Memo to the Moderate Voter

First, an understanding: The moderate conservative is not the same as the moderate liberal is not the same as the independent. Please know that I’m not taking a side here. This essay isn’t about me. It’s about you.

You must be exhausted.

This presidential election has been a shining study in how to alienate the middle ground. It doesn’t seem to make sense: shoving aside what was long revered as the most significant voting portion of the American population. The middle class is verifiably vanishing, and it feels for all the world like the moderate voter is, too.

It’s no surprise, then, that moderates would feel like a dying breed. Where is your candidate? Are you no longer a vote to be prized, a favor to be curried? As the population’s income seems pushed to the low and high margins, so too are we to be governed by extremes?

To me, that’s the most telling—and most disconcerting—sign to emerge from this election cycle.

When you have no one to vote for, you either don’t vote or you have to choose an extreme you don’t like, thereby contributing to its growth. Either choice makes you a fang in the mouth of a snake that’s eating itself.

The false dichotomy of the election constructs an equally false narrative of the country and forces it in one of two directions that I’m still pretty sure most voters don’t want to go in—a choice that seems, for moderates, to be the ultimate devil vs. deep blue sea. As someone who lived in his Congressional district years ago, and who has close friends in Ohio, trust me: when John Kasich appears moderate, you know it’s trouble. Meanwhile, a former first lady and a Jewish, self-proclaimed socialist are vying for the White House with no other competition from their party. No matter what you think of either of them, that should be holy-Christ quality stuff on any number of levels. Instead, the circus of the GOP makes the Democrats seem dull.

That’s a problem. It’s terminal velocity, the phenomenon in which, no matter how far above the speed limit you’re going, at some point, you get so used to the recklessness and so confident in your ability to handle it that it doesn’t seem like too big a deal to push the needle a little farther, until you lose control.

I’m not saying the candidates on either side are reckless—though I think some of them are. I’m saying that while both sides have found candidates who ignite and engage a part of the electorate that has never felt so well-represented before, that galvanizing force, played out over and over again in media, makes everyone who isn’t that extreme feel like they’re either unrecognized or missing the boat. It’s a recipe for disenfranchisement, and disenfranchisement is why you stop voting, and that’s how you get ignored. The fascination at the political process has been replaced by a frenzy over the maddest parts of it—so much so that the nation seems to have forgotten completely that these people will have to actually govern if we put them in the White House.

The presidency has become a cult of personality  and a receptacle for derision that has reduced it, effectively, to nothing more than a figurehead position. Technically, this can be “blamed” on CBS News and the Washington Post with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal… but who could blame Walter Cronkite for telling the nation what he saw, and who could blame Woodward & Berntsein for exposing what their dogged reporting uncovered? Still, those two significantly historic moments in a time of an increasingly global mass media were the beginning of the end for president-worship. Scholars, historians, and journalists generally agree that this was when the presidency was demystified, when the people came to see the humanity of the office and the fallibility of the office-holder.

In the American political system, Congress is where the true power is. When Congress is the only place where things can get done, and the president is a person who a large percentage of Congress will not abide, intractability is sure to follow. Regardless of the positions of the presidential candidates I’m about to name, If you think the last seven years have been bad, you don’t want to see four under Trump, Cruz, Rubio or Sanders. If you think the rest represent the status quo, you almost can’t bear to see the next four under anyone but one of those four, because it seems like the only way anything will change at all is if the highest elected official in the country forces it to happen.

But here’s the thing: The last seven years have shown us that, no matter what we think of what he tried to force, the highest elected official in the country could not make it happen. If we liked him, we believed he was trying to do what was right for the country and was thwarted at every turn. If we didn’t like him, we believed he was creating a national nightmare like nothing we had ever seen, and we were relieved it didn’t go any farther than it had managed to go, which was still too far for us.

Think about the candidates right now and whether there’s a single one of them who won’t match that same description in four years.

Here’s part of what’s doing moderates wrong: “Moderate” has been conflated with “establishment,” creating another false narrative. What does “moderate” mean? Middle. Not extreme. Relatively reasonable, but generally dispassionate. What does “establishment” mean? Old Guard, right? The same people doing the same things, not taking us anywhere. It’s assigned without regard to reason or passion. It’s just normative. Well, Sanders has been a senator for 16 years. He’s more establishment than literally anybody in the GOP field except Kasich. He’s more establishment than Obama. By some definitions, he’s more establishment than Clinton. It’s not necessarily that the majority of American citizens don’t want reasonable individuals in government. It’s that they’re tired of us getting nowhere because the definition of insanity keeps playing itself out in Washington. So, from a purely academic perspective, Trump, Cruz, Carson and Rubio are legitimate anti-establishment and un-moderate candidates. Sanders is just un-moderate. Jeb! is anti-establishment from a federal government perspective (despite being related to the establishment). Clinton is probably more moderate than we think, and her establishmentism is harder to parse.

You might be able to tell at this point that I believe that if there’s a presidential candidate who truly represents what you want to see happening in the country, what’s required for you to see the change you want is to see it represented in a significant percentage in Congress. Right now, that doesn’t exist for most of the candidates we’re considering.

But there is good news for you, Moderate Voter. You’re still at an advantage. Most of Congress—the quiet section—is still moderate. The intractability of the last seven years was because both parties were houses divided, and the Tea Party took everyone hostage (including John Boehner). They were loud and organized, and they sucked voters in. But there aren’t that many of them. There are about 63, or 11 percent of Congress. The reason someone like Bernie Sanders wouldn’t get his plans through Congress isn’t because the Tea Party will shout him down, although they will. Rather, it’s because there aren’t enough people in Congress who are as far left as his ideas are. But if Sanders supporters get organized at a more local level and find candidates that can generate support, Congress will shift, just like the Tea Party made it do.

It’s easy to blame media for this. To some extent, it’s their fault; entertainment value is part of what they need and go after. But they go after it for you, because you consume it. Being a moderate has always seemed to mean appearing not just reasonable, but rather ho-hum… not reality TV, not opera. You don’t like candidates you find to be insipid panderers and you don’t those you find to be elitists. There’s nothing wrong, inherently, with the in-between. It’s just that the passions are higher on the margins, and people who are passionate and who feel like they’re gaining ground are a powerful audience—for media and for candidates. Both are there only because there’s an active, engaged, demonstrable audience for them. We know the newly long-suffered complaint that the mainstream media tell us what to think, but they show what they show because it’s what you watch. No matter how low the score is, there’s still a high score in the face-off. Sure, there are fewer and fewer people watching television as it happens. More people are nixing it altogether or going with Hulu, Roku, Netflix, Apple TV. But there’s still a No. 1 station. It’s the same way with voting, or worse, uninformed voting. Sure, there may be fewer votes, or fewer votes from less-educated people. But there’s still a winner.

