Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Politics and a Meme

Liberality tagged me and has asked that I answer these questions. And I'll do so because she asked me this directly, and because this is a good post to do from the road. But...

You may have noticed, if you've read my blog for long, that while I'm a fan of some very politically outspoken blogs (Politits, Liberality, OKJimm's Eggroll Emporium, etc.) I'm not one to discuss my practical political decisions on my blog. I'll comment on theirs, where the subject is already in play, but I don't tend to get into it on mine. Why? I'm not totally sure.

I think, though, that it's something akin to my "cow in pasture" status where my religious convictions and practice are concerned. I've been an active evangelist in my time, protestant and Roman Catholic, and I know what it is to have a cause and to crusade for it - door to door. But I am currently quite disillusioned about human organizations of many kinds, especially churches, and I recall my brother-in-law's father's comment about the horrific politics in the Baptist church he attended with this wife: "I feel a lot closer to God standing here watching my cows." I'll go him one further and say I feel closer to God when I relate as if I were one of his cows, escaped from a closed, claustrophobic, confusing, evening frightening place (church community), to the crisp frosty air of my open pasture. This "hands off; not sure where I am; don't presume to tell others" thing extends to some ethical issues, too, at the moment, and it's not much of a walk from there to politics. Not much of a walk at all. So I tend to watch from the side, and shake my head a lot before going back to chewing my cud.

But since Liberality asked, I'll see what happens if I work out some replies. And it isn't as if I don't have some strong opinions - I just hesitate to presume they're what others should believe. The answers below represent what I see and how I think about this - but others have different information, priorities, and contexts. I get that. I RESPECT that.

1) What is your name (nickname, whatever you're comfortable sharing), your age (range), gender, occupation, income bracket (range), how you identify (gay/straight/whatever)? Married/Single/Divorced? Kids (how many)?

Steve (my neighborhood poker nickname is Squidward, after the character on Spongebob Squarepants, when one of our other poker regulars commented that I sounded a bit like him, and everyone laughed and the idea stuck - you don't get to pick your own nickname...), I'm 47 years old for the third time (last year I mistakenly said I was 47 all year - I did 37 when I was 36, the same way - I seem to have some mental block about the "6"s - and while my birthday is in December, and some regaled my turning 47 (again, in my mind) in 12/2008, I had declared to immediate family that I was tired of my birthday landing in the ridiculously stressful days before Christmas, and in the darkest 6 days of the year, and I was moving my birthday to April. So I did it again (that makes three if you've been counting) in May (April didn't work out and the convenient thing about a birthdate by fiat is you can then do it whenever you want - so I did.), I'm male, I'm in the healthcare software industry, I make in the upper 5 digits, I'm as straight as anyone can be without the slightest discomfort with others being otherwise (no interest, fatasies, attraction, or inclination toward men whatsoever - and I find nearly all women attractive in some way), ecstatically happily married to my highschool sweetheart, and we have three kids.

2) What are the most important issues to you in this presidential election and why?

Being extremely aware that the President will largely control foreign policy and our current wars, while only having influence and veto power over nearly everything else (the rest is for Congress to do), I am looking for the right influence on Congress (and use of veto power) and someone who will mend our fences with the rest of the world and get us correctly out of Iraq and (later, I think) Afghanistan. The Supreme Court, and who the President might appoint in the next 4-8 years also matter to me. Finally, both candidates are, unfortunately, in greater than normal risk of not surviving their term(s), so their running mates matter to me more than in any prior race since I turned 18.

3) Why do you think voters should vote for Obama/Biden, what differentiates this ticket from McCain/Palin?

I wonder what I would have done with this question (and the rest of this meme) if I were leaning towards McCain? I think McCain's policies are less a result of careful thought, and his decisions are dangerously capricious. I think Obama has the right frame of mind and has run his campaign in a way that persuade me that he will choose wisely the Cabinet that will advise him, and will actually run the Executive Branch of our government. An awesome amount of practical power and capability for real good or harm is in the hands of the non-elected people who actually make our government work - this is true for all three branches. Our shadow government. So those good choices are some of the most important events for tens of thousands of other little decisions that actually add up to the real impact on the environment, statecraft, energy policy, handling of our national lands, border control, defense, and on and on. I also think Obama is far more in touch with the complex new world we live in. Finally, I think Obama is less influenced by the mess already in Washington (which is not to say he is not a political animal, with connections and success based on one of the most organized political machines in the country - Chicago, IL) and that he truly represents more chance for real change.

