Thoughts Before Election Day

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 (  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?

9 thoughts on “Thoughts Before Election Day”

  1. I am somewhere in the undecided mess usually. I was not sure who I wanted to vote for. The RNC’s build up made me feel sick and wanting to distance myself as far as I could from a bunch of crazies until they got the people who knew Mitt from church on the stage and then I finally felt like listening.

    The DNC made me feel less like they were crazy and more like they were superior and delusional. I hate Biden. I don’t think I can say that enough. If President Obama had a different running mate is still wouldn’t vote for him, but when I see Joe Biden speak anywhere all I do is wonder how on earth people voted him into any office ever at any time.

    I think the people who are making decision are way too isolated and limited by having been in politics as a career. I relish that Mitt was a businessman. I wish all our congressmen were men with a second career in their 40’s +. If all you’ve done your whole career is people please and negotiate you lose sight of common sense somehow. I think they all need a little real life job experience.

    And I am voting based on a feeling when Mitt was talking in a speech. I figure if I can feel the Spirit when he is talking then hopefully he can hear it when he is making important decisions. And I hope to hear Come Come Ye Saints by MoTab at an inauguration. I will cry like a baby.

  2. Looks like I’m a little late to this, but I’ll play anyway.

    “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.”

    The Bush “tax cuts for the wealthy” were in reality an across the board cut that lowered everyone’s taxes. Even Obama is only talking about repealing the top marginal rate cut. According to the CBO, that will bring in about $85 billion a year. That’s based on a static analysis which always overestimates revenues from a tax increase because it assumes nobody will change their behavior in response to the increase. If you push the rate too high, it’s possible to bring in less revenue than with a lower rate. Britain learned that the hard way recently when they pushed the top marginal rate to 50% and lost tax revenue from that group. The rich didn’t get rich by letting their money sit around waiting to be taxed. They have good accountants and plenty of legal options available to shelter their earnings.

    But putting all that aside and assuming we get all $85 billion, then what? We’d still have a $1 trillion+ deficit, a $16 trillion+ national debt, and a looming entitlement crisis with $222 trillion unfunded liabilities. $85 billion would be a drop in the bucket. If you want to really raise revenue, you have to go after the middle class, but nobody has the guts to propose that. Even if they did, I really don’t trust the government to use any new revenues to actually pay off the deficit. Politicians are always eager to find new ways to spend other people’s money. Once they show they’re capable of making actual real cuts, then I’ll be more open to hearing about tax hikes.

    The best way out of this is to cut spending and reform entitlements. For instance, we could probably stand to get rid of some entire departments. Take the Department of Education. What good is it? Test scores have flat-lined or even gone down since its inception, everyone seems to hate NCLB, and it was complicit in destroying the effective DC voucher program, so why are we wasting tens of billions of dollars a year on it? Get rid of it. That’s a drop in the bucket for sure, but it’s just a start.

    As for entitlements, we have a number of options at our disposal, including raising the retirement age, means testing, and yes, privatization. Sorry to bring out the dirty P word, but it did work out well for Chile and Australia. As a pragmatist, I think it’s something worth looking at. I am against raising the payroll taxes (except to what they were before the stimulus) because these programs are drivers behind wealth inequality. That’s what happens when you transfer massive amounts of wealth from the young (poorer) to the elderly (wealthier). I see no justification to doing any more of that.

    You mentioned contraception. If Republicans are focused on contraception, it’s for one very good reason- the Obama administration is trying to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception as part of their employees’ compensation packages. It’s about as absurd as forcing Mormon institutions to provide wine to their employees as part of their compensation. It’s a blatant violation of First Amendment religious liberties and that should be pointed out. Besides that, contraception was never mentioned until George Stephanopoulos asked a question about it at one of the Republican primary debates. Romney’s answer was to the effect of “Why are we talking about this non-issue?” That’s hardly the response of someone pretending to care about a salient ideological issue in the Republican Party. After that, HHS announced its policies regarding contraception. That you speak of Republicans having an ideological focus on contraception and not of the Democrats using contraception to undermine religious liberties speaks to the unfortunate dominance of Democrat Party propaganda in the media.