In an era in which all the information you can want is literally at your fingertips, it comes down to three things: your ability to access it (a significant disadvantage for the poor), your tendency to critically analyze it (lower in apathetic and less-informed people), and your willingness to take more of what you feel is crap. The Tea Party came up in 2010 and grew in the Congressional elections that followed because the people who align with them were not willing to take any more of what they felt was crap. They kept track, they held grudges, and they organized around it. They got mad, and then they set about getting even.

You, moderates, aren’t mad enough yet.  Maybe it’s because you’re… well… moderate. Not willing to make a scene. Not interested in a fight. Tired of the mayhem to which you’d feel you were contributing if you stood up and shouted.

I guess that’s sort of par for the course.

Still, moderates are so bad at actively finding candidates these days.

It’s probably too late for 2016, but here’s what has to happen in the next elections, both in 2018 and in 2020, if moderates want to reclaim ground:

Speak up.  Demand someone else. Organize. Find candidates and actively support them from the beginning of their campaigns, beyond social media—but for the love of God, splatter them all over social media. Give them money. Give them time. Volunteer for them. Generate momentum.

And find a conflict to put moderate candidates in.

It seems antithetical for moderates to find conflict, but it’s the only way to get attention. Conflict is what media of all platforms cover. I swear to God, they don’t care who wins the conflict. There’s always going to be more conflict, no matter who wins, because the winner will go on to conflict with someone else. The only thing that’s interesting is the conflict itself. It’s why Jeb Bush has been poking Marco Rubio with a stick since the beginning of the race. He was betting Rubio would emerge as a better option when the Trump/Cruz Show started to fray at the seams. He was trying to create conflict to get attention. (He’s just dull and bad at conflict, bless him.)

Think of it this way: Why do you watch sports? Sure, you want your team to win, but isn’t a runaway victory kind of a bore? Who wants to watch that, really? It’s so much more exciting when there’s something at stake. So find something that’s at stake for your moderate candidate, stick them to it, and yell about it.

The middle class is vanishing. Don’t let moderates disappear, too. Be loud about being quiet. Don’t be milquetoast on issues; it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consider the issues brought up by the extremes. What does it tell us about where we are as a nation? What’s the moderate’s position on that place and where we should be as a nation? Find it. Be passionate. Defend your ground.

Get mad.

And then get even.

 

 

Word for Word: Trump on Health Care. Supposedly.

I think I’m starting a series right now. You know how sometimes a political candidate gets a question and you listen to their answer and you’re like, “…Wait, what?” Like, even without considering whether you agree with the candidate or not, just… “What the hell kind of expression of thought was that?”

I just did that listening to Donald Trump talk to Anderson Cooper. Now, I’ve long felt that the basic formula for the way Trump talks is:

superlative adjective + noun + adverb
+ adverb + verb + helping verb + adjective
+ hyperbole + lie + superlative adjective + noun
(all over)
flailing arms

To borrow from his tendency to use an adjective twice, there’s very, very little substance to what he’s saying. But the other element of his speech is that all those superlative adjectives and adverbs and nouns don’t actually go together. It’s word salad all the time. So I decided to rewind the DVR and, in lieu of attempting to diagram that mess, at least transcribe everything he’d said.

Will I do this for every candidate? Well, I’m not going to obligate myself to obsess over it, and a lot of candidates manage to stay on task and not wander off into the wilderness of speech and thought without aid of compass or flashlight, scratching their asses and wearing propeller beanies and mismatched socks. The one and only rule for Word for Word is that the person I quote has to sound to me like s/he went to the zoo. Maybe I’ll do it for non-politicians, too. Hard to say. I’m wildly unpredictable. But consider this paragraph my disclaimer. I tend to pay attention to politics and political speech because, well, I’m a dork and a pseudo-wonk. Trump is by far the most frequent gone-to-the-zoo speaker I’ve ever heard who didn’t have a verifiable mental illness (that I know of). But Word for Word is far less about politics than it is about valuing cogent expression, so fair and equal treatment isn’t really the purpose. The purpose is pretty much just sheer mockery of people who couldn’t form a coherent thought. I’m a writer. That bugs me.

With that, I give you…
Word for Word: Trump on Health Care. Supposedly.

The scene:
A voter in New Hampshire, during a CNN town hall kind of thing, asked Trump how he would repeal and replace Obamacare (or, as it’s actually named, the Affordable Care Act). What follows is a transcript of the answer, punctuated a couple of times by clarifying questions or comments from Anderson Cooper.

First of all, I have been so against Obamacare from the beginning, as you know. Repeal and replace. I was totally opposed to it. They did the five billion dollar website, five billion dollar website that didn’t work. I have websites all over the place that cost me 15 cents if you have the right person doing them, right? We’re going to have great health insurance. We’re going to bring the private sector in, we’re going to get rid of the borders. You know, I’m the only self-funder in this whole race, on Democrat or Republican. The only self-funder. I’m putting up my own money. When I come up here, it’s costing me. It’s not costing the public. It’s not costing—worse than the public, it’s the insurance companies putting up money for all of these people, the oil companies are putting up money, the drug companies are putting up money. And I’ll tell you one quick story about that in a second. But we’re going to take down the borders because what happens is, the health care companies, the insurance companies, they put up tremendous money for Obama and other people that are running for office. They have total control. When I bid out for my insurance- I have big businesses in many different states, in Florida, in New York, all over the place, California. When I bid out myself, I don’t get any bids, because if I want to have somebody from, let’s say New Hampshire, bid—a company, good insurance company—bid for my New York business, they can’t do it. They just can’t do it because we have these artificial, I call them borders. Our southern border should be as strong as our borders for—what that does is it gives monopolies to these insurance companies inside of various states. When you take that down you will have so much competition, you’ll have phenomenal health care. And the reason they have the borders is because an insurance company would rather have, essentially, a monopoly in one state than have bidders all over the place. (AC: So would he be able to save money?) Oh, he would save a lot of money and he’d be able to tailor it and you’d get exactly what you want. I mean there are things in health care that you’re never going to use and they make you buy. So Obamacare’s a disaster. You know, premiums have gone up on Obamacare 25, 35, and 45 percent. Some even over 50 percent. And just like you, people have been forced—they’ve lost everything because of health care. Obamacare is a disaster, and we’re going to repeal it and we’re going to replace it with something great. And we have lots of alternatives. The problem that this country’s had, until me, is that the presidents and all of the people who are doing this are all taken care of by the insurance companies. Me? I don’t care. I’m a free agent. They didn’t give me ten cents. And by the way, they would. I will say this: I am self-funding. I don’t know that it’s appreciated that I’m self-funding. (AC: Well I was going to ask you that, because you’ve been saying in the last couple of days, you don’t think you’re getting credit for that.) Only for the last couple of days. I’ve put up a tremendous amount of money, I’m spending a lot of money on the campaign, and I said, “I don’t think it’s appreciated.” People have to understand: the reason Obamacare is so bad is because the insurance companies have taken care of the politicians. These politicians are the worst. All talk, no action. I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m putting up my money. (AC: You said you keep doing that but it’s not worth it.) Well, what I’m saying is I don’t think the voters give me any credit for it. Now, I may be wrong, but I think when people—even people in this room, and we have great people in this room—when they go to vote, I don’t think they’re saying, “You know, Trump is the only one out of—now it started off 21 if you add both together. I’m the only one that’s putting up my own money. And it’s a lot of money. Now, I’m an efficient person, so I’ve spent a tiny fraction of what a guy like Bush spent. (AC: You’re getting a lot of free media coverage.) I’m getting a lot free. I was supposed to have spent 45 million dollars as of today or tomorrow. That was my budget. I’ve spent a small fraction of that. Now, that’s also good management. That’s all we need in the country. So I’m no. 1 in the polls, Bush is almost down at the bottom. He’s spent over $100 million and I’ve spent peanuts. Now with that being said, I’m going to spend a lot of money. You know why? Number one, I don’t want to take a chance, so we’re taking commercials and good commercials. And number two, I feel guilty not spending a little money. I actually feel a little bit guilty about it, if you want to know the truth. But isn’t it nice, and wouldn’t it be nice if—So I’ve spent just about the least money and I’m number one in the polls whereas other people have spent tremendous amounts of money and they’re nowhere. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that for our country?

