, since it has almost no meaning. I reduced inflation by choosing not to refinance my house last year. Not even Alan Greenspan would claim credit for low inflation. He just responded to the effects of billions of economic decisions by people like me, or people not like me. The simple fact is that -- in a non-totalitarian state -- all economic activity is produced by a complex and dynamic relationship among every player. So, you can claim you played a part, but don't claim credit for the entire effect simply because you were present when it occurred.
Talk to the beneficiaries of your efforts, not the victims. During the course of the coming campaign, politicians will associate themselves with the benefits derived from all kinds of political favors. When your congress person cuts a ribbon for that new bridge, he'll take credit for getting the funding. No votes are won by taking the blame for the consequences of diverting those funds from yourpaycheck. No politician wants to stand up and beg forgiveness for taking money from you that might have made your life much better, even if your sacrifice made it possible to build a beautiful bridge to nowhere. The rule for claiming credit is to focus on the aggregate benefit, not the distributed consequences.
Facts tend to diminish bluster. If you're going to claim credit for improving education, make sure education has improved. If you're going to claim credit for a federal budget surplus, make sure the debt didn't increase. If you're going to claim credit for the drug war, make sure we didn't lose it a long time ago. If you're going to claim credit for creating the Internet, make sure it wasn't established before you were born. Remember that a fool is one who doesn't know that he doesn't know the facts.
The credit and blame game is all about cause and effect. If you want to play the game, you need to take note of some truths about cause and effect.
Precedence does not establish cause. Just because one thing happened before another doesn't mean the one caused the other. Ronald Reagan's wonderful exclamation "Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachev!" didn't necessary necessarily mean that the Berlin Wall was torn down because he insisted that it should be torn down. The cause may very well have been that some petty East German bureaucrat realized that the wall simply wasn't working. I was watching that wall being torn down and didn't see Mr. Gorbachev wielding a sledge hammer.
It's almost never the case that the last act was the cause of the effect. There never was a "straw that broke the camel's back," it was all the other straws that were already there, in combination with that last straw, that caused the effect. The Dow Jones Industrial Average won't break 10,000 because IBM stock went up 3 points, but rather because of all the other stocks that have increased in value over the past century. When the stock market crashes to 8,000, it won't be because of the latest "bimbo eruption" on capitol hill, it'll probably be a result of the slow loss of "irrational exuberance" on the part of a few million investors. The inverse is also true. The first act, followed by sequential effects, is rarely the cause of the final outcome.
Finally, let me thank Al Gore for making it possible for me to email my thoughts over the Internet. Since I'm not buying 500 stamps, the postoffice will probably have to close. Thank you, Mr. Gore.
©1999, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24 CA) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
created.c39 ~840 Words
Get New Columns via Email