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He Who Hesitates September 4, 2009

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.
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Just a follow-up on my post about the worrying polarization in politics of late.

It astounds me how quickly particular issues become the property of certain parties. If we were a multi-party state I might understand it, but we aren’t. The Democratic and Republican parties are massive, messy entities that embrace widely different cross-sections of America. Their platforms are not pure ideologically; instead, they are conglomerations of hodgepodge philosophies designed to work compromises and garner votes.

And the issues we face today are vast and intricate. Very few are satisfied with the status of the healthcare industry in America. Yet it is a hugely complex problem. What are the problems exactly? Is it that the system costs too much for the product it delivers? How do you measure that product – in pills popped or pounds dropped or some other arbitrary metric? Is the problem that the system does not include everyone? Or that it is means- and not needs-based? That is the tip of a very large iceberg. Why does the system cost too much? Why does it not deliver? Why are some priced out? All this could – and does – take hundreds of professional minds to make any sense of, and by then all the data is tinged by contrasting views of the role of health care, whether it is a right or a responsibility, etc. And all this chaos precedes the quagmire of solving whatever problems are identified.

There are other, equally complex issues.

How do we prosecute the war on terror? What balance is do we strike between physical protection and abstract ethics? Is fighting abroad denying safe havens or stirring hornets’ nests? Does dialogue with dogmatic nations defuse tensions or inspire fundamentalists’ fear that the Great Satan is laying a snare?

How do we win in Afghanistan? Is winning on the table? Does aid money solve problems or spawn corruption? Is our presence destabilizing or legitimizing?

What is our proper role with Russia, slowly wealth-building and newly belligerent? Do we make friends with China out of economic necessity or apply pressure for its outrageous human rights violations? What about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or Sudanese genocide, or Honduran constitutional sparring?

What do we do about the millions of illegal immigrants living and working in our country? Should they be legalized quickly, to better monitor and tax them? Should they be deported, upholding the rule of law while we amend the system to adjust to the new realities of foreign threats and porous borders?

We are faced today with situations that are beyond complex. Experts in the respective fields – drenched in information and histories and theories and data, often reading from the same intelligence reports – cannot reach consensus on any of the above. Political philosophy may come into play, but more often these disagreements are at the root about different paradigms, questions over the validity of this data over that data, reasonable but nebulous questions of whether this principle can be applied to that predicament. I spent four years getting a university education on Russia – studying it from its greatest art to its deepest history to the politics of its nearest neighbors. I have lived in Russia for a year, seen all sides of it. And yet the rhetorical question above about Russia is the one I find most puzzling, truly the most paralyzing.

So we have complex and dynamic problems that are being grappled with by pundits and politicians representing massive and messy parties. Any sane person would expect there to be a lot of thinking and head-scratching. One would expect that a Republican and Democrat would equally throw up their hands in bewilderment when staring down immigration bills or Honduran intelligence reports. One would expect that when the President says to Congress, “Fix health care,” that the next few months are filled with a murmured silence, a felt question mark.

And yet that is not what we get. The President makes an announcement and that afternoon Sean Hannity can tell you why (not if) it is the worst mistake since JFK rode in an open convertible. People show up angry and frightened about health care and the Speaker of the House calls them “unAmerican”. Good grief – the President decided to give a speech to schoolchildren and Republicans are prespeech branding it demagoguery while the education bureaucracy prespeech sends talking points to teachers like the classroom discussion question, “What did President Obama inspire you to do?” Never mind that the last President to do this was a Republican (Bush 41) and that Obama just might not inspire. We have reached knee-jerk partisanship to the extreme. I think the roots of it are in the phenomenon I described last time. But where do you find the axe to chop this monster down?

I make this pledge: He who hesitates, I will vote for. If there is a presidential, senate, or gubernatorial race, regardless of issue and regardless of the ultimate policy conclusion, I will give my vote to the candidate who convinces me that she or he is capable of stopping and thinking. Of gathering facts. The one who says, seriously and not as a cop-out, when popped a big question in a debate: “I need to think about that more before I take a position.” One who could even say, against the stream of their party’s rhetoric, “I like what the other side is proposing, and want to look over it closely. They might have found the best solution to this.”

Because politics and elections aren’t about picking up seats in the House. It’s about giving us the best government. And the best government is not some coincidental triangulation of power spat out by the last round of elections. The best government is one where smart, connected people put their brains and their connections’ brains together to wrestle with issues and subdue them. Who can agree to disagree, but much more crucially, can agree to agree. Who can let this week’s polls slip to the other guy’s party in the interest of doing what seems to be best for the nation. And who can convince across the aisle not because they can bandy words and call in favors, but because they have mulled over the reports and the briefings, and after honest searching, they too have become convinced.