~Donald Trump
New Hampshire
Live, CNN
Feb. 4, 2016

Congress. I Don’t Even.

It’s been a while since I posted anything about politics. You can thank Congress for this one.

It’s kind of stupid that I even feel the need to write this, isn’t it? I mean, not that I feel the need, but that I am compelled to feel the need. It’s stupid that parts of the federal government are shut down because someone is throwing a temper tantrum on Capitol Hill.

In case you’ve (perhaps understandably) willfully ignored what’s been going on but are kind enough not to willfully ignore this post, here’s the deal: parts of the government are shut down right now because a faction of Republicans in the House wanted to force through a bill that would fund the government with riders attached that would require changes to the Affordable Care Act. Or, as people trying to malign it started calling it a while back, Obamacare.

Because Obama is obviously synonymous with everything terrible in the world, in their rhetoric. And maybe you agree. And you have that right.

See, I’m not saying the Affordable Care Act is perfect. I’m not even saying you have to like it in order to read this post. Rather, what I’m saying is… how the FUCK do we get to a point in government where one faction of one part of Congress can hold up FUNDING THE GOVERNMENT because they don’t like ONE law?

Here’s what: The Affordable Care Act was passed by a majority vote in both the House and the Senate in 2010. A lot of people didn’t like how that went down, and I get that. But it went down nonetheless. Majority vote. Bicameral legislature. Passed. Then signed into law by the President of the United States. (Not President Of People Who Like Him But Not People Who Don’t. We don’t have that office.) When there was shouting about constitutionality, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, by a 5-4 vote, with the deciding vote cast by typically conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

In other words: done deal by democratic due process celebrated by Americans since 1776.

Since its passage, Republicans (probably not all of them, I know) have tried literally 42 times to defund the Affordable Care Act. And last night, they tried for the 43rd time, by attaching caveats on the ACA to the bill that would determine federal funding of the government.

That’s not representative democracy. That’s hostage-taking for ransom.

And then today I see Michele Bachmann, who didn’t make much sense in 2011/12 and still doesn’t, hugging on a veteran who was just trying to visit the World War II Memorial in DC (which was technically closed, but fortunately some people decided not to be ass-hats and let these men in), and claiming that she and her colleagues were “just trying to protect the lives and health care of these wonderful (smooch on the cheek) men.”

I don’t know why, but I draw a line at condescending to an entire nation while literally hanging on an elderly man who helped save the entire fucking planet from tyrannical government, and then 70 years later managed to get himself together for a flight from his home to DC to visit a memorial that honors the service members who fell alongside him, only to find that the asshole government has said, “Sorry, park’s closed,” and then suffer the bullshit camera-mugging nonsensical antics of a politician who couldn’t be moved to say, “I’m so sorry that my wing of my party is standing in your way.”

My grandfathers fought in that war. Every time I see that memorial, or the stories of the men visiting it, I miss them. There’s  no way in hell I’d let Michele Bachmann or any other self-serving politician of any party anywhere near them at that sacred place.

Alright, I’m done with the Michele Bachmann part of this.

The larger point, you probably have figured out, is that I can’t believe we’re willing to allow a faction of our government to shut down the operation because they don’t like a law they already passed. There are procedures in place for repealing laws, or parts of laws. Attaching riders to critical unrelated bills are not part of those procedures.

And before you tell me we aren’t willing to allow it, tell me whether you’re willing to find out who voted to shut down the government and what their motives were, and whether you’re willing to vote them out next November.

Those service members who visit the WWII Memorial arrive on what are called Honor Flights, by the way. Maybe Congress should take a few.

Stop! In the Name of Love

I have gone back and forth about doing this post because I mean really, does this need to be belabored?

Oh, wait. Yeah. It kinda does.

The Supremes have spent the last two days hearing oral arguments (which sounds dirty, but isn’t) about California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996, defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. The issue, as it almost always is with the Supremes because they’re obsessed, is the laws’ constitutionality.

The thing is, this is one of those issues for which it seems a lot of Americans don’t care at all about the constitutionality. Which is what makes it pretty unusual, since we’re always harping on that particular document, and usually with good reason.

I’m interested to see how this comes out (haha, I said “comes out.” Like gay people.) because this is a situation in which personally find that a strict originalist view of the Constitution will bear out the fact that the document says… um… nothing about who can get married and who can’t.

Ruh-roh Rustice Scalia.

I mean, it does say that black people are only 3/5 human… but I don’t think the strict originalists are really keeping to that definition. The 13th Amendment took care of that. And then the 14th Amendment says:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And Article IV, Section 1 says:

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

Which means if I, a straight person, were to get married in New York, it would have to be recognized as a valid marriage everywhere else. But Congress can establish whether the marriage was legit in the first state.

Now, I’m not a Constitutional scholar. I’m not even a lawyer. Not one single credit hour of law in college. I worked at a law firm part time for a little while and I dated a guy with his JD, but I don’t think that qualifies. But I am a citizen… considered unequal until 1920 and sometimes even now, since I’m a woman, but we’ll forego that particular argument at the moment, I’ll stick my thumbs in my ears and wiggle my fingers because I own property, and we’ll just settle on I’m a citizen. So the Constitution is important to me. And I don’t see an argument against same-sex marriage in it. So I guess it’s good that the Supremes have been contracted to figure it out.

