Hobgoblin Watch: Navigating the floods of crises


The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. — H.L. Mencken

One of the biggest issues in the famed 1960 presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was the fate of Quemoy and Matsu, two islands off the coast of China. The future of democracy and freedom rested on whether those two islands were controlled by Communist China or Nationalist China, Beijing or Taiwan.

I had to look up the names of those two islands to complete this post, because they are essentially lost to history. It’s not hard to find a clear example of what H.L. Mencken called “hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” All you have to do is see what issues were tearing us apart 60 years ago, or 25 years ago, or last year, or last week, or today.

Down the hill from my home, Green Bay breathes. The bay, the water, that is. There were floods in 1973 and 1990 and just a few month ago. The water rises, the water recedes, in long, long cycles. That didn’t prevent people from warning 10 years ago that if the water continued to recede at the rate it was, in 100 years the bay would be gone – unless money was spent and new rules were put into place.

It’s true: If the water continued to recede at that rate, then it would all dry up … but a longer view made that alarming front-page news laughable, because the water does not recede indefinitely, nor does it rise until we are consumed. Sure enough, the water is near record highs again this spring. I dare to predict that it will go down, but in 20-ish years it will be back up.

I still remember the dollars and angst spent preparing for the Y2K meltdown, when all of our computers would stop working because they were programmed to respond to years expressed in two digits (87, 93, 99 … 00) and mass confusion would reign because our electronic companions didn’t know it was 2000 and not 1900.

This is how we sign our wealth and freedom away – the ruling class always has a new law, a new way to take our money and “make it better,” except “it” never needed fixing in the first place. “Making it better” more often than not involves a new restriction on liberty and a new “investment” of tax dollars. The “problem” is temporary or imaginary, but the proposed “solution” strips freedom and cash permanently.

If a practical politician is alarming you, before you clamor to be led to safety, dig a little deeper to see if the trouble is real or if – as is usually the case – it’s just another imaginary hobgoblin.