On The Topic Of Politics.
It's a touchy subject, I know, but I've been engrossed in it for the last three weeks now. I can clearly see that this is a pivotal moment in the history of our country.
Let it be known that I'm an Obama guy and a Liberal at heart. I live in New Jersey, one of the so called "Blue States" which pays out more in federal taxes than it receives back from the federal government (see fuckthesouth.com). I generally agree with Mark Rosenfelder's assessment of taxes and why people who make more should pay more (summary: because they reap the most benefits (although indirectly) of government spending). I also agree with his assessment of Libertarianism and the pitfalls associated with it:
The nature of our economic system has changed in the last quarter-century, and people haven't understood it yet. People over 30 or so grew up in an environment where the rich got more, but everyone prospered. When productivity went up, the rich got richer-- we're not goddamn communists, after all-- but everybody's income increased.
Thirty years ago, managers accepted that they operated as much for their workers, consumers, and neighbors as for themselves. Some economists (notably Michael Jensen and William Meckling) decided that the only stakeholders that mattered were the stock owners-- and that management would be more accountable if they were given massive amounts of stock. Not surprisingly, CEOs managed to get the stock without the accountability-- they're obscenely well paid whether the company does well or it tanks-- and the obsession with stock price led to mass layoffs, short-term thinking, and the financial dishonesty at WorldCom, Enron, Adelphia, HealthSouth, and elsewhere.
The wealthiest 1% of the population doubled their share of the pie in just 15 years. In 1973, CEOs earned 45 times the pay of an average employee (about twice the multipler in Japan); today it's 500 times.
Ultimately, I'm of the belief that long term prosperity for the nation can only come from government investment into the systems and programs which support the largest base of people instead of relying purely on the free market.
From that perspective, Obama appeals to me because he has the same vision; he understands that we can only prosper as a nation if we increase our shared investment into education, healthcare, and creating jobs for the middle class since these are the foundations of a strong healthy economy. As Rosenfelder writes, it's not about robbing the rich to pay the poor, it's about getting back to the same principles that allowed the US unrivaled prosperity in the latter half of the previous century.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said,
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
Truly, this is what humanity is about and it is one of the aspects that elevate us above other species.
Anyone who's been following US politics with a clear mind and a willingness to do even a trivial amount of research online knows that this campaign has been filled with falsehoods and lies and, not surprisingly, almost all of them are coming from the Republican campaign. As has been said of them in the past, the Republicans don't know how to run a government, but they sure as hell know how to run a political campaign. Their whole platform is based on a series of outright lies and framing the opponent in a negative light (even when they have to distort facts to make it so).
In general, I don't like to talk politics on the job due to various experiences I've had with it in the past (at Factiva during the 2004 election year). But I couldn't resist this time because most of my coworkers are in Utah, an exceptionally Republican state. Of course, I was curious because these folks are exceptionally smart, well educated, and connected to the Net where information and data flows freely. Aside from that, they are Mormons who -- due to their missionary work -- seem like they would be able to connect to that humanistic nature of Liberalism and the Obama platform.
My boss, in particular I felt, should be able to relate to Obama in that like Obama, he is a self made man. Like Obama, he travelled the world as a youth. Like Obama, he is well educated (although as I frequently point out, Harvard Law is no walk in the park). But here he was, in a discussion with me, basically reflecting the message that the Republican campaign had put out there, framing Obama as a know-nothing, do-nothing, wannabe. It was sad. Despite the information available at his fingertips and despite his well developed critical thinking skills and despite his intellect, he had bought into the Republican picture of Obama -- hook, line, and sinker.
The discussion started from experience. His first critique was that Obama lacked experience. He recited Giuliani's line from the convention. "Community organizer? I don't even know what that is. Does he have any responsibilities? Does he report to anyone? Is he accountable for anything?" All fair questions, but let's step back from that for a moment. Obama was only a community organizer for three years; it was his first endeavor out of college. Having graduated from Columbia, instead of seeking profit for himself, he sought to serve the public in a volunteer role to help in economically depressed communities as a college graduate. Aside from this, Obama has never claimed this himself as a credential; it is merely one aspect of his life and the choices he's made which reflect a history of public service.
