Wonks and Derivative Issues

Jeffrey Tucker, in an article published at mises.org, introduced a dichotomous classification of political philosophies.  He divided those who are politically active into two camps: geeks and wonks.
...Political wonks are fascinated by process. They love the game. They get as much satisfaction from observing as changing. They want to be players above all else. Ideals bore them. History is mere data. Intellectuals seem irrelevant. What matters to the wonk are the hard realities of the ongoing political struggle. They defer to title and rank. They thrive on meetings, small victories, administrative details, and gossip about these matters. Knowing who is who and what is what is the very pith of life.

There are political wonks and policy wonks. They exist on all levels of society. They appear to be running things, because their aim is to control the levers of power in just the right and strategic way, which means in a way that benefits the other wonks of their tribe. Geographically, life begins and ends in the beltway. They thrive on keeping information private and cartelizing their class. Their newspaper is the Washington Post, which they consider to be the insider report.

In contrast to this are the policy geeks. They are no less fascinated by detail but are drawn to ideals. Observation alone bores them. They are drawn to the prospect of change. They don't want to be players as such; they question the very rules of the game and want to change them. They are happy to make a difference in the ideological infrastructure, whether big or small. They tend to work alone and totally disregard caste distinctions. They are interested not in the surface area but what's underneath, not the veneer but the wood. In software terms, they are forever looking forward to the next build. They are risk takers, so they prefer to debug after the system is live....
I rather enjoyed Mr. Tucker's article and, of course, find myself firmly in the camp of political geek.  I despise the wonk outlook, which is probably why I struggle to watch television during election season.  They are consumed with what I consider derivative issues - ones that are related to secondary matters not fundamental principles.  The wonks are chattering:

  • Who prepped Obama for the first debate (if anyone)?  Maybe his poor showing was due to the altitude.  
  • How is the race shaping up in the battleground states?
  • How was Obama's performance in the second debate?  Let's fact check the tid bits - and oh - here are the top 10 sound bites
  • How about a comparison of the candidate's pensions and some sexual innuendo? 
  • For the love of God, can someone please tell me where Obama is going to hold his election night rally?!

The most egregious manifestation of the wonk obsession with derived issues is the person who votes dependent on whether or not a candidate is "electable" (most often in reference to a third party candidate like Gary Johnson or a primary election long-shot like Ron Paul).  How circular is that?  Prepare to have your mind blown: perhaps these candidates would be more electable if more people voted their principles and fewer watched the polls. 

It's not just that I want to hear a higher percentage of principled debate (Is it right to tax the rich more than the poor? When and how should we deploy armies overseas? What is the government's role in child rearing? etc.).  I want to her only these things.  Tell us the principles of the candidates, what there goals are in office, how they view the role of the state, then let's skip to celebrity DUIs and let the chads fall where they may. 

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