Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Follow the globe-trotting box

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/business/2008/the_box/default.stm

The Beeb has sent a cargo/shipping box along its merry way (with a smashing paint job and a GPS) to see the effects of globalization. The load it carried to the first port of call in Shanghai? Whisky.

Tally-ho...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Who's *not* going to get bailed out?

And that is asked in complete sincerity, after the events of the past few weeks.

What's to stop me from not paying my mortgage or my lines of credit? May as well live high, then jingle-mail the keys and default on the credit. To the abyss with responsibility, morals, and the high road.

What happened to sense (I won't even call it "common"), personal responsibility, and the tenets of the free market - if you can't compete, you go under.

Yeah, I am a little bitter and cranky.

Soft Money Suit

So, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Republican Party has filed a law suit to finally destroy what's left of the McCain-Feingold laws governing soft-money contributions to political campaign

"Mr. Duncan, the RNC chairman, said the soft-money rules are too broad and prevent the party from participating in state-level races in which no federal politicians are running for office. The rules as written would also prevent the party from directly participating in state redistricting, which will begin following the 2010 census, and from lobbying on state issues."

Didn't the 50-state ground game waged by Mr. Obama and Howard Dean just disprove that thesis? Big donations weren't the key to the Obama electoral college landslide... it was the ground organization that put them over. I'm not saying the man got to the Whitehouse without big donors, but it was the small donors, millions and millions of them making small donations made one at a time, again and again by normal people who put him in Washington atop a wave of populism.

I'm the first to admit that - for better or worse - Barack Obama's fundraising juggernaut changed the face of American politics, especially presidential elections. This still seems like the GOP is fighting the last war rather than learning from the thrashing they just took and applying those lessons in the new arena.

Isn't the Republican party missing the lesson of this election? Do they think that "This Candidate Brought To You By AT&T" is going to trump "This Message Made Possible By 100 Million People Just Like You"?

Or am I the one who is missing something here? What's the angle?

Nebraska's Camel

This morning, I was reading news and blog postings on the ongoing situation in Nebraska and it got me thinking...

First of all: I'm not going to defend the law. It's a mess, there is no doubt. I have any number of friends from NE who may well respond to this and I encourage them to do so. I would love to hear from you.

On the whole, I think it's important to acknowledge that this legislation came from a good place and is the result of Nebraska lawmakers being progressive in the only way that the state as a whole generally allows.

But it's nevertheless a camel: A horse built by a committee.

Nebraska's history in the realm of child welfare is one spot where they can be justifiably proud of their record. Boystown and Girlstown are institutions of great merit, or so I believe. In some ways, I see this as an extension of that history, and an attempt to pave a highway with good intentions... but we all know where such roads inevitably lead.

I lived in Omaha for a time and found the experience not at all as appalling as my blue-state cohorts would assume. But the winters very nearly defy description. I'm not sure I can adequately describe to those who have not experienced it the full brunt of a Nebraska winter what it is like. Maybe the number of people posting here who live in Ohio makes that unnecessary, but it's true. I have been caught in blizzards high atop Rocky Mountain passes, weathered nights in a tent at temperatures well into the negatives and even lived in Milwaukee... and nothing compares to the full brunt of Nebraska's winds howling in off the great plains, coating the world in a rime of ice. It is beautiful if viewed from a cozy redoubt, assuming you don't want to go anywhere until it passes.

And I remember all too well stories of babies found abandoned and blue in the fierce winters of that corner of the world. Anything done to save a child from such a fate is worth the effort, even when the results are so tragic as these have been.

Of course, the larger and most devastating part of this is the lives of the children so abandoned, their families shattered. Older children brought in from out of state by parents pushed beyond their limits. Using statistics I found in one blog, 33 of them since the law's inception. (I'll attempt to verify those numbers later, they're only peripherally germane to this commentary.)

I don't know any of those families, I don't share their situations, and I won't pretend to understand what drove them to act in extremis in the manner which has garnered so much national press coverage.

Parenting in this country is a quiet and growing tragedy and this is simply the exposed wound that has been hidden, quietly progressing into gangrenous rot. Not entirely unlike the manner in which the aftermath of Katrina/Rita forced us to realize the depths of racial division still extant in our country and the tragic poverty that still grips far too many. So too with the rearing of children, and now that the bandage is off, and the exodus of parents with children they cannot afford or cannot handle turns toward the Sand Hills... I ask: now what?

