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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.


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.

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.

What sort of President does the United States need? January 22, 2008

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.
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I was watching a Meet the Press round-table discussion this Sunday (it made me a little late for church).  Of the guests, I found Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan to be particularly prescient.  A conservative, Ms. Noonan’s observations sparked in me a lot of thought.  Consider the following:

“[T]he country is hungry for [a] sense in its leaders that they have thought it through, that they have a philosophy, that they’ve considered the relationship of man and of the state, and considered the moment of history we’re in, that philosophically, they are coherent.”

Which leads me to the question: what sort of President does the US need?  Most people think our country is headed in the wrong direction.  We are tied to unpopular conflicts in lands we are largely ignorant of, our economy (and the world’s with it) teeters on recession, and the political landscape bares the scars of a devisive decade.  People have lost faith in the federal government on all levels, and along with it some have lost faith in America itself.

It is exciting that the campaigns for President have been so dramatic.  Both parties are testing multiple candidates, and many ideologies and leadership styles are on the table.  As much as we can put ideology aside, what sort of President do we need?  Is that sort represented by a candidate in the field?  Obviously, due to the unfortunate tendency of people to be human, none of the candidates is ideal.  But does one offer more hope for building a greater nation than the others?

McCain has a reputation as a man of principles, and brings with it both the legacy and baggage of having crossed the aisle on many votes.  Huckabee is a true populist, a man of the people who both speaks his mind but also refuses to gloss over his religious beliefs.  Clinton is probably the most devisive person in American politics, but has demonstrated herself to be one of the more intelligent and capable candidates.  Giuliani is one of the few candidates who can claim true executive experience, with the record (good and bad) that comes with it.  Obama is one of the few candidates to maintain a conciliatory tone throughout the race, but he himself admits that he sometimes lacks substance.  Romney was a successful businessman and governor – but the baggage from the latter career is backfiring.

I believe most, if not all, of these candidates has what it takes to “be” President.  But filling a desk, reading pre-written speeches, and making appointments is one thing.   Leading a nation is another.  Do we need someone to cross the aisle, make concessions, and bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington?  Do we need a principled or even calculating executive who is willing to trade popularity for what he or she feels should be done?  Should our next President trade our reputation abroad to protect the citizens and Constitution of the US, or should the President lead our nation to make sacrifices for a greater cosmopolitan good?

I don’t know.  I do know that I agree with Ms. Noonan: we need someone who has thought it through, from the bottom up.  And so far, the only candidate I’ve heard offer a clear presidential philosophy happens to rank last in my preferences for President.

What do you think?