I find that almost every argument against same-sex marriage is based on religion. As I have said many, many times in this blog, I fully respect a person’s faith, regardless of what it is, because I expect the same respect for my faith. I certainly don’t expect to change anyone’s minds. Instead, what I’d like to do is to point out something I think is a simple but pivotal aspect of this discussion:

The law is not about religion.

A friend of mine on Facebook unwittingly started a conversation about this the other day. One of his friends, who appears to be a fundamentalist Christian, pointed out three passages in the Bible that he felt supported his belief that same-sex marriage should not be allowed. I read the passages, one of which was in Leviticus (the third book of the Old Testament/Torah) and reflects a pre-Christ view of a harsh and punishing God… and two more, which were from Romans, a book in the New Testament attributed to Paul. My friend’s friend was gentle and respectful in his points, but based his entire argument against same-sex marriage on religion and these passages.

A minimally scholarly understanding of the Bible demonstrates the difference between the Old and New Testament tones in Christian belief, as well as the fact that Paul was not an apostle of Jesus and never knew Jesus when He was teaching, but came to his conversion after Jesus’s ascension. So technically, his writings were inspired by his faith, but not directly taken from Jesus’s words.

It’s easy to get caught up in the understandings of faith and forget the fundamental truth of this same-sex marriage question: that it is about whether same-sex couples should be afforded equal rights and protections under the law. And, more broadly, but no less significantly, it’s about whether the federal government should control marriage in any way… a question that, to some degree, is answered by the federal benefits extended to married heterosexual couples.

It’s not about religion. No matter how much someone believes that same-sex relationships are against God’s laws, or will, or word, or design, the questions of Prop 8 and DOMA are not about religion. They are about law, and the Constutition, and citizenship.

There are varied interpretations of those, too, of course. That’s why we have the Supremes. But on Tuesday, I found a passage I had forgotten existed despite the fact that it’s inscribed on a wall.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Those words are inscribed on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial. Because he wrote them.

He also was one of nine men who wrote the Constitution.

I think, understanding that religion does not govern the rule of law and the outrage of some does not mitigate the rights of others, Thomas Jefferson would agree…

…It’s time.

 

 

 

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas, Congress surprised absolutely no one and managed to still work a win-win.

It was late afternoon when word came that the House would not vote on any deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The Senate went ahead with a vote in the wee hours of 2013. I don’t remember the movie well enough to know whether that makes the House Thelma or Louise, but what I do know is this: that move (or lack thereof) was totally expected. And not really because they wanted to stand their supposed high-ground. It was more because of posturing.

I know. It’s shocking.

Here’s the thing: by waiting to vote, the Republicans in the House, and particularly those who signed some sort of (tax-free!) soul-selling deal to Grover Norquist (who says it’s to the American people, but whatever), can remain avowed not to vote in favor of a tax increase. If the deal the Senate reached late last night contains tax increases, the House Republicans can vote on a re-jiggered deal that reduces the percentage by which those taxes are raised… thereby…

wait for it…

voting to…

… are you ready?

…”cut” taxes.

Semantics, really, but important ones to politicians. In the end, the Democrats will still get some of the new revenues they want, but the Republicans can still say they never voted to hike taxes. Even though essentially they will be voting to do so… but less. They can get away with the distinction because they would not have voted to avert the fiscal cliff by the deadline, thereby “officially” hiking taxes before they voted to retroactively reduce them.

Irritating, right? When there was so much at stake? But I think everyone used the term “fiscal cliff” exactly the way I just did: with quotation marks around it. These kinds of deadlines are always fungible, and almost never as dire as they’re built up to be. Congress made the law that the across-the-board spending cuts would trigger automatically to try to force themselves to do something. But anyone who’s been on a diet knows what that means. Nothing, in the end. You can tell yourself that if you eat a piece of chocolate, you have to work out for an extra half-hour, but will it really make a difference if you don’t? Probably not. Congress knew that all along. And even if they did make a deal well before the deadline, it was never fated to be anything so substantial that it would solve the problems we face financially.

Why is that? Because they’re awfully hard to solve. Back to the diet analogy: if you weigh 1,000 pounds, trying to get down to 200 seems pretty well impossible, doesn’t it? So you lose 20 and see how it goes.

Welcome to 2013.

The debate isn’t going to go away.  You’re going to keep hearing about the spending problems, the debt ceiling, the deficit and more. And it’s only partly because Congress isn’t willing to do the hard things required to get things seriously back on track. The other part is that getting seriously back on track is going to hurt. Everyone. A lot. And until we as the American people are willing to make some serious sacrifice – in Social Security, in Medicare, and in a lot of other areas – yes, including the incredibly bloated defense budget that has been a sacred cow for far too long – we’re going to keep peering over that cliff.

Happy New Year. Same as the Old Year. At least as far as federal funds are concerned.

american flag

A Note Before You Vote

You didn’t think you were going to get to Tuesday without another political post from me, did you?

Just a few things to think about before you head to the polls… provided you didn’t vote early.

Who Do You Really Dislike?
Not as in hate. As in, if you have a problem in the political sense, with whom does that problem truly sit? Here’s why I ask: we do a great job making a big deal out of the presidential election. And we should. It’s hugely important. But it’s not the only important thing. There’s also Congress.

Food for thought: Since January 2009 when President Obama was inaugurated, his lowest approval rating was 41% (March 2012). His highest was 57% (May 2011 – right after Osama bin Laden was killed).

Since January 2009, Congress’s lowest approval rating was 10% (August 2012). Its highest was 39% (March 2009).

That means that President Obama’s very lowest approval rating was better than Congress’s very highest. And when the nation was least happy with him, he had still satisfied four times as many people as Congress had.

My point is, a shocking number of people don’t know who represents them in Congress. Given that, they can’t possibly know what that person stands for, how they vote, what positions they take in politically touchy situations, from whom they take money, to whom they’re beholden. So why are we all so angry when they don’t do what we think they should?

The country’s problems are not all about its presidents, and we should pay much more attention to our representatives and senators. If you want to see who your congressperson is, go to www.house.gov/representatives/find/  and you can plug in your zip code to find out. If you want to know how they’ve voted on issues and bills, go to www.opencongress.org. Do it before Tuesday, because they’re all up for re-election. Congressional representatives are elected every two years. If you discover too late that you don’t like what you see, you have two years to keep track of them and get it right next time.

What’s Really A Distraction?
One of the most common refrains this campaign season has been that insert Issue That’s Hurting Party A — here — is a “distraction” put up by Party B. But not everyone finds the same things distracting. In fact, some of us find some of those so-called “distractions” pretty important. There is more than one issue facing this country. It’s not just about the economy. It’s not just about jobs. It’s not just about regulation or deregulation. Or taxes. Or education. Or immigration. Or women’s health. Or abortion. Or federal funding for programs. It’s about all of those things, and to say otherwise is insulting. Don’t dismiss an issue out-of-hand simply because you didn’t feel like listening to the discussion. And don’t allow your leaders to do it, either.