The problem lies in the attempt to find solutions to the symptoms without addressing the disease. This attempt to legislate away the point of the lance, fails to take into account the shaft of the weapon or the momentum of the rider and horse. Ignoring my personal outrage as someone who would give anything to be a parent that any children are 'unwanted', there are deeper issues here than this or any law can adequately address. The problem lies deeper than the disposition of unwanted children, the problem lies in the societal forces creating children who will one day fall into this category.

Our national discourse on sex and procreation is a travesty. Our culture wars are operating on a layer too thin, a veneer over the real issues. As we argue about the sanctity of life and marriage we forget the rest of the lives we are so cavalierly ignoring in favor of these two universal points.

What greater good are we serving by saving a fetus only to abandon the child?

What greater good are we serving by telling Barry he cannot marry David if we're telling young Louise that the MUST marry Jimmy?

What greater good are we serving by refusing to discuss the results of a child's actions when those actions might result in more children?

Even the best intended legislation cannot solve any of these issues by addressing the results but not the causes. This cultural war will never reach an armistice at the ballot box. Just as the Gordian Knot could only be untied by Alexander's sword, a more direct and comprehensive solution is called for...

Unfortunately, I don't know where to find Alexander's sword anymore than Nebraska's lawmakers do. Or California's. Or the ones in Washington DC for that matter. I do know that the greater good can only be served by opening up the floor for a more reasoned debate and taking one more step back from these issues to better see the full scope of the decisions that are so quickly desolved into soundbytes for the next election cycle.

In the words of Albert Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Godspeed, everyone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More conservatism

So that it does not get completely buried, Scott posted a good post asking questions about where conservatism goes from here. I think the questions are worth answering and the idea is worth discussing.

Signs the the rhetorical cold war has only just started

Paul Waldman presents in his article "Goodbye and Good Riddance" one of the best examples yet of why I believe we find ourselves in the middle of a rhetorical or ideological cold war that has only just started. While I respect Mr. Waldman's right to his opinion, I think his vociferously overstated case reveals the depth of the divisions that currently haunt the United States that electing Obama or anyone else in this cycle could not have overcome.

From my point of view, Mr. Waldman's article reveals the depth of the divide of a nation pulled in half for reasons I am not sure I entirely understand. What I do understand is that there are screaming ideologs on both sides of the divide who have become so blinded by something more fundamental than ideology that they can no longer see that their rage serves only to ensure that their opponents will never listen to anything they have to say.

In the mean time, many people far closer to the center find themselves caught in a malestrom of such intensity that they have lost the ability to discern where their interests actually lie. I wonder how many people ended up voting for Obama simply because they wanted to make the TV stop shouting at them about how bad Bush is. This is not to say that their best interests may not still lie with Obama, but I wonder whether they actually know that.

I know that George Bush made all kinds of mistakes during his presidency, but so did all 42 other presidents who proceeded him . I also know that many of the things George Bush has done can only be best evaluated once they become history years from now, perhaps long after he is dead. Unfortunately, the raging ideologs want us to either hate or love Bush before we can accomplish anything else.

This insistance ensures is that one half of the divide will continue to hate the other half of the divide and refuse to cooperate with them so that nothing will get done that actually benefits the United States in the near future. This hatred almost ensures that Obama faces the potential for opposition as vociferous and insulting as the oppostion Bush has faced until this point, opposition that will serve only to be obstructionist instead of centralizing.

What remains is a nation divided by ideology that insists that half the people are uninformed, misguided, and deluded whichever side one happens agree with. What remains is the reality that, before we can come together as a nation, we must first take a hard look at ourselves and realize that maybe we are just screaming instead of thinking.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bothered but listening

If Barack Obama is able to put the ideas contained in this document into action in a way that does not take more power out of the hands of the American people or cost them more, then he has scored his first, cautious support from me. I have long supported the idea of expanded options for national service, especially in return for easier access to higher education, and if Obama follows through, then I can see myself adding my support to this idea.

I admit that I came across this proposal of Obama's not on my own but because of the diligent work of a fellow blogger (HT: Scott) who sought to diffuse my instinctive reaction to a sound bite taken out of context that potentially frames Obama as saying something he did not mean in the way the sound bite makes it sound like he meant it. I also want to point out that it is this very kind of thing that has the potential to get Obama in all kinds of trouble with the 48 percent of people who did not vote for him in the same way his careless comment to Joe the Plumber did (I think the election would have been less close if not for that gaffe).

