Political Labels, Candidate Fables, Voter Tables, And a Little Reality

As we head into the last month of the latest of the never-ending condition that is the American election process, there are a few things I want to get off my chest.

Conservatives and Liberals

I’m weary of the epithets our political labels have become. There once was a time when they meant something, but now they are little more than curse words used to negatively convey a stereotype. They are now nothing like what they should be.

See… when I was growing up a conservative was someone who favored a go-slow (i.e. conservative) approach to government, favoring the proposition that government should only go where needed in matters domestic and global. It has tended to favor the concept that what is good for American business is good for the American people. A liberal, in contrast, felt that too often government didn’t address needs quickly enough to avert crisis, and thus the legislative pen should be used to get ahead of crises before they became crises. This group tended to favor the idea that what was good for the American people was good for business.

My, how far we have diverged from these ideals. Now, a liberal is some Birkenstock-wearing, health food eating libertine who wants nothing more than socialism and anarchy. A conservative is a Bible-thumping non-thinker who believes that the rich will protect the less rich, and that a police state is the only path to security.

This is all just too silly. When our system is working, the fact of the matter is that there really isn’t much difference between the two philosophies…just a matter of timing and degree. But now, in our polarized times, too many members have opted to side with the fanatical fringes of both points of view, and that leads to the incendiary rhetoric and asshole legislation that we’ve been getting out of Washington for almost four decades, now, and counting.

The Candidates

Listening to the candidates for various federal offices, from the presidency to the senate to the house, you’d think that the concept of thoughtful consideration was outlawed in the Patriot Act. So, here’s the deal: Obama does want to spend too much for too many programs, McCain’s supply-side philosophy has thrice failed and needs to be abandoned. Taxes will have to go up, especially on the top few percent of people with income (considering they are the ones with ACTUAL income at this point), but also government spending has to go down.

National healthcare is actually a very good idea, and though it smacks of socialism, it’s still better and more workable than any other proposal. Neither candidate is proposing anything but either a temporary band-aid, or the imposition of insured requirement. Both lead only to a continuing slide of our currently mediocre healthcare, while still having non-medical people make decisions and get very well-paid. This madness needs to stop.

We also need to leave Iraq. McCain touts the success of “the surge”, but the fact is that civil war will happen once we leave, whenever that is. The only option is to be a permanently occupying force…or to leave. Obama, though, is too focused on bn Laden. Bn Laden isn’t the problem. He’s just one shit-head in a world full of them. He isn’t a military genius. Shoot, a hack Hollywood writer could come up with better plans. Build up Afghanistan.  Make them allies. Then maybe Pakistan can be managed better.

While I do worry about Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience, I’m also no big fan of a guy who was, by all accounts, a pretty bottom-of-the-barrel fighter pilot and officer. Honestly, I’d rather have Tina Fey as Commander-in-chief than either of these two.

The Electorate

I guess I’m most annoyed with the electorate…you know, the ones that got G.W.Bush elected as president. Twice. Seriously? It makes me very very worried about the intelligence of the American people as a whole.

OK. People, here’s the deal: don’t vote because of faith. Don’t vote because of race. Don’t vote because of gender. Don’t vote because of some silly political label. If you don’t understand an issue well enough to not sound like a idiot when discussing it with someone who DOES understand the issue; LEARN IT.

Read and understand the Constitution and its amendments. I’ve seen the polls, I’ve seen the man-in-the-street interviews…too many of us simply don’t understand what it is to be an American. Scots-born talk show host Craig Ferguson does. This new citizen had to take a test and an oath and lots of stuff like that. Shoot, the guy even had to learn our language! Would YOU be able to pass that test?

There is a lot of the stuff about this country that we can quibble about. But here’s my point: let it be intelligent quibbling. If you are going to vote for someone, do it because you actually believe they are the best available for the job. But when people say they’d never vote for a black man because…well, he’s black. Or that they’d never vote for a woman because some book or blowhard says women can’t lead. Or that they’ll never vote for someone over 70. Or that they’ll never vote for someone in their 40s. Or that they’ll vote only for the candidate who represents their faith….

The list goes on and on. Here’s the thing: the officials closer to you in representation should be litmussed with some of these values in mind. Members of the House of Representatives are supposed to be US. They should be our neighbors. But when we get to the president, I think we need to look more toward general stewardship. Can they steer this 50-state ship through waters calm and stormy? If they can, honestly, I don’t give a flying fig if they are black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, something in the middle, christian, jew, muslim, wiccan, blind, sighted, hearing, deaf, or totally able-bodied. If you can do the job of being the executive of the country, if you can remember that the presidency isn’t a royal throne but a partnership with the Congress, and if you also have enough moral character to not only not do illegal stuff, but to not try to find each and every “legal” loophole…well, then I think you’d probably make a fair-to-middlin’ president.

I’m very happy that there are a lot of undecided voters. They are actually thinking about all of this stuff. They understand that it’s more than labels and it’s more than sound-bites and campaign rhetoric. It’s about the realities of what the job entails and the consequences of that for the population. I’d love to have a plain-talkin’ person of good intelligence and moral fiber, like a Harry Truman, but I’m not sure the current America has room for someone like that anymore (they almost didn’t then, either).

The Reality

People forget that the President’s job is to uphold the laws and deal with foreign matters. All the money stuff the candidates talk about? That’s Congress’ job. The President can suggest, and can veto laws that don’t pass muster, but for the most part the President’s domestic duties are more centered on executing the laws of the land (hence, being an executive).

I laugh when McCain talks about earmarks. That’s part of the job of congresspeople: to look after the interests of their own constituents. It’s the duty of other congresspeople to quash the stupid stuff…and especially the ego stuff (yes, I’m talking about you, Senator Byrd…stop having stuff named after you). The president has essentially no say in this. Without a line-item veto (which has its pros and cons), it’s either the whole bill or nothing. And let’s not forget, a lot of states would be in even a bigger world of hurt if not for those earmarks.

While I’m here, I want to say that not all of that scientific stuff that sounds really stupid is stupid. It’s called pure research. You ask questions and you try to find out things—things that actually pay off in ten or twenty years when one part of your “wasteful” funding turns out to have provided a crucial clue to how to advance something else that wasn’t immediately related. That happens much more often than you’d think.

Making things either/or is always a tricky business when it comes to funding. For instance, a lot of hot air is used to wail about “cost-plus” contracts. These are government contracts that guarantee the company gets paid even if the agreed upon costs increase. I worked for and around government contractors, and I can say without reservation that a lot of waste does go on. However, in some fields, companies are being asked to do things that have never been done before. Innovation, by definition, carries with it some uncertainty. Often, that uncertainty means a near-guarantee of higher costs than originally anticipated. So the question becomes: in a particular instance, is a cost-plus contract a good idea considering the end product? Not an easy call sometimes, and sometimes there will be errors.

So…my fellow Americans, I hope that you will sit back and seriously consider your choices before you vote. If you just walk to a voting station and vote Demepublident because your family has done that for generations…I honestly can’t respect that. But, if you at least pause and read the names on the ballot and wonder what the world would be like if so-and-so got elected…then whomever you chose would be a vote that truly matters. And pu-leeze don’t Bush it up again. My wallet can’t afford it.

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