And Speaking Of Self-Interest…
One of the things that disappoints me most about people in general and about American politics specifically is that everything happens because of money. I don’t just mean campaign fundraising or Congressional budgets. Money pushes policy we would otherwise think objectionable on more than one level. I think it’s compromising our (dare I say) moral standard as a union. This is particularly true of political decisions that hurt the communities they affect, rather than helping them. For example: the casino built on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. The west side is poor. The casino is there because the people were powerless to stop it, unlike residents in other parts of the city. And the area around it has only declined. Similar example: Atlantic City. Been there? It’s a hole. The flash of the lights keeps your attention away from the crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated homes. (No jokes about Sandy, please – I have a deep connection to the Jersey Shore, despite my opinion of AC.)

And more and more, we as individuals seem to think only of ourselves. It’s natural to vote one’s interests, but there seems to be a growing insistence that one’s own interests be the only interests one must consider. “Give me everything, or give me death.” Sometimes I find myself wondering whatever happened to the inspiration that came from President Kennedy’s simple call: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Let’s not forget that this is a nation forged in the interest of the greater good, and for everyone’s rights equally. Not just yours.

Yes, Your Vote Does Count
It’s easy to get discouraged when your political leanings are opposite those of your fellow state residents. It’s easy to feel like no one will miss your opinion at the polls. But in a population of 1,000, twenty such opinions can change a race entirely. Yep, just two percent. In 2004, President George W. Bush only got 3,000,176 more votes than John Kerry. Two percent.

But about 21,000,000 registered voters stayed home.

So this is it. I’ve smacked you around with political posts for more than 16 months. I’ve gotten myself worked up. I’ve chased my tail and shaken my head. I’ve done my best (through absolutely no mandate at all from any of you) to share what I hoped were informative and at least mildly entertaining breakdowns. And now we have arrived at the doorstep of yet another moment in American history.

Be part of it.

Vote.

Early Voting: My First Experience

I suppose the second cup of coffee was ill-advised.

I still haven’t closed on the house. To recap: it was set for Tuesday. Then the Atlantic Ocean got all pissed off and the lending banks were like, “Whoa.” Then it was going to be Wednesday. Then it was going to be Thursday. Then it was “looking like” Friday. Then  they said, “it’ll almost definitely be Monday.” Now I’ve just gotten a call saying it’ll probably be Wednesday, because the appraiser insisted on a second look after the storm. Which doesn’t make sense, because shouldn’t that be the inspector?

Fine. Whatever. I just need to lie down.

I had a therapy session with Ali Velshi today, appropriately. I have realized in the last two visits with him that one of the tells of my anxious highs is that I talk a freaking mile a minute. I already talk fast, but whew. My previous therapist (Ali Velshi is my second) used to point it out to me when I was “zooming.” Ali Velshi hasn’t really taken that tack yet, though I did catch him eyeing my foot as I twirled it around and around and around while I talked to him. Unfortunately, what I do for a living and the people I work for are very unforgiving, and that is actually the greater part of the stress. Everyone gets stressed buying a house, and plenty of people have had far worse setbacks than I have. Hell, I could have closed on a house at the Jersey Shore on Friday. It’s work that compounds the problem for me.

Yesterday, after I ran out of boxes and bubble wrap, I turned around in circles in my living room a couple of times before I told myself aloud that I could go vote. And so I did.

What an entertaining hour that was.

It bears noting that this is my first time voting in my particular area, where I’ve only lived for two years. Sadly, this means I have nothing with which to compare the amusement of yesterday’s outing. Usually, I walk in on election day around 9am and it takes all of 15 minutes. Early voting isn’t really my thing – I prefer the patriotic, Sorkinesque rush of the shared First Tuesday In November experience to the wah-wah that it becomes after people have already done their civic duty days or weeks in advance. But alas, since the bank, work, Mother Nature and the universe are conspiring to kill me on or before November 6th, off I went.

If the signage can’t properly direct me to the where I should park for early voting, we’re off to a bad start. Just sayin’.

Eventually, though, I found the appropriate lot, and entered what used to be a school building and is now used for police and fire training to find an environment not unlike what I imagine Soviet Russia to be. Which, you have to grant, is ironic.

Don’t get me wrong. It actually went very smoothly. But first, we were corralled into a former gymnasium full of rows of chairs. Everything was painted cinderblock. Colors were drab. The chairs were Machiavellian. (I’m mixing metaphors. Deal with it.) We all had to sit next to each other – no empty chairs between voters, for the sake of the republic. And I’m fine with that, but not everyone else was. The election officials kept asking, “Is this an empty seat?” as if it were some sort of outrage.

Every so often, they’d take the first row of congregants. The rest of us didn’t know where those people went. It was kind of scary. But when they’d take the first row, then everybody had to get up and move exactly one row up from their previous seated position.

Can I tell you something? It’s troubling that not everyone can handle this kind of “upset.”

The woman next to me was one of those people.

“What?! Oh, hell naw. No. Why it have to be like this?” she wanted to know.

Lady, just effing move up one seat. This is not hard. Do it.

While a small child wailed behind me and her mother continued a conversation on her cell phone, we played the musical chairs game. Sans music. I will admit that my eyes were directed almost entirely upon my phone during this wait, but only because I forgot to bring a book. Then I heard someone saying, “Take care, now,” while the click-clack of her heels reverberated through the room. I looked up.

It was the mayor.

Meh. Back to my phone. Interestingly, though she’s popular and has done a very good job (and is not up for re-election this year), no one jumped up to talk to her or shake her hand. She just walked on through.

She looks good, though. Lost a lot of weight. G’ahead, girl.

Some couple who might have come from an Eastern Bloc country kept trying to jump the line. This nearly caused bedlam. I don’t know if they genuinely didn’t understand the process or what, but I found myself mildly irritated with the people who were unhappy about it. We still all get to vote. Who the hell cares if they vote before you? 

It’s interesting to see the passions ignited at a polling place. Apparently, not only is it essential that we are given our right to vote; it is also essential that we are given our right to vote in the precise order of which we entered the building.

Settle down, y’all. Russia ain’t near closed yet.

Eventually, I was in the front row. When it was time to move me and my compatriots, we went to another holding cell, where a few people got upset about the order in which we were lined up and I remembered that I should probably just sit quietly and not try to fix anything. This is the part where random people started trying to tell the election officials how to do their jobs.

Hold up. You couldn’t handle moving up ah row. You think you can tell an election official how to keep an orderly line? You still get to vote. Even though I’m pretty sure at this point that you probably shouldn’t.

