I think I can speak with the majority in saying that we will all be glad when this is over and we can all go back to being friends again, and that’s probably the last thing I’ll say in this blog that the “majority” of you will agree with. In fact, I’m pretty sure that a different 47% of you will agree with every other sentence of this blog, depending on who your guy is. It’s strange to see how divisive politics has become, and how absolutist both sides are in their dread/elation for their candidate losing/winning. Fear is a powerful tool in political campaigns, and it’s been dispatched in massive quantities in this election on both sides.
Tomorrow will come, however, and barring some silly reenactment of 2000, we will have a new President-Elect by tomorrow night (or early Wednesday morning). We’ll all wake up, put our pants on one leg at a time, and go to work/school/playgroup/group-therapy (or whatever your schedule happens to feature on Wednesday). No matter who wins, I’m going to safely predict that the world will not stop turning on its axis, and the United States will not fall into the ocean. Sure, social media will be awash in both the agony of defeat and the ecstasy of victory, but shortly after that will come a moment when everyone will forget that, for the last 6 weeks to 6 months, we’ve been watching the strangest political contest ever.
The madness started with the Republican primary in which 8-10 people pandered mercilessly to an ultra-conservative, ideologically-driven party base. I thought this clown-of-the-week contest hit a new low when Michelle Bachmann said, with a straight face, that TWO parallel fences between here and Mexico would be good immigration policy. Surely, if one fence is good, two fences would be better. Do I hear three? Four? Five? Each candidate, not willing to be out-flanked by the other swung righter and righter until there was no more right to be had.
Then, when everyone else ran out of money, Mitt Romney was finally declared victor.
Then, the real race began. And the real money started pouring in. Before this is said and done, $1,000,000,000 will have been spent on this presidential campaign. That’s 1 billion dollars that people and corporations pulled out from their own money, trying to buy power and influence in Washington. (Citizens United was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to campaign finance, and I can’t believe we sit by so passively and let it stand.) We should be absolutely disgusted by this. This is money that could pay for things people really need. This is money that could go to really good use. Instead it is spent on the world’s weirdest beauty pageant.
After Mitt becomes the presumptive nominee, all the etch-a-sketch talk began. When would Mitt reintroduce himself to the public? (As if the “public” wasn’t watching the whole time during the ugly primary) And could he actually shake the etch-a-sketch hard enough to erase hours of debate footage of him signing up to a Tea-Party tailored platform? Well, it happened in the debates, where Mitt suddenly went from being a “severe conservative” to every undecided’s favorite moderate. Suddenly there was a new injection of nuance into the picture that had been missing for the last year or more.
This is to say nothing about President Obama, who has marauded around the country for the last year offering no real agenda for a next term, and campaigning on a “the devil you know beats the devil you don’t” platform. I partly understand that this may be – because he has no legislature to work with. Clearly the current debt crisis we are in was pushed until after the election in order to “read” the people and hope that someone (Republican or Democrat) got a clear mandate from the voter box on what the public wanted.
Which leads me to wonder: is our government becoming too democratic? Is the power too close to the people? Part of the genius of the American system was that a representative democracy (or republic, if you prefer) would transfer the burden of government and leadership into a specialist occupation for statesmen to represent the best interests of their constituents – as opposed to a pure democracy in which majority rules on every issue.
Perhaps the information age has minted leaders who are too tuned in to their constituents, too cognizant of the micro-politics of their decisions, and too wrapped up in the day-to-day workings of the government. There was a great piece earlier this year (sorry, I can’t find the reference right now) on the affect that CSPAN has had on the Congress since it’s introduction. The number of floor speeches to an empty chamber has skyrocketed since it’s introduction. Congressmen appear more often for the camera than they do to actually vote.
Is this wise, though? President Obama brought a new commitment to transparency to government, pledging to create website after website that would make data easily accessible, including expenditures from the Stimulus package (recovery.gov). But has it been effective? The net effect has been more data to spin, more opinions to be had, and less clarity on what is actually going on.
Congress is now worried about winning news cycles and driving fundraising and winning more elections. There simply are not enough hours in the day to spend time governing after you’ve spent most of it fundraising and appearing for cameras.