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Political Philosophy September 2, 2009

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.
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One day I’ll figure out what this blog is for. Anyway…

I can’t help be frustrated by the condition of politics in the United States national government. It’s not that I’m a liberal Democrat, angry about Republican “no”-ism and Blue Dog cronyism scuppering health care reform. It’s not that I’m a conservative Republican, angry that Obama’s campaign rhetoric about bipartisanship turned out to be nothing more than campaign rhetoric. What upsets me is that I am neither one of those things, and so I have effectively have no voice in government. (more…)

Bright Ideas April 18, 2008

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.
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Recently I read in The Economist that my generation, those Americans who came of age between 2000 and 2005, are the most heavily Democratic-leaning age group in decades. The explicit statistic surprised me; the substance did not. I live in the heart of the Red South, yet most of my peers are liberal, depending on how you draw the line. While many of us continue to cling to the values handed down from our religions, on less moralistic issues – taxes, education, welfare, the Iraq war, gender and racial equality, immigration – when we swing, we swing left. Since my freshman year in college I have happily labeled myself “socialist” (in fact, on a whim I started what became the largest socialist Facebook group). Most of my friends are independents or, as the primary season for both parties has trundled on, follow the Dems with much more personal interest. We knock Huckabee and accept McCain; we debate Clinton and Obama. Even my most conservative friend has softened on social issues. This is the case even though most, if not all, of us, were dyed-in-the-wool Republican sheep in high school. And so now we are still pro-life, but few of us will make that a first-tier issue come November.

Why the dramatic liberal conversion? (more…)

Torture February 2, 2008

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.
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Most people are probably vaguely aware that there is a debate going on in Washington regarding whether torture should be illegal, what exactly is torture, whether there are ever good reasons to torture someone, etc.  Some aspects of this debate have become buzzwords; “water-boarding” and “ticking-time-bomb” are the two that come to my mind.

The majority of talk radio pundits support Guantanamo Bay, and believe it plays a crucial role in our national security.  They are so convinced of its obvious helpfulness that one pundit railed against John McCain, “He wants to close Guantanamo Bay and give terrorist suspects constitutional rights!”

This is first confusing and then painful for me.  Confusing, because these champions of the “Conservative Movement” essentially worship the Constitution.  Another pundit declared last week, without irony, “The Constitution is divinely inspired.”  Yet it is the constitutional rights of habeus corpus, and the Bill of Rights guarantees to due process and against self-incrimination that Guantanamo Bay explicitly denies.  If these rights are a good thing, to protect individuals from the menacing government so many conservatives fear, then why not extend them toward terrorist suspects?  There are no conditions applied to these constitutional rights.  Is the Constitution wrong on these points?  Or is this pure racist-nationalism, that would deny a foreign terrorist suspect rights but grant a native terrorist suspect every right that can be afforded?  Politically, either choice is… disastrous.  Why are so many politicians and pundits insistent on its benefits and its legality?

The pain comes from the fact that this support for Guantanamo and, often, torture itself comes from the same conservative right that claims to carry the banner of socially-responsible Christianity.  I fear that believers in this movement have abandoned faith for political dogma.

I am a pacifist, but that is beside the point.  The issue of torture is clearly not a question of the rules of war: even prisoners of war would be granted far more rights than the Guantanamo victims are given.  It is a question of the value of the individual human being.  For me, it is rooted in the belief that we bear the image of God and have been imbued with infinite value by the redemptive death of his only Son.  It is that same inalienable value that informs my position on abortion.  Where life begins is, frankly, ambiguous.  But because the value of a person is so great, we must not err on the wrong side.  So too, with the men and women at Guantanamo Bay, we must remember as we discern truth and administer justice that no matter a person’s crime, we are all infinitely and equally loved by God.  Or, so as the pundits can understand:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

I fear for the soul of America, that we even debate such things.

Subbing January 29, 2008

Posted by Tim in Observations, Poetry.
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So, I’m at my old high school subbing for an English teacher today.  I just finished reading over the material for today, and… wow.  One poem for the honors class, another for the not-honors class.

 The poem for the honors class is “The Second Coming” by Yeats.  It is incredible, and incredibly difficult to understand.  I’m curious what you make of it.  I start to glance things, but the questions are stunning.  Read it, then try to answer the following *sampling* of questions.

What “centre” does he refer to, and why can’t it hold?

What “ceremony of innocence” is “drowned,” and why?

Why does he include 2 different references to birds in “falcon” and “desert birds”?

How and why does the poem end on an ironic note?

These questions have me puzzled, because I feel they are legitimate but hopelessly beyond me.

 The second poem is over 100 years old but very relevant to today; in fact my brother wrote a paper in college comparing it to today’s US foreign policy.  Consider this stanza:

Take up […]
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

How do you react to that?  Now Google the poem.  How do you react to it now?