After another waiting period, we got to move into the actual voting area. There: more line issues. Apparently it’s difficult to form a line. This is the part where I started worrying about the entire voting process and wondering if dictatorship wasn’t really the best way to go. But the election official easily found me in the list of city residents and handed me my electronic card. Then I joined another line (all lines were marked by – of course- gray tape) and waited for a Trapper-Keepered voting machine to become available.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve done my homework, so actually voting didn’t take long. There were no glitches with technology. All went well. I handed in my electronic card and left the building.

Some people in the parking lot tried to drive out the wrong way. I briefly pondered whether the police directing traffic should find out their names, go back inside, find their voting cards and pull them due to a total lack of intelligence.

But no. That’s not how this country works. Never has. It does not matter whether you are smart or not. Frankly, not everyone is blessed with the same degree of sense, common or otherwise. But everyone is granted the right to vote.

God bless America.

And I mean that.

******
PS. Know what I did while I waited to vote? Joined Twitter. Grudgingly. Follow me over on the right where you see the little birdie.

 

The Race For Second

Alright, so I’m late. I didn’t really mean to be, and I was questioned about it, but I’m here now with the probably-no-longer-material-to-you wrap-up of the vice-presidential debate.

The night began with Vice-President Biden practically blinding everyone with his teeth. The thing about the vice-president seems to be this: he’s totally authentic. You don’t have to like him, but you don’t get the sense from him that anything he does or says is insincere. When Mitt Romney grins, let’s face it, it seems put-on. When President Obama grins, sometimes it seems a little swaggering. But when Vice-President Biden grins, he just seems to be having a heckuva good time. The Irish love a good debate. Or argument. Or bare-knuckled old-timey fist fight in which they wear pants held up by a string around the waist.

For the record: I attribute 98% of Mr. Biden’s personality to his Irishness. That includes facial expressions.

And, as it turns out, the facial expressions were what might have boosted both the interests and the ire of viewers. If you’ve watched Mr. Biden for years and years, you know that he often expresses his thoughts with his face. (I do it, too – it gets me in trouble – and in this and our Irishness, I am a kindred spirit.) If you pay attention beyond the grins, you see his eyes go Laser Mode almost immediately after the grin disappears. When that happens, I think it means the grin was the first offsetting reaction to frustration, aggravation or anger. Like a mirthless chuckle.

Most of the times Mr. Biden busted out the Cheshire Cat, it was because he thought Rep. Paul Ryan had said something untrue. A lot of those times, he was at least half right.

Now, given the nature of politics and humanity, both men said stuff that was at least partially untrue throughout the night. To me, the most glaring untruth from Mr. Biden was the claim that the administration didn’t know the deaths at the US consulate in Libya were a terrorist attack in the early days afterward. Why do I think that’s glaringly untrue? Because I posted that government investigators were looking into signs that it was terrorist attack less than 48 hours after it happened, and I didn’t make that up. I’ve never understood the administration’s pushing of the stupid freaking YouTube video as the entire cause of that event. It does no one any good: it portrays Muslims as a bunch of ignorant savages ready to riot and kill at the slightest provocation; it makes the government look vulnerable to something as simple as a YouTube clip; and it ignores the actual problem at hand in the region, dumbing down a multi-national push for democracy currently stuck in the “unstable” position into nothing more than a viral video gone supernova.

So what about the most glaring untruth from Rep. Ryan? Sadly, it’s not an original line. It was when he called the Affordable Care Act a “government takeover of healthcare.” The healthcare law relies on private industry. In fact, it wouldn’t work without private industry. Its founding principle is that private industry exists and should continue to exist. The Republicans came up with a zinger line for the electorate back in 2010 and they’re still fiercely hanging on, but it’s simply a total falsehood.

Of course, there was a lot more to the debate that was far more nuanced, and for me as a viewer (and a wonk), it was, really, a fantastic political event. It featured a great deal of detail on both sides, but if we have to judge which candidate was the more specific, it would have to have been Vice-President Biden. Several times, Rep. Ryan was unable to be specific, although he made it appear on the surface as though he was, laying out  “bullet points” that comprise the Romney/Ryan plan. They sound great, but it’s impossible to back them up with specific action because it can’t be done without the full cooperation of Congress, and no one knows if they’ll get that. If you question that statement, consider this: a good chunk of the Romney/Ryan plan includes cutting back on tax deductions, credits and loopholes. Let’s see if Congress is okay with giving up significant drawdowns of the mortgage tax break. That’s not a hypothetical. It’s in the plan.

Ever since the Romney/Ryan campaign started pushing it, I’ve questioned their insistence that they will create 12 million jobs in four years. That insistence, and that number, is based on hoped-for results from non-specifically determined pathways, again, relying on the cooperation of Congress. Says a Romney ad: “First, my energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs, many of them in manufacturing. My tax reform plan to lower rates for the middle class and for small business creates 7 million more. And expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs.”

Well… he’s said nothing about how. On what does that energy independence plan depend? How, in particular, do those three things in the last sentence really push his plan over 12 million? And you’ll notice that the seven million jobs rely on the aforementioned hoped-for tax plan.

And by the way: 12 million jobs in four years amounts to about 250,000 jobs per month. Romney himself has said that a normal recovery would grow jobs at 500,000 per month.

Why am I talking so much about Mr. Romney when I’m summarizing a debate between Mr. Ryan and VP Biden? Because Romney’s tax and budget plans come largely from Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Ryan said job growth in September was slower than it was in August. Both numbers were small, but he was wrong. In August the economy added 96,000 jobs. In September, 114,000. He was right that both numbers were smaller than the additions in July:  163,000. What no one seems to talk about is what we were warned about back in February and March, when jobs numbers were higher than expected: it was because of the mild winter, and it would mean lower job creation numbers in the summer.

There were a lot of interruptions in this debate, coming entirely from Vice-President Biden. If you don’t like the Vice-President or the President, or if you don’t like politics much at all, you probably didn’t care for the argumentativeness. But Mr. Biden did his job in this debate. He came out firing on all cylinders and ready to challenge the inaccuracies that might come from his sparring partner. That’s exactly what President Obama did not do in the presidential debate the week before, and he paid for it. Mr. Biden hit hard at Mr. Romney’s “47%” mess… something the president didn’t mention once. He hit hard at the things that were blatant misstatements, like when Rep. Ryan claimed his Medicare plan had bipartisan support and that its cosponsor was a democrat from Oregon (in reality, there is zero support from democrats; the original Oregonian democratic co-sponsor withdrew his support after Ryan revamped the plan). Mr. Biden may have been what some people consider rude, but when the facts are at stake, sometimes couth deserves a wide berth.

But if politics are perception, Mr. Ryan definitely came off as calm, informed, articulate, prepared and controlled. I personally found some of his at-the-camera speeches a little rehearsed and robotic… something Mr. Biden never projects.