Of course, back onto the issue of "community organizer", from his wiki, it's clearly defined what he accomplished as a college graduate:
After four years in New York City, Obama moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer for three years from June 1985 to May 1988 as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Greater Roseland (Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale) on Chicago's far South Side.During his three years as the DCP's director, its staff grew from 1 to 13 and its annual budget grew from $70,000 to $400,000, with accomplishments including helping set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens.
It puzzled me because I would have thought that this would have resonated well with his Mormon sensibilities of service and faith.
We moved on from this to how Obama has, as the Republicans have been trying to sell, running for president; as if this was his only other experience. Oddly, Bossman was unaware of the fact that Obama was also an Illinois State legislator for 7 years. Of course, this still wasn't good enough because apparently, Obama voted "Present" 130 times. According to Bossman, this was the definition of a lazy politician. I tried to explain to him that voting "Present" is a strategic move that signified his disapproval with a particular piece of legislation rather than an act of indifference. As the New York Times writes:
Lawmakers and other Illinois officials said the present vote was devised to enable lawmakers to recuse themselves from voting on bills that present personal conflicts. It can also be used in the routine day-to-day wrangling in the legislature.
Okay, fine. Even if you don't accept that the "Present" vote was used strategically, it only accounts for a fraction of his some 4000 total votes! Of course, the Republicans are very good at framing this. They throw out the 130 number as fact and act shocked! Shocked, I say! Without providing the full context of 4000+ votes.
"Well," he countered, "they don't really do much as legislators anyways; they only meet a few times a year." Fair enough. But during this time, I pointed out, Obama was a practicing lawyer at a well respected law firm in Chicago as well as a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago...
Seeing that he was making no headway in this direction, he shifted tactics to his critique of Obama. He pointed out rightly that Obama missed more than 45% of the votes in the 110th Congress and called it a mockery, using it as evidence that Obama's only experience has been running for president. Little did he know -- as he took the Republican message hook, line, and sinker -- that John McCain missed 63.8% of the votes, thus missing more votes than any other member of the Senate! Of course, this was still an indictment against Obama because he missed 45% of the votes. But a cursory look at the 109th Congress shows that Obama only missed 1.7% of the votes compared to 9% for McCain. Again, I pointed out, it was an issue of context; by using the numbers out of context, the Republicans succeeded at presenting a false image of Obama. If you wanted to spin it and sensationalize it, you could even say that John McCain missed almost 5 times as many votes as Obama did (in the 109th Congress)!!1!!1
Aside from that, it assumes that every vote is given equal weight. They're not. Obama has skipped many votes this session to be sure, but he has been strategic in his voting record and has voted on some of the most important bills which McCain, conveniently, has skipped!
As recently as this morning, McCain again told reporters that he planned on returning to the Senate for this evening’s vote on the economic stimulus, stating that Congress needed to quickly pass legislation.
The measure, blocked by conservatives, fell just one vote short of the 60 needed to end debate. At the “last minute,” McCain decided to skip the vote, even though his plane landed in DC in time. McCain claimed that he was “too busy“
Both Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) were able to return to the Senate and vote on the bill.
And another vote on veterans issues, an area that, surely, McCain would champion, right?
Senate Republicans have broken with President Bush to help Democrats add support for veterans and the unemployed to a bill paying for another year of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The 75-22 vote also added billions of dollars in other domestic funds such as heating subsidies for the poor and money for fighting wildfires to the $165 billion for the military operations overseas.
Both Sens. Obama and Clinton voted in favor of the bill. Sen. McCain skipped the vote (as did Sens. Tom Coburn and Ted Kennedy).
Seeing that he was making no headway in this direction, he started to critique policy, saying that Obama's tax plan would put the US into debt, another Republican talking point that he swallowed hook, line, and sinker. In reality, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Obama's plan puts the US in less debt than McCain's:
Both John McCain and Barack Obama have proposed tax plans that would substantially increase the national debt over the next ten years, according to a newly updated analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Compared to current law, TPC estimates the Obama plan would cut taxes by $2.9 trillion from 2009-2018. McCain would reduce taxes by nearly $4.2 trillion. Obama would give larger tax cuts to low- and moderate-income households and pay some of the cost by raising taxes on high-income taxpayers. In contrast, McCain would cut taxes across the board and give the biggest cuts to the highest-income households.
This is aside from the fact that Obama has a more well defined tax policy and a better plan to increase revenue, but that's a story for another post. Asked how he would make up for the tax cut, I offered that Obama would get us out of Iraq earlier and thus save huge sums of money (about $10 billion each month). To this, he quipped: "Yeah right, the Democratic Congress hasn't been able to do anything yet; they're lazy good for nothings."
