An Open Letter to Sara

by Don Boudreaux on August 29, 2008

in Politics

Dr. Boudreaux,

Why are you so bitter about politics? Why so cynical? Why don’t you give candidates and office holders the benefit of the doubt when they say they want to help others?


This e-mail just appeared in my e-mailbox.  I have no idea who Sara is, but rather than answer her privately, I’ll answer her here.

Dear Sara:

Thanks for writing.  I often say, quite sincerely, that I’m not cynical about politics; I’m realistic about politics.

If a stranger knocks on your door and tells you that he or she is here for the express purpose of helping you, of serving you, of making your life better — not because of anything that he or she will gain by doing so, but because he or she believes in your goodness and knows that you deserve more than you have — what would you think?  Would you give this person the benefit of the doubt, and trust that he or she really and truly is motivated chiefly and overwhelmingly by a desire to serve you?

Would you continue to give this person the benefit of the doubt on this score when he or she informs you that, to help you, he or she must have the power to tax you and to take away some of your liberties?  When he or she assures you that, by some mysterious process, he or she "feels your pain"?  When he or she modestly exclaims that those other persons standing on your porch ready to make pretty much the same offer cannot possibly care about you as much as he or she cares about you — cannot possibly have sufficient skill, determination, and wisdom to improve your life; that only he or she possesses these qualities?

Would that benefit of the doubt continue to be given when you learn that, should you decide to trust this stranger with some of your wealth and your liberties, he or she will get lots of prestige and acclaim and applause simply because he or she holds power over you?

And would you persist in giving this person the benefit of the doubt when, should you ask probing questions about his or her motives or about inconsistencies you believe to have spotted in the plans he or she laid out for helping you, he or she suddenly begins dissembling or speaking in platitudes or vague generalities, or launches into stories of his or her past glory in some endeavor or other that has little to do with the power that he or she now seeks from you?

I suspect, Sara, that should such a person arrive at your door and deliver such a spiel to you that you’d quickly slam the door in his or her face, convinced (and correctly so) that that person is either an utter goofball or a supremely arrogant busybody.  You’d want nothing at all to do with him or her, and if he or she persisted in knocking on your door you’d call the police or your bouncer-friend Bubba to escort this obnoxious person as far away from your home as possible.

So, if you’d not give such a person the benefit of the doubt, why in the world are you surprised that I don’t give Barack Obama, John McCain, or any other successful politician you care to name the benefit of the doubt?

Don Boudreaux


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