Here are two other things that I think highlight the potential for future debate:

First, I think it is possible to disagree civilly with the ideas of a president without the disagreement degenerating into a shouting match. Granted, future disagreements may not result in a change of mind (just wait until we get to socialized medicine), but I think the potential exists.

Second, I asked a question, argued my point, and was convinced of the point made by someone who disagreed. While I do not promise this will always happen (in fact I generally think it will not), I think it demonstrates that at least one "conservative" is capable of the kind of rational thought people of that political persuasion are often accused of not having.

I point these things out because I think it is important to remember that those in the "opposition" are always looking for ways to bring the debate to the center. Issues like these present great opportunities for centrism if they are taken.

The whole video

Because these words make more sense when viewed in context...

Why should this not bother me?

While this idea is only barely making the news cycle, the evolution of Obama's idea to have a domestic national security force that rivals the department of defense is really starting to bother me.



What I want to understand is how this idea is any different from warrantless domestic wiretapping and why it should not bother me as much as wiretapping bothered so many other people. This question is not intended as a challenge so much as it is a legitimate attempt to discover if there is something I am missing.

(Please note that, while I supported the Bush administration program that used domestic warrantless wiretapping, I have never supported unchecked use of warrantless wiretapping itself. It would be far better for us to redevelop and fund legal and legitimate intelligence programs; however, these programs do not currently exist, but the threat does, resulting in my support for those programs.)

Conservative

"The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made. This quarrel is the subject of civil history. The conservative party established the reverend hierarchies and monarchies of the most ancient world. The battle of patrician and plebeian, of parent state and colony, of old usage and accommodation to new facts, of the rich and the poor, reappears in all countries and times. The war rages not only in battle-fields, in national councils, and ecclesiastical synods, but agitates every man's bosom with opposing advantages every hour. On rolls the old world meantime, and now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

We like to pretend that the cultural war raging around us is a new phenomenon... or at least the press does. And while I (and many others) would argue that recent American political history reached the tipping point in 1968 when the peace movement sold its soul for spectacle at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, some might disagree. Nevertheless, so much of the conservative movement that has dominated politics since that time was borne of the backlash from those events as the electorate recoiled from that horrible spectacle and voted for the guys they saw as promoting "stability" for another thirty years while their more liberal counterparts retreated into a mantra of 'My vote doesn't count anyway' which held until a presidential election was decided by a little over 450 votes, which signaled a shift in the tide as young people (and certain candidates) suddenly woke up to the power of the franchise.

This was recent history, but is not the entire history of the struggle between those forces known as liberal, and conservative. Emerson wrote the essay I quoted above in 1841. The same forces were at work in the English Civil War and earlier.

Every few generations, the battle is renewed, and in the course of the ensuing conflict, out terms are redefined. So-called 'Liberals' so often allow themselves to be defined by their opponents. "Socialist" was a word bandied about a great deal by the McCain campaign in the wake of "Joe the Plumber's" entrance onto the world stage. But nothing they did seemed to stick. Maybe because of the bailout plan and the nation's $700bn experiment with state banking, everyone looked like a socialist this year. Maybe Barack was just the teflon candidate. Maybe he defined himself strongly enough to defy his opponents' efforts. Maybe he defies description.

I think some temporal distance will be required before we can really get a good read on that. As Denny and I recently noted with regard to W, true historical perspective requires a certain amount of distance to really grasp.

But I digress...

In the wake of election day, I posted a series of questions that can be summed up as: "What now for conservatives?" But as I read the press coverage of the Republican's 2008 denoument (which sounds so much better than "Sniping and finger-pointing") the central theme seems to have shifted from "What now" to "What is conservative?"

Perhaps that conversation was inevitable, especially in the wake of a campaign that seemed tailor-made to shatter what remained of the Reagan coalition. A candidate that first ran away from the social-conservative base and then ran back to reluctantly embrace it and then didn't seem to know what to do with them once they started showing up.

Here on HOCF, I've heard any number of views on conservatism, but nothing that approaches a definition. So I'm curious: What is conservative to you?

Not "What is the fantasy conservative candidate", but what really makes a candidate a "Conservative"... or a political party for that matter. What is it?

And does it matter at all? Do the labels mean anything anymore? Does Emerson's bald description of the conflict as being between the party seeking a status quo and a party seeking to advance into something new still hold?