Well, again, I thought he was smarter and more well informed than this. In fact, you can't even really consider the Senate Democratic at all. The current majority (if it exists at all), is at most 2 members if you count the independents! It is, for all practical purposes, spilt 50/50. Aside from this, he completely ignored the fact that from 2003-2007, both houses of Congress were Republican! Not to mention that the president was Republican and that even 7 of 9 Supreme Court Justices were Republican appointments! Amazing! From 2003-2007, the Republicans had control of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the US government! And somehow, he kind of glossed over this to blame a Democratic Congress which has a razor thin "majority" and has only been in power since January of 2007. It was a total disappointment since I expected him to know this basic political background.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to the amazing number of falsehoods and misunderstandings that are out there now about Barack Obama. The Republicans are masters at framing the opponent instead of talking about the issues. They are masters at making the other guy look like a tool instead of making the issues the primary focus. And the sad thing is that most Americans buy into their message, hook, line, and sinker.
So Is There Hope?
It would seem hopeless now wouldn't it? If a college educated, self made business man, and a man of faith and service couldn't buy into Obama's platform of education and public service, then what hope do we have for the rest of America? What hope do we have for society if the cream of the crop with instant access to the Internet -- the great equalizer -- can be so easily deceived by the Republican message?
One of our partners in Denmark, Martin, discussed some of these points with me on IM. He questioned whether American's were smart enough to see through the failures of the Republican campaigns (it's weird, the failures are so apparent to people outside of the US, but Americans are so blind to them...).
At this point? It's hard to say. As I've read somewhere (I don't know who to attribute this to now): the fact that John McCain as a non-zero chance of winning this election is unfathomable. And indeed, I cannot comprehend it myself; he has run an election completely devoid of policy talks and focused on rhetoric and building up his image instead. Is this really what we need at this pivotal point in history, when China's empire is once again on the rise and the US slowly falls behind in basic education? A time when US enrollment in sciences and engineering programs at the collegiate level are stagnating, do we need a man who will focus on warmaking?
Of course, Martin asked if I even believed that Obama could accomplish half the things he promised. He pointed out that all politicians are alike, promising one thing and delivering another. I thought about that and my feeling is that no politican can ever deliver what he promises because the reality is that democracy allows dissent and in the US, not every politician will agree with Obama's plans. It will be difficult to get many of his measures passed by Congress and it will be difficult to address all of the issues he has on his plate within a timespan of four years. This is the reality of our system. But the one thing to keep in mind throughout all of this is that he has a well defined vision of what America can be and what we can do (a 15 page, single spaced document just on education policy that every parent and educator should read). He has a vision of what he will try to accomplish and he has a vision of direction. This is something that McCain lacks. What is his vision? Who knows?
So while I agree that Obama cannot possibly accomplish everything he sets out to accomplish and he will certainly not be able to pass the policies exactly as he has envisioned them, the fact of the matter remains that he has a vision and he has a policy that we can see today and that he will work to make them reality. That's really all that you can ask of a politician these days.
So is there hope? We'll have to see, but it's unfathomable that McCain is even still in this race as he's almost completely avoided talking about policy that concerns the majority of Americans. I can only hope that I've helped Bossman at least consider the possibility that he's been fleeced by this farce of a campaign that is being run by McCain; I can only hope that I've motivated him to do some of his own fact checking to filter some of the BS that's out there now.
The Republicans have done a superb job of framing Obama as a know-nothing, do-nothing candidate who has no exeperience and is only running because...? But even a cursory bit of research into his biography and into his policies will reveal that many of the arguments used by his opponents are false and that his opponent, on some issues, has been outright lying to the American public (and doing a fantastic job of getting away with it).
If Obama were to lose this election cycle, I'm sure I would suffer a great bout with depression as we would have been on the cusp of history, the moment that we could have changed the direction of the country and invested in the future of America.
Ultimately, I told Bossman -- only half jokingly -- that he should write in Mitt Romney instead of casting a vote for either Obama or McCain 😀 but I sure do hope that he comes around to the Liberal side before November.
Edit: If you like this post, you should also check out my post on a candidate's belief in evolution. It seems more relevant now than ever with Palin on the ticket.