In the end, if we have to pick winners and losers, there are three ways to break this debate down. The first is in terms of actual information and facts, and in that, the debate was pretty much a tie. Both sides lied a little (although Mr. Biden lied less than Mr. Ryan) and both sides were very knowledgeable. If it’s about style, and you prefer calm to contention, then Mr. Ryan had the edge. The third is about party performance. Both men did their top-of-ticket running mates good on the night, but Mr. Biden made the greatest strides because his team had higher to climb after the president’s disappointing performance the week before. He got the president’s base to come down off the ledge while proving the Romney/Ryan team dishonest on a few points.

As always, I encourage you to read the transcript or watch the debate, which was 90 minutes. And here is the link to politifact.com’s fact-checking page.

 

The Thinking Voter’s Debate

There are a lot of people who haven’t paid much attention to the presidential race so far. They may know for whom they’re voting, but base their decision on very little education. For them, last night’s debate mattered.

They might be voting for Mitt Romney.

Unless they like PBS, which he promised to desubsidize as part of a plan to defund everything he deems unworthy of borrowing money from China. Despite professing a love of Big Bird. Who immediately ended up trending on Twitter.

That’s a lot of programs on the chopping block, so if you’re a fan of things like art and culture and  umpteen other less touchy-feely things subsidized by the government, you might be a little concerned by this.

Mr. Romney clearly outperformed President Obama in last night’s face-off in Denver. The debate was civil, there were no fireworks, and it offered a lot of detail and lots of mentions of Bowles-Simpson (actually officially Simpson-Bowles), which people who don’t pay attention to politics may have never heard of. (It was a bi-partisan commission formed in 2009 to make no-holds-barred suggestions for how to trim spending and the deficit. Neither candidate loved it 100%, but both candidates liked it to some degree.)

For those who haven’t paid attention to politics, this would have been the problem with last night’s debate: it was info-heavy, which is exactly what they want but not exactly what keeps their interest… since, by virtue of not having been paying attention, they don’t know what the candidates were talking about.

Let’s talk about the most common refrain we’ve heard throughout the campaigns: job creation.

Mitt Romney says if he’s elected, he’ll help create 12 million jobs in his first term. How he’ll do that remains mostly a mystery, though he says that fostering energy independence will create four million of them. His ideas for energy independence include increasing the production of “clean coal.”

“I like coal,” he declared simply.

And I laughed out loud because it sounded so much like Brick Tamland’s “I love lamp.”

He did not mention green energy initiatives at all.

The president has long been about fostering new energy alternatives, and he does claim that, while he supports green energy initiatives, drilling for oil is up under his administration. And it is, but as Mr. Romney pointed out, it’s up on private land. On public land, it’s down significantly.

I’m not going to turn this into a debate over energy, but the Obama Administration has made it very clear that it’s time to actually do what we’ve been talking about doing since the 1970s and create energy alternatives. His Republican counterparts, including Mr. Romney, don’t want to do it because it doesn’t have a big enough profit margin. It’s clear on which side the planet loses, and frankly, on which side consumers, in the short term, lose. If you want to think long-term, you go with the president’s plans. If you want to think consumer short-term, you go with the Republican plan.

But it’s difficult to argue that any amount of job creation would be meaningful without an increase in American manufacturing. To that end, both candidates want to decrease the tax rate on American businesses, particularly manufacturing, in order to encourage them to keep their business here instead of outsourcing jobs. The president wants to drop the corporate tax rate to 25%. It’s currently 35%. The president also said that, right now, businesses get a tax break to ship their jobs overseas. Mr. Romney replied that he has no idea what the president is talking about.

This is where I had the  biggest problem with the president’s performance. If you were watching on a network that provided a split-screen at that moment, you saw the president make a face that I inferred to mean, “Well if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t know enough.” But he never verbalized it. Time after time, there were clear disagreements that the president never took the opportunity to voice, corrections he never tried to make. I don’t know why. But that was frustrating to watch. 

Mr. Romney said his plan for America basically has five parts: energy independence, open trade, ensuring skills for work in part by having the best schools in the world, championing small business and a balanced budget.

Sounds fantastic. How?

Didn’t really say.

But Mr. Romney did come to this debate extremely well-prepared. He cited specifics in numbers that went a long way toward informing Americans about what is going on in the economy, and the president simply repeated two: Romney’s supposed plan for five trillion dollars in tax cuts along with an increase of two trillion in military spending that he said the military hasn’t asked for. It’s a decent argument, because his point was it can’t be done without revenue (and Mr. Romney has refused to consider tax increases of any kind). The problem is that Mr. Romney responded that he does not have a plan to cut five trillion in taxes, and the president never laid out his reason for using the number. He just repeated it.

What I found interesting about Mr. Romney’s assertions, though, was that he insisted that he would not reduce the “share of taxes” on the wealthiest Americans. This is a new verbage. This is the first time in the campaign that he has said this. What he means is that, while he would decrease the income tax level for the wealthiest Americans, they would wind up paying just as much because he would also close loopholes and decrease available deductions, exemptions and credits. It’s not a stretch to understand why he might not have mentioned this before: either he didn’t have the idea before, or it’s a little scary to American homeowners to hear they may lose the tax deduction for their mortgage pr maybe even – dare he? – pay a higher tax rate on capital gains. Mr.Romney did not say which deductions and credits he’d change, but in the past when questioned, he has said he would have to work with Congress to establish them. That adds the layer of uncertainty: he can say this is what he’ll do, but he can’t do it unless Congress agrees, and though he may have a friendly Congress, it will be hard to get them to go along with things like decreasing the amount of tax deduction available for mortgage loan interest, for example.

His implication is that it’s a zero-sum game, which it’s not, but it was another specific citation that made Mr. Romney look like he knew more about the economy than the president did.

It’s not that the president gave no specifics in the debate. He said he wants to hire 100,000 new math and science teachers and create two million slots in community colleges to give people opportunities for less expensive higher education. He said he’s cut taxes on small businesses 18 times. He said the average American family has seen its tax burden decrease by $3,600. And he drove home the point that Mr. Romney’s plan for closing the loopholes, trimming the deductions and credits, etc., will not be enough to pay for his plans for tax cuts and to pay down the deficit as he says he wants to do. Plus he says independent economists have determined that under Romney’s plan, the average American family would pay $2,000 more in taxes per year… for nothing.

He’s saying it’s impossible to get the fiscal debt down without asking for more revenue. It’s not a new point, but this was the first time he got to explain why Mr. Romney’s plan won’t work, even if it does get through Congress.

The other specific conversation I found intriguing was the one about tax rates for small businesses. The president says that, for 97% of small businesses, the tax rate will not increase. But Mr. Romney pointed out that the three percent that’s left employs 25% of American workers. And he says the increase on that three percent, from 35% to 40%, will cost 700,000 jobs.