Friday, November 7, 2008

Overstated cases

After eight years of the worse governance since James Buchanan...
-Linda Hirshman


Now, I understand that many people are unhappy with G.W. Bush's presidency, but come on. How can any intelligent person make the kind of a statement Hirshman makes with a straight face? I have heard this kind of rhetoric from all kinds of Bush detractors and it sounds a lot like people trying to wish history into making it true.

I agree that Bush has made mistakes, even some big ones. It turns out every president is guilty of that flaw to one degree or another. The only thing that really makes Bush different is the feedback loop created by 24/infinity media combined with the internet.

Further, the election is over, folks. Bush lost--oh, wait, Bush did not run. For people who claim their objective in supporting an Obama presidency based on high flying rhetoric like hope and change, maybe they also need to add the additional practical rhetoric of getting over it.

Whether Bush turns out to be the worst president since Buchanan will be decided by people writing history books many years from now who have the advantage of looking at everything that has happened over the past eight years and the years yet to come with a degree of detachment. I wonder how history will record such powerful pronouncements of disdain when that history is written.

By What Standard Does the President Govern?

I recently read an article on my cell phone, the headline of which repeated the adjectives favored by the left when describing the Bush presidency. Leaving aside fact that the headline completely belies the content of the article to support a partisan bias, one particular sentence caught my attention:

"[Bush] is seen as pushing for an agenda to the right of the nation and doing so through executive power that ignored the popular will..."

So I ask the Contributing Factors, by what standard should the president govern? Is the executive office of our government bound to do only the will of the populace, or, once elected, is he free to act by the guide of his judgment and the will of his conscience?

It is striking to me that a large part of our current President's unpopularity has as much to do with the wedge of which Scott spoke so eloquently as his actions. But that said, was he supposed to have compromised his beliefs to do the will of the people (and thus gain popularity), or is that duty more accurately assigned to the Congress?

Moreover, what does this mean for our next President? Does Barack Obama have a mandate to act only on the will of the people, or is he free to act on his own agenda, with the aid and consent of a friendly Congress?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Republic

There's no government like no government

I have something of a dark confession to make: if I had my way I would be a classical anarchist. I absolutely believe in the supremacy of the individual and that every individual should be free from the constraints of the forceful regulation that organized, compulsory government demands.

Unfortunately, the reality of large-scale social interaction denies the application of universal anarchism in any practical way. What a pragmatic anarchist is left with is working toward some sort of extremely limited government wherein personal liberty is maximized.

I am blessed to live in a nation governed by a constitution that makes the best attempt to maximize individual liberty by enumerating the powers the government has and remanding any other powers to the states and the people.

Under this constitution, it is at least possible to imagine the kind of federal government I would create if it was up to me. The easiest way to imagine this government would be to imagine how much it would cost.

My federal government would be one where its primary function was national security--the guns and intelligence pointed out to keep the inside secure. The only thing it would collect direct taxes for would be to perform this function. These taxes would be levied in the form of a per citizen bond scaled to the net worth being defended (kind of like a property tax but with a wider definition).

In my federal government, any other function it performs, rigidly bounded by the constraints of the constitution, would be paid for on a per use bases. Want to use government roads? Buy a government license. Want to use government sponsored schools? Then pay the appropriate fee. This structure would include states buying into government arbitration for things like trade disputes.

My federal government would remand all other authority to the states and the people where it belongs. Notice, that this government does not include any mention of federally mandated programs for anything, let alone social welfare.

Now, I understand that some people may recoil at my vision of federal government, but I wonder if they ever consider what the current version means. The current version plans to spend $3.1 trillion on $2.5 trillion in receipts in 2009. Barack Obama wants to add a trillion dollars in new spending to that number (over the course of four years). $4.1 trillion per year represents almost 30 percent of the United States annual GDP. If we add in the true, long term cost of the recent financial bailout, the current version of the federal government could end up controlling almost half the total GDP through spending and stock holdings in once private institutions.

Numbers like that do not just make me sad, they make me angry and fearful.

If we take a look at these numbers, the current federal government will spend $13,667 per person living in the United States right now per year if Obama gets his additional spending. That is $35,400 per average household per year. Subtracting the roughly $660 billion per year currently planned for military and homeland defense spending, that is $11,500 per person per year or $29,700 per household per year.

Even if one takes a reduced number based only on the FY 2009 budget with no spending increases and with defense and homeland security taken out, the federal government plans to spend at least $32,500 on my behalf over the next four years. That's 8,133 gallons of $4 per gallon gas, or seven years of filling my gas guzzler once per week.