4) If McCain/Palin wins this election, where do you see our country going in the next four years?

I see the country headed for more of the same, which would be bad for statecraft, environment, our military, freedoms, even our safety, which the war on terror has not increased (au contraire, as Grenouille would say). I also think McCain will surround himself with people who already think as he does, or will reflect his views (and we have way too much of that already), and if he fails to survive his term, Sarah Palin is in no way prepared to be a good President, and would be even more inclined to surround herself with "yes" people. Frankly that was a concern for Hillary Clinton as President, as well. These people have a reputation and history of not liking dissent. That does not build strength into a team - just uniformity of word coming from the White House. A little confusion of message would be preferable to monolithic opinion when the views held are one dimensional and damaging to the world and to the country. Finally, I think McCain is likely to be capricious in his decisions - standing firm where he ought to listen and consider changing his mind (this is a Bush hallmark - he calls it leadership, I call it mulishness) - and bending to public opinion where he ought to stand firm (largely in response to opinion polls). I think Obama is more likely to listen to diverse opinions, be honest about changes of course, and steer a course based on conviction and intellectual consideration. His experience as an academic helps with all of that. I could be wrong, but I think it more likely with Obama.

5) Economically, where do you think this country is today and how do you think Obama/Biden can make a positive impact?

I think the country is teetering on the edge of a serious economic downturn. Probably not as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s, and probably not as mild as the dot com bust of 1999/2000. I'd bet we'll still be feeling its effects five years from now. If it adds significantly to the national deficit, it will have impact for far longer. I believe we ALL got ourselves there by (like before the Great Depression) creating a lot of fake wealth through financial instruments and use of credit that amounted to pyramid schemes on an international scale. Someone has to pay the bill - it will be all of us, in the end. And, as with all pyramid schemes, those who got into the game last will suffer the most - I mean people who bought houses at the end of the boom, for overinflated prices, with credit instruments that should never have been in use, in order to purchase much more than they could really afford. I do believe some of the interventions being done now to prevent collapse of large institutions, which are essential economic pillars, will keep the economic slump from more disastrous fallout, but it means that some of the worst perpetrators of the mess will not get their just deserts. That's life - it ain't fair. I do wish the CEOs getting away with big golden parachutes could be stripped of them. I do hope we do something for many people who will lose their homes - not people who bought homes to speculate, or bought McMansions instead of something sensible for their income bracket, but ordinary homes in markets that were artificially inflated due to speculation. How we can separate the innocent victims from guilty speculators is beyond me - I don't trust government to do a good job discerning that - we may just have to save them all or none. Again - it ain't fair, but...

I believe the President has minimal impact on the economy and the economic policies of the country - that's Congress' purview (laws and regulation, taxes, protectionism, repealing regulations, etc.) AND mostly the work of forces in the economy itself (individual fiscal habits of every American, market forces, collective attitudes about value and the state of the economy, etc.) I believe Congress' actions on the economy in the past, and regulation of the economy, cause larger unintended consequences than intended consequences, and in general I think legislation in economic affairs is like swinging a bag full of cats in the dark while blindfolded. The economy is huge, made up of incredibly complex energies and impulses (because they are inside billions of individual people), and NO ONE really understands it well enough to know what will happen if we put a big hand HERE and push JUST SO. Neither candidate shows a compelling grasp of the economic reality we are in - and both are suggesting a mash-up of odds and ends that is likely to do as much harm as good. Both are playing to their constituents with little risk of having to deliver, since Congress has to actually do any of the things they are proposing and the President (whichever) can just toss up his hands in dismay if it doesn't happen.

I'm more concerned about Congress and the Fed than I am the President, where the economy is concerned. And I'm not sure intervention will help or harm.