I don’t know where he got his numbers; he didn’t say. But the president didn’t argue, though I sensed he wanted to.

That’s a point you have to argue.

What he did say is that Mr. Romney defines small businesses differently, and that somehow under Mr. Romney’s definition, Donald Trump owns a small business. I don’t know what that means and he didn’t explain it.

What the president did explain was that he hasn’t been shy about trimming wasteful spending in the federal government. He pointed out that he’s eliminated 77 programs, 18 of which were for education, because they just weren’t doing enough. He said he’d cut $50 billion in waste and trimmed a trillion dollars from the federal discretionary spending budget – the largest since Eisenhower was in office.

Mr. Romney went a long way to clarify his lack of extremism when it comes to regulation. He expressed very clearly that he understands that regulation is necessary in order for capitalism to function well. What he didn’t balance with that is his laissez-faire approach to failing markets. He reiterated that he wouldn’t have classified banks as “too big to fail,” and while that’s a good populist approach, it doesn’t take into account the fact that if those banks had gone under, they would have taken millions of jobs and investments with them. It also reminded the attentive viewer that Mr. Romney would not have bailed out the auto industry – arguably the single most important manufacturing industry the country has left – an industry that reported last month that its sales are up… 41% for Toyota, 12% for Chrysler, 2% for General Motors (Ford was flat) over last year.

And the president did hit back on Romney’s point with a bottom line that’s hard to debate: when the economy crashed in 2008, was it because there was too much regulation? No. It was because there wasn’t enough, and things were allowed to run wild. So he made sure that every bailout given was returned 100% plus interest (he’s right), and he instituted the toughest reforms since the 1930s.

You’ll recall that’s directly after the stock market crash of 1929.

Much has been made among the punditry about the president seeking reelection with the highest rate of unemployment since FDR. That stands to reason, doesn’t it? He’s also dealt with the greatest economic crisis since FDR. I went looking for a breakdow”n of unemployment rates in presidential election years and couldn’t find a comprehensive list that dated back before 1956, but I’d be willing to bet that Mr. Obama and Mr. Roosevelt were the only presidents who had to run when unemployment was above 7%. It’s an arbitrary comparison that I believe a thinking voter has to dismiss.

And that’s really the key here, as it always is. The voter has to think. The voter can’t fall for things that seem substantial but aren’t. Today, I found this post on Facebook: “What our economy runs on is free people pursuing their dreams. That’s what makes America work.”

That’s a meaningless jumble of words meant to stir patriotism without thought. The American economy runs on a lot more than that. The post came from the Romney campaign.

Think before you “like” a candidate.

The Lost Art of Campaigning

As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.

Something profound has happened in American history. Oh, we’ve seen the signs since the country was founded – campaigns have always been ugly… brutal, even… lies spread every which way about every candidate in every form of communication. That part isn’t new.

What’s new is the lies now spread about the American people.

It’s insidious. Even as much as I follow politics, I didn’t see it clearly until now.

Somewhere along the way, presidents and presidential candidates have forgotten that, in the White House, they must be the president of everyone, not just of the people who voted for them. They have become willing to throw entire groups of people away, to offend their sensibilities, their beliefs and their convictions, for the sake of currying favor with those other Americans who hold opposing views.

Elections have become less about pitting one candidate against the other and more about pitting one group of Americans against another in the name of a candidate. We’ve heard it called “the politics of fear,” and that’s accurate, but it’s usually a phrase flung forward by a candidate using it to scare their supporters away from their opponent. We’ve heard it called “class warfare” – a term that amuses me, since the last uncounted years demonstrate that class warfare has always been waged – but usually on the poor instead of the rich.

We are now in a time when greatly offensive words uttered in private fundraisers and recorded are called “inelegant” instead of what they really are: the truth of a candidate’s feelings accidentally spoken aloud. It is as true of then-candidate Obama’s “guns and religion” as it is of Mitt Romney’s “victims.” That these things were said doesn’t surprise me. Both comments offended me. In campaigning, I’m willing to call it a wash. But in the intent to govern the American people, what it truly is is a name-calling. A categorization of some Americans into “those people.”

And so when it happens, a candidate or a president has two choices: stand by it and essentially claim it as your true feeling, or back off from it and apologize for offense. Mr. Romney has done the former; the president, the latter. I don’t know which one is more sincere or more admirable, but I do know which one acknowledges offense and error (albeit after the fact).

It is no coincidence that these uncovered utterances happen at private fundraisers. It is, after all, money that is king in a republic meant not to have one. It is in front of $30,000-a-plate diners that candidates are willing to make those less elegant feelings known, so they can gather funds from the people who agree. Until they’re in office, they speak only to friendly audiences.

But of course, all candidates, all people, have their biases. We’ve heard it in decades-old tapes of Presidents Nixon and Johnson in the Oval Office. It is the information age, the age of global media and the internet, that have laid those biases bare in campaigns in recent years. Maybe nothing has really changed at all, and it’s just that we know about it all now. But the Observer Effect tells us that the act of observing a phenomenon or event changes the phenomenon or event. So the fact that the American people can now hear and see these biases will change the way campaigns are run, the way we vote, and the way we are governed.

It was the Great Communicator, the Republicans’ sainted and oft-invoked Ronald Reagan, who first understood that we were coming into a global media atmosphere. His speeches stirred the masses because they found them inspiring. Are we inspired now by the messages we hear? And if so, what are we inspired to do? Are we inspired to support a candidate because he reinforces our distrust of a group we consider opposed to us?

If so, that’s the wrong way to be inspired. On either side. And it is our responsibility to be aware of that.

Somewhere in the fairly recent past, politicians came to believe that the key to getting elected is to make us distrustful of one another. It’s what spurred the sea change of the 2010 congressional elections. It is what’s driving this presidential campaign. It is an engine of its own, churning so mightily in Congress that it is propelling those who used to be moderates either out to the margins or out of their offices voluntarily, if not by elective force. Politicians believe that this is what we want.

And we’re proving it, every time we vote a moderate out of office. It may be the single greatest unintended consequence of American government: the sacrifice of our government’s ability to work together.

I didn’t divulge the name of the person I quoted at the beginning of this post for a reason. He was a contentious figure, one regarded as vitriolically partisan. And he was not a politician. I didn’t divulge his name because I wanted to see how many people who might philosophically disagree with him would in fact agree with at least this statement, without knowing the speaker’s leanings. Sometimes I think we could use more of that kind of decision-making – the kind that eliminates party or platform, that takes “those people” out of the message and speaks simply to common sense, even though common sense can differ.

It was common sense, and a common goal of independence and the betterment of man, that created this country.

Perhaps that is what we need to sustain it.