Is the current federal government providing me $8,133 in annual services beyond defense and homeland security? I contend the answer is no.

Now, consider what you would do with $8,133 extra dollars a year. Even if that money went to taxes to your state or local government, imagine what the difference might be.

Of course, not everyone would just have $8,133 dollars in hand. Instead, that money, all $2.4 trillion of it, would be back in the economy. That would be $2.4 trillion in business investment and jobs. We would see that money in the form of higher wages, lower prices, and more personal economic autonomy.

Perhaps as importantly, that would be $2.4 trillion available to Americans to help themselves and each other. That kind of money could raise millions of people out of poverty. That kind of money could ensure people could afford their own health care. That kind of money could help millions of more people go to college.

I understand that all of these numbers are a simplification. I understand that there are probably some other federal programs that might deserve some kind of guaranteed funding. I understand that many people believe that the only way to ensure certain people are treated fairly is to invest that power in the federal government.

What I want those people to show me is a single government program outside of the Department of Defense that has conclusively improved the lives of the demographic it was designed to serve. To me, the evidence of this success would be that the demographic no longer needs the program because its circumstances have improved beyond the need for it.

I believe there are no such programs. Instead, we have more people living in poverty, more people struggling to make ends meet, and more people without the ability to pay for health care. Even worse, we are not secure. We cannot even control our own borders let alone keep tabs on and deter our enemies.

This is the kind of result that demonstrates the failure of our current federal system, whether that system is run by a Democrat or a Republican. This kind of result is why I reject the idea that somehow I should believe that things will not be so bad under an Obama presidency. I want the government to barely exist and he wants to grow it by a trillion dollars.

Sure, I supported McCain for president and, in many ways, he was just as bad, but at least he paid lip service to the things I want the government to do for me. Obama has promised to do everything but what I want, and for that reason alone, I cannot be content with him as president.

What does this all really mean? It means, for me at least, a critical line has finally been crossed. It means that I can no longer sit back as I have hypocritically done for so long and hope things will go my way. It means that I must now actively work to deconstruct the $4 trillion monster that our federal government has become. It means that I can no longer accept the status quo, even if that means my opinion, my actions, and my vote become marginalized by the monster enthralled mainstream.

Maybe it means that I will have my way after all. I will be the practical anarchist trapped in a socialist democracy. At least I will have an excuse to justify being cynical and angry most of the time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why McCain Supports Should Be Hopeful

There was a lot of talk during the election cycle about how dangerously liberal Barack Obama is. It was and is crap, but it represents a very real concern for conservative voters who want to see their conservative values continue to guide the national course. McCain supporters and conservatives in general should relax.

The one attribute that Barack Obama seems to possess that gives me the most hope as our country faces the next four years is that, unlike his predecessor, President-elect Obama seems to have an open mind. Bush supporters always revelled in his "I never change my mind or admit I'm wrong" approach. And who could blame them. When someone is doing what you want him to do, you don't want him to stop just because others (even the majority of others) disagree. However, this approach to the Presidency has great flaws in a world that seems to change with each passing day. Resoluteness of purpose may be admirable, but a staunch refusal to accomodate new facts (or any facts) and new conditions is simply bull-headed and more importantly, dangerously ineffective.

While about half the country surely disagrees with President-elect Obama's core beliefs, I think they can look forward to a Presidency marked by open-mindedness and a willingness to hear any and all points of view, to reassess information, and to willingly reconsider ill-conceived courses of action. This same trait may annoy the bejeebers out of Mr. Obama's staunch liberal supporters who might like him to shove a liberal agenda down the throats of those, in their eyes, deserving Neo-Con "hatemongers," but it will almost certainly result in a much more balanced and sane form of government.

We can only hope that Congress, the media, and the rest of the Washington insider elite will take a cue from the new President and actively build a more civil, reality-based approach to government that takes the views of all Americans and the facts into consideration before precipitously sending the country lurching forward on national and international misadventures.

An exit-poll...

Last night a friend of mine was pulling up to her polling place and noticed there was a line. As she approached the building, she met an elderly black man coming out and held the door open for him as he exited, slowly, leaning heavily upon his walker.

"How long's the wait?" she asked.

"200 years" he replied. "Go in there and make history, young lady."

I admit it: that made me cry.

Transition

As a proposed topic for discussion going forward as we try to transition from a blog where we debate the election. Here's an interesting (I thought) early look as Team Obama makes their plays on the transition...

