Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pondering Out Loud as the Clock Ticks Down

Two weeks from now we will know who will be president of the United States for the next four years. That assumes, of course, that there will be no intervention by a Supreme Court that seemed to enjoy appointing the president when the opportunity came their way in the 2000 election (okay, okay, it's cheesy and should be beneath me, but still...). In truth the razor thin margin this year doesn't guarantee any outcome--a tie in the Electoral College is far from impossible, leaving the decision to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Oh my!

I'm cursed by being interested in all this. I watch the darn debates. I listen to the cable television talking heads prattling away into the night. Sometimes I watch the late, late night reruns hoping the blue vote in Wyoming might have slipped beyond the statistical margin of error that Rachel or Wolf reported three hours before.

It never does. But then, before I could trigger the remote I would find myself in the middle of an infomercial for some kind of cream that repairs your male pattern baldness, restores your libido to when you were 14, and when properly applied reminds you (men only please) to put the toilet seat down. All this for only $14.95 plus shipping and handling, bringing the total to $87.58. It's deals like this that keep you interested in politics.

I've got some things rattling around in my head about this election and think it might be a good idea to get them written down before they become tainted by outcome. There is nothing to ruin a good night of pondering more quickly than to have it ratified or repudiated by facts.

Not my granddaughter but almost as cute.
For purposes of full disclosure let me acknowledge than I consider myself an independent but I mostly vote for Democrats. In 2008 I enthusiastically and tearfully voted for Obama and will do so this year, perhaps without the tears. I not only support him but I admire him. I am furious at the Republican intransigence over the last four years so it is going to take a while for that party to regain my acceptance in those few places where I might be inclined to support either an idea or candidate.

In addition, I recently turned 65 and am now the recipient of government largesse via Medicare and the Social Security Trust Fund (which I understand is currently busy paying off unfunded war expenses and other such obligations). I tell you all this because I believe that the closest one can get to objectivity is to disclose one's subjectivity.

What follows is a handful of words that prompt in me some reflection or feeling pertaining to the current election cycle. Each word could probably stand on its own merit but I'll give them a couple of sentences explanation just in case you, dear reader, think differently, and therefore wrongly, about its meaning. We can't have that.

INCIVILITY: During a speech by the President to a joint session of Congress Rep. Joe Wilson yelled aloud "You Lie!" That is perhaps the benchmark in a season of rudeness and disrespect that does not auger well for a political climate worthy of our highest aspirations.

PROPORTIONALITY: Little things weigh too much. That can apply to a poorly phrased idea or a faulty memory, but a deeper illustration is Obama's admittedly poor debate performance in his first standoff with Romney. Most analysts think a good debate by Obama would have virtually locked the race down; instead it energized the opposition and left an election still in doubt just two weeks away. Pretty serious consequences for a bad day.

CARNIVAL: The Republicans rolled out about 20 debates with a cast of characters that rivaled the traveling carnivals of my youth. We got a bunch of wannabes dancing on the edge of embarrassment--Herman Cain (thin crust), Newt Gingrich (smart but tone deaf), Michelle Bachman (scary cute), Rick Perry (even God's endorsement didn't help), Ron Paul (unpopular truths stir fried with blunt fun), Rick Santorum (see Manchurian candidate), and others. Eliminate those and you're left with two Mormons--Jon Huntsman (ignore because he makes sense and is experienced) and Mitt Romney (well no one will vote for a Mormon right?). A few others didn't make the cut. Can you imagine being told you don't qualify to be among THIS field of candidates? But the bottom line is this: the quantity and quality of these debates did not serve us well.

RELIGION: I spent 33 years on the staff of a faith community, eight years as the denominational president. I know a bit about faith and politics and I find the use of those principles in today's campaigns to be appalling. Several candidates said they were running in response to a call from God. I always thought God was too busy controlling the outcome of football games to take on politics as well. Those who want a reasonable understanding of church and state would be well advised to note that the constitutional "wall of separation" is designed not just to protect the church from the state but also to protect the state from the church. And to that I say,"Amen."

EXTREMISM: Even as I write this there is much ado on the television about the congressman who stated that a child conceived in a rape is a "gift from God." My own state features commercials about one of our congressmen who seems to know that if it's a "legitimate rape" a woman has the ability to close it down and presumably prevent conception. I can't even believe I'm writing this stuff. This campaign cycle has featured a war against science, a battle over the rights of women to control their own bodies, and it has put extremists in a position of forcing candidates to embrace positions they do not believe in for the sake of getting elected. We have a right to expect our leaders not to be scared of scary extremists. In 2012, alas, that is misplaced hope.