    Lastly, Citizens United was a case where a company that makes political videos sued the government because they were barred from airing a political movie about Hillary Clinton during election season. That is also a blatant violation of the First Amendment. The ruling only stated that corporations, including unions, could not be barred from engaging in political speech. It does nothing to reverse the laws about directly funding campaigns as our President unfortunately lied about. I don’t think concerns about presidential campaigns taking up 0.0066% of the economy instead of 0.0033% (or whatever) are valid reasons for messing with such a fundamental and crucial right. The ramifications of the proposed amendment to undo Citizens United are downright chilling. Besides, if corporations like Reuters, The Associated Press, The New York Times Company, News Corporation, Viacom, etc. are allowed to have a voice, why not corporations like Frito-Lay or Apple? The former are a heck of a lot more influential in elections than the latter.

  3. Lots to unpack there, Evan, but one quick reply on Citizens United: It all comes down to whether you think money=speech and whether you think a corporation is a person with the same constitutional rights. I happen to think the answer to both of those things is no. I think speech is something that comes from a mouth. I think people with good/important things to say can and should have that speech amplified by the media. I don’t think it was intended for a faceless corporate entity to have limitless spending ability backed by faceless, nameless citizens.

  4. Money isn’t speech, but money also isn’t legal representation. However, I’m pretty sure that any law making it illegal for a defendant to pay for legal services would be smacked down as a Sixth Amendment violation. The same goes for guns. Restrictions on the exchange of money in exercising rights are in fact restrictions on said rights.

    A corporation is not a person but an organization of people. Most churches are also organized as corporations, so if we accept your logic, those churches would not have protection of religious rights.

    The word speech, taken alone, means verbal communication, but the phrase “freedom of speech” has always applied to any medium of expression. The Constitution even goes so far as to add the phrase “or of the press” to protect free expression through newspapers, books, pamphlets, leaflets, etc. That they would mention the latest communications technology of the day implies that the First Amendment covers all forms of communication.

    I think the Founders intended that the Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech because that’s what they wrote. Like most things, there are certainly some gray areas on what exactly constitutes “free speech”, but using technology for political advocacy is not one of them. Besides, if we accept that free speech protections should not apply to corporations, then they should not apply to media corporations either.

    As an aside, “faceless, nameless citizens” could well describe Publius.

  5. I’m a bit stunned at your defense of Citizen’s United. I don’t see how allowing anonymous, multinational entities with limitless resources meddle in our political campaigns is a good thing. You can argue the particulars of legality, and I’m no lawyer, but when a fish is rotten everyone can smell it – and this thing is stinking up the joint.

  6. I’m not a lawyer either, but if you’re going to wade into the realm of criticizing Supreme Court decisions, you’re wading into the realm of legal particulars. The Supreme Court is not supposed to rule based on whether it’s a good thing or not, but whether it’s Constitutional or not. They did just that and that’s not something every American should be absolutely disgusted about.

    As for whether it’s good for politics or not, that’s a whole different argument, but I think the effect is way overblown. If you want some justification for that view, here’s the New York Times and the Washington Post arguing that the ruling didn’t have much effect on the election:

    Here’s the New York Times giving some explanations why Citizens United wasn’t the Earth-shattering event many have made it out to be:

    Besides, we still have one type of corporation- the media- with far more influence on our elections than corporate America or unions can ever hope to have and they are no less corruptible or agenda-driven. Their impact is often quite negative, but I would never wish to take away their First Amendment rights to do what they do.

  7. Seeing that it’s been over a week since I left my last comment and it’s not up, I think it’s safe to assume you didn’t allow it past the moderation filter. That’s too bad. I always figure that when a blogger leaves a comment section, he’s open to discussion and when the same blogger writes political posts, he’s open to vigorous discussion.

    Perhaps you don’t appreciate me poking holes in your bumper-sticker arguments. I get that- it’s happened to me before. However, if you can’t respond to them with anything more substantive than telling me you’re stunned I would dare say such subversive things, why not post a simple “Thank you for your thoughts, Evan” and then consider my point of view? Even if you end up rejecting it, at least hopefully you would have come up with a better reason than “It stinks”.

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