Standout quote:

“You better damn well do the tough stuff up front, because if you think you can delay the tough decisions and tiptoe past the graveyard, you’re in for a lot of trouble,” Mr. Panetta said. “Make the decisions that involve pain and sacrifice up front.”

Thoughts?

Innumerable thoughts occur to me... but I'll try to put them down.

I'm curious about our conservative members' thoughts on their party's run and future...

What's next for McCain? Party elder? Will he have the clout to bring anything to the table in the coming term? Where do the Republicans go from here? Is Palin the new face of the Republican party? Or did her candidacy turn off those crucial swing voters? Or were they simply defeated because McCain got dealt a bad hand -- doomed from the outset by being handcuffed to an ever more unpopular lame duck president?

And what does it really mean to be conservative in this new paradigm? Is the Christian right going to continue to reign, or will fiscal/business conservativism overtake the GOP because of it's draw across party lines? Or can the Republican party still forge a workable coalition from the disparate and bickering elements from this defeat? Where's the conservative path to a win for the midterms?

Most importantly - to me at least - is the call for a bipartisan effort from McCain in his concession speech... pretty words? Will reaching across the aisle to work with the new Democratic majority hurt or help the Republican cause in the next election? Is bipartisanship even possible on any real scale when the power rests so securely in the hands of one party.

As a side-comment: It is the ultimate irony to me that the party that spoke so brazenly awhile back about eliminating the filibuster from Senate rules must now rely upon it to get any voice in events that will transpire. As many commentators at the time noted, take a move that will effectively disenfranchizing a minority from their ability to block the majority from walking all over them is fine... when you're the ones in charge. Thank God cooler heads prevailed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Thin End Of the Wedge

In 1858, a man stood up and walked to the lectern at the front of the assembled dignitaries of the Illinois Republican party. Three hours previous, the assemblage had appointed him their candidate for the United States Senate. In his acceptance speech, this man – in his high reedy voice – would famously paraphrase Jesus's words in Matthew chapter 12: "…every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand."

He was talking about slavery, of course. And he lost that election… according to many at the time, he was doomed from the outset because of the political incorrectness of that speech which went on to forecast the coming storm. As every schoolchild knows, he became our 16th president, emancipated the slaves, brought the southern states to heel and was assassinated in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth, who raised the murder weapon before the crowd and shouted "Sic simper tyrranis". The state motto of Virginia then as it is now... "Thus always to tyrants."

Today, we a young black man stepped up to succeed him as president. He began his run on the steps of the old Illinois state capitol building where Lincoln made that speech. And as some have pointed out, he finished his run in Manassas, VA near the battlefield known as Bull Run, the touchpoint of the American Civil War.

As I have repeatedly noted here and elsewhere, we have been quietly fighting a new civil war, one which has been largely fusillades of divisive rhetoric rather than fusillades of musket shot. In this – the longest campaign for president in history – America has stripped itself naked before the entire world, exposing our scars and our still-seeping wounds wrought by wars both figurative and literal, our economic woes ground like glass into the unhealed wounds of the 11th of September seven years past. As the campaign dragged on, we have been forced to come to terms with our feelings about race, gender and age... or refuse to as the case may be.

And here we stand at the touchpoint of another tidal shift in American history. It is quite possible that the energetic young black man who began his campaign in the shadow of Lincoln – in every imaginable sense – has just fulfilled the motto of the state where he concluded his run. And gave new meaning in the minds of the current administrations detractors (myself included)

I admit a degree of shadenfreude that frightens me as I whisper softly 'Sic semper tyrannis' in the wake of two eloquent speeches. One conceding, one accepting the mantle of the presidency. We know he can lead, we know he can speak, can he unify us?

I cannot stress enough the degree to which this campaign season has changed the dynamic of American politics. Whether for the better or the worse remains to be seen. For one thing, this is very likely the end of presidential candidates trying to exist solely on public financing. And the part that alarms me the most... they have driven the wedges ever deeper into the cracks that divide us. Hammered them home for two straight years with speeches invoking words of hatred and division, invoked images of fear and the ineffable other.

On the bright side (and almost ironically) both campaigns have brought women and minorities deeper into the process than every before.

Which brings us back to Lincoln... sort of.

Awhile back I opined that America had embarked upon a "Rhetorical Civil War". It's interesting to me to see that this idea isn't unique to me and has found traction in both the right and left as those few pundits with the clarity of vision to realize what's happening are standing agog, at a loss for how to stop it.

