Richard Day: A Philosophical Take on the Elections
PeraclesPlease: Wild and Wilder
I've had a number of things on my mind over the last couple of weeks, but I've been quite busy. There are several topics that I've wanted to write about. However, I really won't have the time before Tuesday. I also doubt that anyone will care as much after that, so I've decided to plow through a few them of them as haphazardly as possible. Here we go!
First, a burning question in my mind: Given that John McCain came into the general election with a built in advantage, what happened? He already had a long-standing and oft-sold narrative about being a very centrist type of politician. This is the sort of story you want in the general, but all he's done since the conventions is tack harder and harder to the right. Was that really the way to distance himself from the more right-wing policy blunders of the last eight years? I'm forced to wonder how much better the McCain of yesteryear might have fared.. unless we're really seeing McCain as he is now.
Also, note to John: The pundits didn't decide you were behind. The pollsters did. This might seem like a minor quibble, but I believe that a careful examination of this difference earlier on might also have yielded dividends. Oh well.. live and learn!
This one has been bugging me for weeks. I had intended to write about this much more extensively, but I'm just going to go with the condensed version.
"Hi, I'm a journalist. Candidate A has issued statement X. Candidate B has issued statement Y. Well, having given equal times to both sides of the issue, my work here is done. See you tomorrow!"
False equivalence has been mighty abundant as of late. This piece in the WaPo does a fair job of describing some of what it calls "the symmetry of sin." We've all seen it. (Personally, Candy Crowley is my favorite player of this game. She acts as if every election is the same on both sides for as far back as history can recall.)
Much has been said about this topic, but there's another culprit in this game that's been on my mind: The AARP. They run a national ad campaign called "Divided We Fail", which you've probably seen if you watch any cable news. The ads all have a similar theme, that being lack of action on the part of the Federal government, and they all place the blame on the same scapegoat: Partisanship.
There's always talk about bipartisanship (or lack thereof) during an election. Everyone promises to be less partisan, which is amusing at a time when politics are arguably at their most partisan. Even so, there's a similar sort of false equivalence at play here.
One of the "Divided We Fail" ads deals with the lack of action on health-care, which, par for the course, they blame on partisanship and gridlock. Of course, there's a problem here. The ad campaign makes it look as if there's a lack of agreement on how to improve the health-care situation. The problem is that this isn't the case. One party doesn't even seem to think there's a problem.
Hopefully you know that I'm referring to the Republican party. If you think I'm being unfair here, then I would challenge you to show me statements from prominent Republican leadership that indicate that there is a problem with the American system of health-care, what they think the problem or problems are and what, if anything, they are willing to do about it in terms of policy. I've looked myself, so I'm confident that you won't really be able to find many convincing examples. By and large, you'll find opposition to programs like SCHIP and even Medicare. You won't find Republicans who think that a private, for-profit system is fundamentally problematic. You'll find many who think that the current system of HMOs and private insurance are fine as they are and even some who think that the problem is that privatization isn't extensive enough.
There couldn't be a clearer contrast on this issue when you go to the other side of the aisle. Nearly every major contender for the nomincation of the Democratic Party proposed some brand of extensive reform to health-care. You can quibble about the details of implementation, but the consensus was clear.
So, what's with the AARP on this one? I think it's fair to point out that the AARP is the most well-moneyed lobby in America. It's also 501(c) tax exempt and therefore cannot engage directly in political activities, such as openly endorsing a candidate. Even so, why the false equivalency? The AARP has been criticized in the past for advocating Medicare Part D. It also engages in the marketing of private health insurance to its members.
Perhaps there's a conflict of interest at play here. Regardless, if one party says that 2+2=4 and the other that 2+2=5, the solution is not to demand that they compromise on 4.5.
Side note on health care: Back during the primary-that-would-not-end, Barack Obama was criticized on the blogosphere as well as by some prominent supporters of Hillary Clinton, not the least of whom being Paul Krugman, for his supposedly less aggressive proposals on health care reform. However, there's a very good reason for his proposal: It's what most Americans want. While nearly two-thirds of Americans support government guarantee of health coverage, they are split on whether it should require it. The numbers in the article I linked are a year and a half old, but recent data from Pew is consistent. This shows that Obama has his finger on the pulse of what Americans want in terms of health-care reform: Guarantee, but don't require. Whether or not you, as an individual, believe that this is the best system, it's what can be achieved. That's important.
This has been an historic year in electoral politics by any measure. I know that I've seen and heard many things that I simply did not expect. Apparently, the ivory tower of the rich white male is under a bit of siege this year. That's just fine by me. There are a lot of things that you couldn't be in Presidential politics before 2008 that just don't seem so radical anymore.
And it looks like we may just elect the first non-white President in United States history next week. It's an exciting time. There will be a lot of kids out there that will take the old line about being able to do anything you put your mind to very seriously. You can be a dark-skinned kid from a single-parent home and still have a realistic aspiration to the highest office in the land.
But there's one thing you still can't be in American electoral politics: An atheist.
If you've been following the Hagan/Dole race at all, then you're seeing a bit of this reality play out right now. Did Kay Hagan consort with atheists? Hell no! She's a good Christian.
And maybe she is and that's fine. But doesn't the Powell response apply here? I don't expect to hear it, but shouldn't someone be saying, "So what if she did?" Atheists are Americans, too. Despite the protestations of certain cretinous bloviators, America is not a "Christian nation".
I'll repeat that: America is not a Christan nation.
The United States of America is a democratic federal republic. Christianity, or any other religious affiliation for that matter, is optional.
As an atheist, I'm fine with Obama. While I'd like to have the option of being represented by someone who sees things as I do, it's not a requirement for me. What I do require is reciprocity of tolerance. I've mentioned it before, but Obama hit all the right notes for me in his Call to Renewal speech. I'm not concerned about him using political power to enforce his personal religious beliefs. After all, his mother was a non-believer and, as such, he doesn't entertain foolish notions about secular persons lacking morality.
Even so, ask yourself this: Thinking back to when Obama supposedly had a "pastor problem", how much worse would it have been for him if he had a "no pastor problem"?
It's been a pretty crazy year. I probably won't have time to write again before then, so I'll just say good luck to all and here's hoping for a big Obama win on Tuesday.