6) In the past 8-years, how do you think this country has changed under the Bush regime? Have you been affected by these changes? If so, in what ways?

I believe the country has lost ground on our relationships around the world, environmental efforts, education (No Child Left Behind is just pushing our educational system even more towards testing, and testing is not a good motivation for real learning OR teaching), and other fronts. But the big issue, and it might have happened under ANY administration after 9/11, is that we have lost freedoms. I would like to think that under a different President we might have done less to damage our reputation for Justice... I am referring to what I believe will be our current administration's most remembered historical legacies, fabricating whole cloth out of minimal evidence in order to justify a preemptive war, the prison in Guantanemo, and the lack of full respect for human rights for prisoners. We have repeated, on a smaller but meaner scale, the mistakes of the Japanese internment during WW II. We let fear over-rule our respect for human beings, and we have played into the hands of the very enemies we feared (Al Quaeda et. al.) while eroding the respect of the rest of the world for our political system. Democracy is a terrible system of government, but all the other forms are even worse. Democracy needs all the help it can get, especially in the third world, but the Bush Administration has given democracy a black eye by making it look more like a sham - only something we practice when there is little cost or risk to certain Americans, and something to cast aside when we feel threatened. We changed the rules in the middle of the game when we felt we weren't winning anymore.

Personally I have not suffered under the Bush Administration, other than consequences we will ALL suffer due to our reduced reputation in the world, and reduced safety due to an increase of enemies. But personally I also feel soiled and dismayed, as if our team had been caught cheating, or were guilty of being bad sports.

7) I have read that Palin is considered the new voice of feminism, which is offensive in my opinion. Of equal concern are her views on abortion and the removal of books from libraries. I'd like to know what you think about all of that and how you feel about McCain choosing Palin as a running mate. And what kind of message you think that sends to women?

I do not propose to understand feminism, even after hundreds of hours of very open conversation with my brilliant wife, who is deeply read and deeply thoughtful on this topic. I consider it to be like many issues facing the Gay and Lesbian members of our society. I sympathize, I will speak out for their freedoms, but my position of privilege (white heterosexual male) makes it impossible for me to presume to understand their position. I'm standing in the wrong place to see it clearly. Again, that doesn't lead to a passive view of their rights - I'm relatively fierce about freedom and equality under the law for everyone. I just don't have a clue what Palin means for feminism or women. I'm not either one.

But I am deeply uncomfortable with many of her convictions, as I see evidence that she will follow them to the harm of people and to the loss of individual freedoms. I also have a hunch that she will confuse personal preference and taste for moral absolutes and political necessities, as Bush has done, only even more blindly and stridently. There is a general lack of thoughtfulness that I find deeply disconcerting. She grossly oversimplifies things. Oversimplification, plus strident beliefs, plus power tends to equal autocracy. I've seen it dozens of times in my personal/work life, and history abounds with examples, as well. Autocrats hate freedom (for anyone else).

I believe John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin is the act which most disqualifies him for the Presidency. She is not in any way experienced enough for the top job (it has nothing to do with her gender, though due to history there are probably far fewer women with the right experience as yet - that's changing, thank goodness), and he is being naive or stupid to think there is little or no chance that she will get an unelected crack at it. His choice shows a willingness to risk the welfare of the entire nation in order to play long odds to win the election - and if that's how he values the country, he's got too low an appraisal of all of us to sit at that desk in the Oval Office.

And if we elect McCain/Palin, we might deserve that appraisal... but our kids don't.

12 comments:

DCup said...

I wondered if you would participate in this. I'm very glad you did.

I'm glad you focused particularly on our international relationships. It's odd, isn't it, that in this time of the shrinking world and a global economy and the growth of multi-national companies that have no national allegiance, that our current Administration would risk our reputation the way it has.

I also heartily agree with your last paragraph.

Karen said...

Amen to this post! A big Palin-esque AMEN. To me, McCain's selection for running mate shows him to be dishonorable, and I never suspected him of that. He didn't have my vote anyway, but it's still very disappointing. I know that Palin is representin' for all of us soccer moms, but I'd much rather see any barnyard animal as running mate than have her claim the mantle of speaking for women.