Recent conversations I have had and observed with those I usually consider to be calm and logical thinkers frighten me. The ad hominem attacks both against the candidates and against their opposite number in the argument have escalated. Names have been called. Teeth bared. Crowds in front of Palin and McCain have chanted "Terrorist" and "Bomb Obama" and "McCain, not Hussein", "Get him", and raising in an ever more shrill fashion the specter of otherness that they wrapped around their opponent.

I listened to McCain's concession speech tonight with an air of surprise. This was the man that I admired what seems so many years ago. A man who - had he shown up for the campaign - may yet have won my vote. He spoke well. His words were well-intentioned, I doubt not, and I do not cast any doubts upon his intention to try to heal the wounds of this campaign. It was an honorable speech. But I hoped for more. I still do.

Too late McCain's effort came during the campaign to halt the whispers that Obama was a Muslim. He told that woman that the senator was an honorable man who they need not fear. But I fear it was too late, too little, too inadequate. And no attempt from the firebrand of the campaign who seemed so eager to unleash the rage of the chanting crowds. I look for Palin to help put the pin back in that grenade, but as a resident of the Northwest, I am all too aware of her style, tone and rhetoric and I despair that she recognizes the damage that has been done to the fabric of the republic on this quest for glory.

For most of my life I have watched as political operatives found and focused on specific issues, wedges to drive between the voters. Wedges that are hammered home with such blind zeal that any attempt to repair the broken social security system has been toxic to the career of anyone daring to assay such a thing. It has been called "the third rail of American politics." Abortion, defense spending, the war on drugs, pick your issue and find the single-issue voters who will relentlessly punish the candidate who crosses their involate line, no matter what else the might offer, no matter their intentions, no matter their reasoning...

In a change for me, I have taken an active hand in this election cycle. I have stepped out of the shadows where I have – as a rule – hidden my political opinions for most of my life. I didn't want to get involved. George W Bush and especially Dick Cheney changed that. They tortured people in my name. They broke the constitution, or at least bent it until it began to show stress fractures. And thus will you find it inscribed on the straw atop a broken camel somewhere behind me.

I have engaged. I have fought. I have won and lost and fought to a draw. I clawed with those opposite me in the political spectrum. I have been labeled a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, an elitist, a peacenik, a warmonger, a Jesus freak and many other less pleasant names besides. Some of them are even true.

I have been living on the thin end of the wedge.

About a month ago I realized that if McCain won, my world would not end. And began to notice the conviction with which my opponents were convinced that theirs would if the opposite were true. At that point, I began to come to grips with the core of the issues that divide us, with the dimensions of the gulf that yawns at our feet...

And I do not have the answers. I certainly hope someone does.

One thing I do know: I will continue to speak. That genie is decanted and there is no cork that could reseal that bottle. What is done cannot be undone.

As I saw it then and see it now: neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. McCain were launching a wholesale assault upon my life or system of beliefs. Truthfully, if you hold these past 21 months up to the light, you might well find that to be true for yourself as well.

My candidate won tonight, but I am not a Democrat. Too many pay lip-service to any party's political platform as the forge a path of their own devising for me to willingly surrender my desire to vote the candidate rather than the party. From the liberal-leaning Republicans to the "Dixi-crat" Democratic senators of the Clinton era, Rinos and Dinos make me cynical of any party-line vote.

The names tossed at me that I mentioned before are nothing as to what has been bandied about with abandon in this campaign, mostly from the Reds to the Blues, the gloves coming off and the nails coming out as we find ourselves in politics embodying what Tennyson might have called 'politics, red in tooth and claw.'

For too long we have sat and listened and watched in silence as our putative leaders drive in the wedges, chant and wave signs and trade barbed verbal attacks in rallies and on the internet, tell lies and sling mud as they pound gleefully upon the wedges without regard for those on the thin end. Wedge issues abound in this election, made all the more virulent by the stark differences in the candidates, the attachment of ageism to the one and the dangerous and ineffable 'other' to his opponent.

This is what scares me about an Obama victory.

I watched and listened as this election has unfolded, as we regressed from a national conversation to a national argument with shouts of "Terrorist" and "Commie" coming from the cheap seats. And it has become increasingly clear to me that we stand at the potential flashpoint of our hitherto rhetorical civil war. It scares me to think that I might be right, that the leaders who set this fuse might not be able to walk back the damage they have done. That we might not heal. I can't help but think that every time we walk down this path it gets more difficult to walk back. If 21 months is the new standard for presidential elections, then we have 24 months to rest - at most - before we do this again.