Perhaps we are migrating too far away from the representative democracy, or republic, that our founders intended – where Americans could blissfully go about their lives, and check in at the polls periodically – every few years – to provide course corrections as to who should represent them in that democracy. The statesmen elected would go about doing what was right for the country and in our best interest, with the checks and balances on power from the other branches of government, and the ultimate check of the ballot box.
I think we’ve become too smart for our own good, and the information age is ruining the effectiveness of government. We see this most evident in Congress, with its historically low approval ratings and a sensitivity to the proclivities of their constituencies that seems unprecedented.
Just a thought there. Lots more to think about in that vein, but running out of juices here and want to get to the good stuff…
So where do I stand on this year’s election? (If you’ve made it this far, you probably deserve to know)
I don’t think President Obama is the devil incarnate, and I think he’s been a decent President. Not the best, but – by far – not the worst. I think, in the longrun, he will be viewed as a less-controversial President (in terms of policy) than even George W Bush. I don’t think his Presidency has been a complete disaster. Sure, he made some mistakes, the foremost of which was to pick healthcare, a “legacy” issue (an issue so politically divisive that it could potentially sink his reelection), as the focus of his first term, but there have been some good things, too.
On foreign policy, I think the President has doen a decent job at the 40,000 ft view (and so does Mitt, since in the debate he seemed to agree in substance with about 90% of what the President said). Sure, there are going to be disagreements at the 10,000 and 500 foot level – and it’s a little comical to watch the debate at that level in terms of who loves Israel the most (gag me with a steam shovel) – but all-in-all I can’t say that there isn’t much daylight between the candidates on foreign policy, which the 3rd debate made painfully obvious. Obama ended a costly and protracted war in Iraq and is winding down a second in Afghanistan, all while doubling down on disrupting terror networks and terror cells, increasing the controversial drone attacks, and – of course – he got Bin Laden.
On the economy, I don’t think President Obama has done a great job. He’s done a passable job. What I want to believe is that our economy is rebuilding slower and more carefully because that will lead to a healthier economy. We do not want to replace a housing bubble with another bubble! We need an economy based on sound business: production of goods, protection of intellectual property, and an ethical and transparent financial sector. I think we are working on getting all the bad guys out of each one of those – especially #3 – but the recovery has not been fast enough for the political timeline, and Obama has not done enough to respond to business’ concerns about the regulation and taxes – leading to this “regulatory uncertainty” that may be artificially slowing growth.
I also don’t think Mitt is a robot from the planet of Corporate Automatons I think he’s a pragmatist running in an ideological party, which is the root of why he’s looked like a fish out of water for the last 5 years of his campaign. He wants to look like he cares deeply about things like contraception, but I don’t think he really does and I don’t think they will be centerpieces of a Romney presidency. I think he would be a decent, problem-solving President.
A new guy in the White House could have some advantages, though. I believe that a Romney presidency could reset relations between the Executive Branch and Congress, and that the legislative skids could possibly get enough grease for compromise to reign in the Senate once more, if Romney can strongly keep the Tea Partisans onboard and convince them that “compromise” is really not a dirty word. (It’s what the Senate should be all about!) I think the “regulatory uncertainty” that has been hovering over the market will ease a bit, and we may see more injection of capital into the market with a Romney presidency.
However, I’m not comfortable with the tax policies of the Republicans and a potential President Romney, and really, really, really oppose a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. We couldn’t afford them in the first place, and now they hang like a weight around our deficit. Even though we all seem to agree the tax code is broken, somehow I really don’t trust the Republicans to rewrite it in a way that is better or more fair than it is today. I also don’t trust the Republicans to do the right thing for our social safety net and education. (Privatization of everything is not the answer, people, and has a dizzying array of unintended consequences for the most vulnerable of our citizens!) So I approach a Republican presidency with some trepidation, here.
Unfortunately, what will probably push me over the edge for one of the candidates this year is the same thing that pushed many African-Americans toward Obama: emotion. We all vote from our gut anyway, and having a Mormon – one of my own faith – running for the highest office in the country, is an honor and source of pride for me. If he, by some miracle, beats the odds and wins tomorrow – I will have something of my own “Oprah” moment where I will feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of my immigrant ancestors who came to this country to pursue a belief system they embraced with their whole hearts, only to be expulsed and legally exterminated for believing something a little different – a little more nuanced and a lot more specific – than what others were used to.
And what’s more American than that?