Today’s Guest Saturday post comes to us from Pat Slattery of The Free Market Project. He originally published his essay on September 29, 2013.
Power vs Empowerment
The other day I was thinking about the difference between Democrats and Republicans. It came down to two words for me: power and empowerment.
Power, in political terms, is the ability to force people to do what you want, to control them. It accumulates only at the top, in the elite. Progressives are all about power. It is all about giving power to an elite group that will control the masses. The belief being that the wise, intellectual, and compassionate people at the top will make better decisions for the people than the people could make for themselves, therefore they should be in control. That is the Democrat party of today.
Empowerment is giving others power over their own lives. From a political point of view, it is the dispersion of power to the masses, with the philosophical perspective that the people know what is in their own best interests and that they are perfectly capable of making decisions and taking actions that help themselves (and others, without coercion). That is the “conservative” point of view, or, if you will, the libertarian point of view. It is supposed to be what the Republican party represents.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why Democrats, those on the left, who are supposed to be the free thinkers, the ex-hippies who are all about freedom and free expression, have come to believe so strongly in big government and the accumulation of power in a ruling elite. Those in the elite, I understand. They want power and have the unbelievably huge egos that allow them to believe that they can make better decisions for the masses of individual citizens of the United States than they can make for themselves. But for the rank and file Democrats… What the hell are they thinking? Do they understand that what they are supporting is people who want to control their lives? Thousands of regulations that control their businesses and their property. Laws that tell them they must buy insurance covering whatever the state decides must be covered, that tell them what they can consume, and that increasingly dictate what they can do.
It’s like the political world has flipped on it’s head and the terms are no longer meaningful. “Conservatives” are the ones that want to free people to express themselves, politically, economically, and to live they way they see fit. Conservatives want progress for people, empowering them to rise to whatever level their own creativity, knowledge, and work ethic can allow them to achieve. The result is progress, whether it be in economic terms, or in terms of invention, innovation, increased standard of living, or expression of one’s own will.
“Progressives” pigeon hole people into static groups economically, utilizing what is supposed to be benevolence to hold them, particularly the poor, in position. Their redistribution harms the possibility of economic growth, while doing little for the poor and middle class other than keeping them stuck in place. They are purely political, which means that those who play ball are given access to the elite, while the average person has no such access, and, worse, the result is that those with access become increasingly successful (due to special deals, carve-outs, exceptions, etc. to laws and regulations that harm others) regardless of whether or not they are creative, innovative, efficient, and effective. It’s no longer about worthiness, it’s about access. The result is not progress, it is regression. The Democrats who were the “let it all hang out” party have become the party that accumulates power in the hands of the few who dictate to the masses how they can and should live their lives.
I think this message of the difference between power and empowerment is one that should enter our conversation. We (conservatives/libertarians) want people empowered to live their lives the way they want. The “Conservative” part is about adherence to the Constitution, which is all about constraining the accumulation of power in the federal government, and giving the people the freedom to create and live their own lives in the way they saw fit. More or less strict adherence to those principles created the most dynamic and upwardly mobile nation in the world. Now, the shift to an increasingly powerful federal government, with power focused at the top, in an elite, is suppressing the people and, very obviously, robbing us of our dynamism, our freedom, and our quality of life. The Republican party, the conservative/libertarian types, need to make it clear that the mission is empowerment of a free people to create great lives for themselves. I’ve long thought that the contrast is best expressed as: We believe in people. They believe in government.