And am I the only person who remembers that Bush had a reputation of being able to create consensus "across the aisle" back in his days as governor of Texas? Was that all a sham? When did he turn into The Decider?

Utah Savage said...

This is the first really intelligent meme I've run across. Whoever thought it up deserves a prize of some kind.

Thanks for your great, thoughtful, intelligent answers. Nicely done.

Pagan Sphinx said...

I like how you think.

I didn't know you were in the healthcare software business. For some reason I thought you worked for an arts organization.

I really liked reading your thoughts and opinions. Thanks.

Steve Emery said...

DCup - I once worked for a man (owner of our small company) that was so much like George Bush that I get a really weird kind of deja vu every time I see our current President. If W is anything like that employer, the world is boiled down to small aphorisms and perspectives that work for him - nothing larger is worth considering. They remind me of hte princes who rules Renaissance Italian city-states - like the Medici - but without the culture. Just the small scale view and the familiar (mafiosi?) focus on loyalty above all else - loyalty to the prince himself, of course. So I was never mystified by Bush's foreign policy - just dismayed by it.

And it's certainly no surprise that you agree with my last paragraph (grin).

Karen - Thanks - I had no knowledge of Bush reaching across the aisle - though in southern states there isn't a huge difference between Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats) and Republicans in other parts of the country. Neither are liberal.

Utah Savage - I'm glad my thoughts made sense. And I also thought the meme was an unusually intense one. I'm not passing it on, though, because I really don't want to push. But anyone who reads this and wants to take up the challenge is certainly welcome to do so!

Pagan - When I retire I will probably get involved in the arts with day-time time. But for now, it has always been easier to make a good living in software, and I'm apparently pretty good at it, which helps...

And thanks to everyone for these quiet, complimentary comments.

MLight said...

I realized, again, today, that we live in a rather liberal community - both area-wise and friend-wise. Younger son said that McCain had no chance of winning, and I replied that they were rather close in the polls.

"But, Mommy, I NEVER see McCain bumper stickers! And all our friends like Obama."

"You never see McCain bumper stickers because we're always driving around Chapel Hill and Durham, and they're the two most liberal cities in the state."

"Well, McCain can't win North Carolina."

"Actually, there are parts of NC where he's probably popular."

I don't know that I ever convinced him that McCain had a chance. He concluded that the election didn't matter to him anyway because "9 yo boys don't care about things like that."

Lucky.

Steve Emery said...

Dearest - This is a fabulous conversation! I LOVED this. Thanks.

Liberality said...

Thank you so much for your well thought out comments. You are spot on when it comes to McCain being careless and/or arrogant in selecting Palin as his running mate.

Distributorcap said...

can you run for president.. this is one of the most well thought out, conisderate and logical discussions i have seen

DivaJood said...

"I think McCain's policies are less a result of careful thought, and his decisions are dangerously capricious. "

I believe that McCain's irrational, explosive reactions are the result of untreated PTSD. Really. And this is not who I want to see answering the phone at 3 AM.

Great responses to this political Meme Katie Schwartz began.

Steve Emery said...

Liberality - You're welcome; thanks for asking me. I wasn't sure, at first, if I would take up the challenge, but then I realized I actually had a lot to say.

DCap - One of the reasons I couldn't ever imagine me in the White House is that I'm too quiet and gentle for that role. I imagine Woodrow Wilson, and think of how hard that job was for him. I saw his tomb in the National Cathedral several weeks ago and thought how much we probably need someone with his international sensibilities now - the man who proposed the League of Nations - the man who was such a diplomat in so many senses of the word.

DivaJood - I hadn't thought of that possibility (McCain's possible condition) but it certainly makes a lot of sense. We need more stability than he seems capable of.

I need to check out how the debates went. I knew I could catch them after, and realized that it might be too painful to actually watch them live. I heard that might have been the case...

DebD said...

You are brave.

I don't like political blogs all that much (on either side). I wonder if its because I don't like stereotyping, if that even makes sense. But, you've written this with great thought and kindness. Much food for thought. Thanks!