Bill Murchison

I haven't yet inquired of the most intelligent person I know, but I think she'd endorse a critical element in Alan Greenspan's critique of the Republican party, as conveyed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Said Greenspan: "The Republican Party, which [after 2000] ruled the House, the Senate, and the presidency, I no longer recognize. It's fundamentally been focusing on how to maintain political power, and my question is, for what purpose?"

Oh, what a question -- "for what purpose?" Early in matrimony, Nancy Taylor Murchison drew my attention to a consideration afflicting organizations of one kind or another -- namely, neglect of the question, what the blue blazes are we trying to do here? What's the endgame?

These are questions, as my wife noted, drawing on her experience in the volunteer world, that many organizations never get around to asking, generally to their considerable cost. If you don't know what you're trying to do, you're -- shall we say -- not likely to succeed in doing it.

What's the broad purpose of controlling the House, the Senate and the presidency? I don't mean the discrete purposes related to the performance of particular missions, such as reforming Social Security, because why reform in the first place? To extend freedom -- wouldn't that be a vital purpose? Or, looked at in another way, to undergird "security." Nothing wrong with either purpose, so long as you keep that purpose, or both of them, in mind as you propose and formulate.

By contrast, if the main thing you do is calculate what helps you keep the power the voters just bestowed on you, your eyes are likely to wander from the central element. The Big Idea shrinks and shrivels. How can we sell this thing? When that question becomes the glue holding the debate together, you're in big trouble.

Politics being politics -- a game of infinite slipperiness -- we expect of politicians a fair showing of craft, calculation and stage-management. We know, too, the seductions of power and its tendency to corrupt.

We don't quite know, but kind of suspect, that if the seraphim came to control the levers of national power, it wouldn't be long before one was whispering, angelically, to another, "Say, is the Chamber of Commerce OK with the capital gains tax plan?" and the second was whispering back, "Yeah, yeah, but look, on import quotas..."

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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