MONEY: This is the worst of all. Thanks to the same Supreme Court mentioned above, virtually any meaningful campaign finance limits were struck down. That left us with an orgy of spending beyond belief, and some billionaires or poorer millionaires made it clear they would use their PACs and Super PACs as vessels for contributions without limits and often without disclosure. I might be good for a $200 political contribution in a race I care about, maybe some smaller amounts for local elections. Why would I feel motivated to give a couple hundred bucks in a time when the well-heeled have bought the election for the price of a $10,000 breakfast and a photo op? I eat my Raisin Bran, sip my coffee, read the morning paper, and sulk. And for good reason.

So now we await the outcome of this tortuous process. We will each do our part in accordance with our convictions. It looks like a mess, but somehow it usually seems to turn out okay. I trust that it shall be so in this election year.

And then, could we please turn our attention to things we can learn from the flawed process leading finally to November 6, 2012. This grand experiment in democracy is sorely in need of a tuneup.

Note: This version differs slightly from the version posted online around noon on 10/25/2012. Edits were primarily grammatical or for clarity. In a few places, notably the last two paragraphs, a few additional sentences were written. The basic premises are identical in both versions.  (10/25/2012, 8:00pm)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Disappointment, History, and Popeye

Politics will infuse your dreams with hope and the next day smash them cruelly on the rocks. It's horrible, and then you suddenly realize, "My gosh, it's already the next day."

I was profoundly disappointed by the performance of President Obama in the first presidential debate for the 2012 election. I think I have made it very clear that I admire the president and support him in his efforts to build a nation that appeals to our highest values. That admiration has not moved one iota on this day after Mitt Romney trounced him in their first of three such encounters leading up to the election.

Let's be honest and realistic. The spin doctors waste their breath in trying to snatch victory from defeat. It may work with sports but not here. The majority of voters will not make their decision on some intricate mathematical formula that suddenly explains the deficit or keeps grandma's Medicaid coverage in place. It has to do with how we felt about what we saw. It has to do with likability and confidence and trust. You can't spin that.

Mitt Romney stumbled and bumbled his way to the nomination and has run what looks from the outside to be a futile campaign with a deeply flawed candidate. Then, inexplicably, he gulps down a can of spinach, pounds his fists on his chest, and knocks Bluto on his arse. And Olive Oyl swoons.

So, give the guy his due. He prepared, and to his credit he prepared content and not one-liners. You can make all the excuses you want for Obama--he has a day job called "being president," he underestimated Romney having seen his GOP debates, he was tired or had jet lag, or was not feeling well, he just had an off-day as we all do. Doesn't matter. Romney wins, Obama loses.

Richard M Nixon debates
John F Kennedy in 1960.
History is littered with failed debates and victorious candidates. The first televised presidential debate was Nixon vs Kennedy in 1960. Many thought Nixon lost because he had a five o'clock shadow and droplets of sweat on his upper lip. It took him a while but eight years later he was the president, winning a second term before being forced into resignation to avoid impeachment. It is a case study in winning and losing and we need to learn history's lessons.

Today all around the country there are pundits and campaign officials smarter than me criticizing, advising, retooling, and rethinking. It woud be self-indulgent to believe I have anything to add to that mix. My priority now is personal. I need to figure out what I am going to do about this disappointing day. A few preliminary ideas have already come to mind.

A few days ago I got an Obama-Biden bumper sticker through the mail. It's been laying on my desk. Today it goes on the car.

I will try to do my bit by passing out literature, making phone calls, putting up yard signs and all that stuff that works even thought we hate it. I will NOT participate in anything that smacks of robo-calls.

I've read enough to know that Romney's debate performance was built on an altar of half-truths and fuzzy math. I have given him a lot of credit in this piece, but that doesn't mean he gets a pass for his shameless game of cat and mouse with the truth. I will learn what I can and offer the unrequested service of correcting these mistaken notions when I hear them. I will be forthright but I'm no Popeye. I will be gentle.

I will expect the president to carry the water to the finish line. On this day, the day after, he has already begun. It's good to have him back. Mr President, a can of spinach at breakfast might be a good idea, just in case.

And most important, I will remind myself over and over that disappointment fades and today is a new day.