Rest, America. You've earned it. Communicate with your leaders. Tell them what you want from them in the next cycle of elections as the midterms already loom large on the horizon.

Tonight, John McCain made an excellent speech. An eloquent concession and call for unification. But it cannot pass mention that those calling and hooting from the gallery were only told 'please'. And there was no direct address to walking back the charges made, the whispers spoken on the internet.

We need more. The man has yet to assume the office and already two bizarre plots to kill him have been stopped. This is a dangerous time, a time that can be the time of honor and disciplined governance from both sides that our nation needs. A time of healing and statesmanship. A time of civilized discourse and earnest disagreements given voice with passion and erudition.

In the past 232 years, we have endured 43 men in the office of the presidency. Some have sought the office. Many assumed the mantle in a time when it was considered more appropriate that the office seek the man rather than vice versa. There have been successes and failures, giants and poltroons. And the republic still stands.

Whomever is reading this, I implore you to take a deep breath. If he's not your guy, this too shall pass as the 43 men before him have. If he is, enjoy this moment. Do you utmost to see to it that your candidate becomes the president that you saw in him. That his potential is fullfilled.

I believe that the thin end of the wedge to end all wedges is poised above us. It is up to us to see to it that it is never driven home. To re-couch the words of Lincoln from the speech with which I began this rambling blog post, from the conclusion of his famous speech, his words describing the insurgent Republican party of the election of 1854, but better still they could describe the coalition of Americans we need now from all points on the political spectrum:

"Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all them to falter now?-now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail-if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come"

God bless, everyone. And God bless the United States of America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A quick thought on "the right to vote"

I have heard several times now in the past twenty-four hours the contention that the Constitution does not contain a right to vote. It appears, based on the words from his own mouth, that this meme started with Neal Boortz, who I expect to make such a general and incendiary comment in order to rattle people.

The question of the right to vote is one of the several questions of Constitutional politics that cannot be reduced past its inherent level of complexity. Boortz statement insinuates that there is no right to vote at all, a claim that violates the requirements of both logical thinking and irreducible complexity.

First, consider what kind of government we have. We are a constitutional democratic republic. In order for our republic to be democratic, it must, by definition, have a demographic that votes. Therefore, there is an inherent right to vote built into the very idea of the kind of government we have. Without that right, our government is not a democracy.

Second, consider what kind of right voting might be. It is not an inalienable right like life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. It is not a right like the ones specifically enshrined in the Constitution and its amendments. Instead, it is a conditional right, one which the Founding Fathers and anyone who reads the Constitution with any kind of intellectual honesty will admit can and should be regulated for the good of the democratic process. We accept that regulation often without thinking when we do not let children or felons vote.

Third, consider the kind of regulation applied to voting. Aside from the broad protections provided by the Constitution and its several amendments that apply to voting, what kind of regulation should be applied to who can vote? Frankly, that is a matter left up to the states and the people and regulated itself by the Constitution and the promise of equal protection. Certainly, as the people we have the right to control who votes, but that control necessarily applies equally, everywhere to all people.

So, how should the right to vote be regulated? That kind of regulation is a dangerous and slippery slope. Some people want a test. I once agreed with and advocated a system that would require voters to be net tax-payers. I am sure there are other ways people want to control who votes.

The problem with all of these ideas is that they run afoul of a basic tenet of the very fabric of our democracy: the fabric of liberty. The regulation of voting is an idea borne out of wanting to prevent people from voting whose ideology, reasons, or knowledge differs from our own. The regulation of voting is rooted in the tribal desire for my side to always win and for the side I disagree with to always lose.

The regulation of voting always threatens liberty and democracy, and it is an attempt to intimidate opponents instead of convincing them. I am not saying that some regulation is not necessary--obviously children should not be allowed to vote--but I am saying that any regulation that exists should be as little as possible.

Instead of focusing on some kind of regulation, we should focus on the irreducible complexity of the problem that leads people to want to regulate in the first place. I think most informed people agree that many, many people who vote do so in an ill-conceived and ill-informed way. Instead of trying to prevent those people from voting, we should concentrate on explaining to and informing them. I know that is a very complex problem, but I also know it is the one that actually needs to be fixed.

-=DLH=-

Cross posted from Dennis L Hitzeman's Worldview.