Why I Write
I was born in Iowa, raised in the mountains of Virginia, and attended Virginia Tech sporadically from 1974 to 1976 before dropping out to try my luck writing. At some point in the late 1970s, individual liberty became my highest political value and I resolved to do what I could to defend it. I had seen the federal government sabotage the currency, ravage southeast Asia with an unjust war, and tumble into disgrace with the Watergate scandal. The pratfalls of the Carter administration, following the depravity of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, spurred a sense of impending political and economic collapse.
After moving to the Washington area in 1980, I was appalled to see what passed for good writing inside the Beltway. The prevailing standards seemed designed to make magazine and newspaper subscribers regret ever learning to read. Many articles resembled a numbing four-hour politburo speech. Voiceless prose with a low-watt righteous drone was the tacit ideal. “Go team, go!” was the epitome of literary excellence. There was nothing to learn from the vast majority of pieces except which side of a dispute the author favored. Alternatively, some writers prided themselves on being perpetually overwrought—a blight that reached epidemic levels after the election of Donald Trump.
If I was expecting mental stimulation in Washington, I came to the wrong place. “Political thought” consists of making accusations or making excuses, and not much more. DC’s “mental currents” usually let only the froth rise to the top. Any idea not immediately profitable to one of the political parties or major interest groups usually sinks without a trace. As French essayist Paul Valery warned, “At every step, politics and freedom of mind exclude each other.”
I was astounded at the paltry evidence used in Washington controversies. Policy clashes were dominated by competing groups of know-nothings or know-almost-nothings. Combatants seemed unable to comprehend anything that happened prior to the most recent congressional recess. Perusing federal audit reports from prior years was considered akin to excavating an ancient Egyptian tomb. Because few people bothered becoming well informed, the city was easy prey for intellectual con artists.
According to politicians and their media collaborators, government is practically a hovercraft floating along and gently guiding and assisting people on the road of life. The state that I had met on my life’s pathways was often oppressive, incompetent, and venal. I saw no profit in delusions about the benevolence of officialdom. Instead, I realized that idealism on liberty demands brutal realism on political power.
“A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case,” according to nineteenth-century humorist Finley Peter Dunne. Similarly, I assumed that if only folks knew the facts of the matter about the government, they would rise up and demand an end to the injustices they suffer daily. Did I presume that political truth would set Americans free? Maybe I was not that naïve, but I still thought that damning facts would wake up enough Americans to stop government from destroying everyone’s freedom.
Floundering programs survived in part because critics’ prose was often more impenetrable than a Federal Register notice. I savored the challenge of translating federal idiocy from tangled jargon into plain English. My goal was to write “not that the reader may understand, but that he must understand,” as the ancient Roman rhetorician Quintilian advised. If I could lucidly explain government shenanigans, perhaps people would finally recognize how political and bureaucratic racketeering were leading the nation astray.
Some editors appreciated how I scavenged up hard facts to buttress hardline views. Spending time in federal agency libraries and rifling through their archives, I saw how government power was stockpiled by lie after lie. While the specific deceits vanished into the memory hole, politicians’ prerogatives continually grew. I saw that, time and again, early opponents foresaw and forecast how new programs would crash and burn but their alarms were ignored. The system seemingly conspired to bury all evidence of its debacles.
In ancient Greece, the famous cynic philosopher Diogenes scoffed at a rival who had “practiced philosophy for such a long time and never yet disturbed anyone.” I had the same view on writing, though admittedly I’ve been biased toward raising a ruckus since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. But in Washington, much of what passes for journalism is simply shilling for Leviathan. It was impossible to overstate the servility of reporters proud to serve as “stenographers with amnesia.”
In contrast, I was one of those philistines who gave no credence to an agency’s mission statement. After I wrote a piece in 1983 lambasting a new program to lavish subsidies on businesses purportedly to train workers, an assistant secretary of labor denounced my “callously cynical concept of the American free enterprise system” and wailed that “Bovard was determined to disparage all government efforts without giving President Reagan’s reforms a chance.” Actually, I was happy “to disparage all government efforts” doomed to repeat past failures.
I learned how to smell a “policy rat” and relished hounding and pounding wayward federal agencies and vexing scoundrels of all political parties and creeds. If you could make government a laughingstock, then the battle is half won. As H.L. Mencken quipped, “One horse laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.” From a federal jobs program that built an artificial rock for rock climbers to practice on, to federally paid “artists” who groped each other’s naked bodies to recognize “male and female characteristics,” to AmeriCorps recruit
Article from Mises Wire