Friday, December 24, 2010
THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 2008: Yes We Can (Maybe)
I’ve written about the Iowa Caucus and the conventions for both major political parties, so I suppose I should say something about the general election. However, if I honestly felt I had nothing more to say than what has already been printed in the newspapers and editorials I would hope that I wouldn’t say anything at all. People speak too freely about politics as if only their side had any relevance. We see our neighbors stick up their campaign signs or slap political bumper stickers on the back of their cars and we immediately form an opinion of them. If that opinion is negative, we immediately put up campaign signs of our own as if that sort of statement makes us seem superior. The other side is always wrong, more biased or engages in more negative campaigning. This seems obvious, or so we think, because the other side’s media sources are loaded with misinformation.
Close to a quarter of a million people were in Grant Park where Barak Obama made his first public appearance after it was announced that he was elected to be President. I suppose it was to be expected that there would be a lot of celebration going on. This was a victory for the black youth in the crowd and for the civil rights’ workers that had sacrificed so much during the 1960s. These individuals have a right to celebrate. And then there are the rest. Outside of telling them to go to hell, I’m not sure how to respond to Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow and Oprah Winfrey for feeling duty bound to tell the rest of us how to vote. Likewise, to be fair, in Arizona where John McCain gave what was probably the most gracious concession speech I’ve ever heard, celebrity supporters like Patricia Heaton and John Voight can sulk and go home to their million dollar mansions after learning that their candidate lost. Most of us cannot fully comprehend what we have at stake in such an election to get emotional about the outcome, and the best action we can take is to wait.
There is something to be said about Barak Obama, however. I was struck by how alone he looked when he walked out on the stage to give his speech. Unlike his running mate, Joe Biden, he doesn’t seem to enjoy himself when he’s speaking to the crowds. Certainly, Obama is very good at giving speeches, but I doubt he believes in all of the hype. I hope he doesn’t anyway or else the slogan for “change” and the chant, “Yes we can!” is going to get old very quickly. Obama, like many other intelligent men, has probably had to look interested while having to endure the opinions of many individuals convinced of their own genius that have never uttered an original thought in their entire existences. To be elected, Obama has had to depend on many individuals that he may not like and say things that he may not necessarily believe. Yet to be a great leader (or so I imagine the politicians all tell themselves) he also must have the confidence to believe that his abilities make all the minor deceptions necessary if that is what it takes to be elected. Every President from Washington to Lincoln to George W. Bush probably needed to do the same thing. Such seeming aloofness that Obama happens to exhibit was also characteristic of great and unflappable Presidents like Jefferson and Lincoln. On the other hand, these qualities were also at least partially responsible for the overreaching of the Wilson and Nixon administrations. Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon were men with lonely thoughts left unchecked because neither had any real friends to share them with and put matters into perspective.
The election was not a landslide, but it also was not particularly close. A five percent advantage is somewhat substantial when you consider that neither major candidate was an incumbent. The Democrats did a better job of blaming the other side for the looming “financial crisis” that we’ve heard so much about since the month of September. Really, both parties were to blame. The Republicans have done nothing to keep down government spending and probably have spent too much time bailing out big business no matter what mantras it has repeated concerning the merits of the free market. Yet while Democrats bemoan what they call “corporate welfare” on the part of the Republican Party, they fail to acknowledge that it’s the very growth of the government that especially occurred between the years of 1932 to 1968 that allowed the government the ability to prop up large corporations and to make determinations as to what industries should succeed and what businesses should fail. This eventually resulted in more corporate mergers of mega companies occurring than in anytime in history since the 1990s. We’ve heard recent justifications of the Wall Street bailout that emphasize the point that many banks and businesses are now “too big to fail.” Yet how these businesses went from big companies to corporate conglomerates was that the corporations received favorable loans while the sole proprietorships and small partnerships disappeared. These same small businesses were simply unable to compete and had no hopes of ever being bailed out by the government. (I say this at the risk of sounding too much like Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate and third-party candidate that probably would have done no more to absolve the abuses of government than anyone else running for President, and who has now further embarrassed himself by referring to the first African American elected as President as being an “Uncle Tom.”)
Much of the Republican Party establishment has probably failed to appreciate what has just occurred, or understand the role that they have played in the defeat of their chosen candidate. John McCain was a decent choice that had little chance of winning, no matter who he may have chosen for his running mate. Yet the choice of Sarah Palin was indicative as to how far the Republican base would go to sabotage his campaign. Palin, whatever her qualifications to be Vice President truly could be (and the American’ media did everything in its power to tell us that those qualifications were not there), was McCain’s gift to the conservative pundits that would rather sacrifice an election than concede that many of their ideals were politically and socially impalpable. No emotionally secure individual should ever feel threatened by the personal behavior of others that in no way physically threatens other individuals. The behavior may irritate us, but there are better ways to deal with irritation than legislation or amendments to constitutions that promise retribution. And I'm all for decency because there is so little of it in much of our culture, but decency can seldom be created by decree. If the Republican Party continues to claim they are the supporters of limited government and strong national defense, let them stop looking around the country and the world to pick fights with individuals too conscience stricken to even once in their life have picked up a gun. To continue claiming we live in a free society, we have to drop a social agenda that does not allow private individuals to do what they want or else the concept of freedom becomes a fiction. And the Republicans are as guilty of using the tax code for social engineering as any Democrat. If they truly believe in the use of tax cuts to relieve the burden of the middle class, make the tax cuts universal rather than engineering complicated tax breaks that only individuals with six and seven figure incomes can take advantage of.
Yet the Democratic Party also needs to stop short of showing glee by proclaiming the demise of the Republican Party. For one, they need to keep in mind that similar pronouncements were made about the Democratic Party after the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004. For two, a party that has a platform of advancing civil rights and civil liberties (and helping the poor) while at the same time advocating a stronger centralized government may not appreciate how schizophrenic holding such differing objectives can be. That same strong and centralized government besides bringing us Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy also brought us Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush that used their executive powers contrary to what the liberal establishment may have wanted to achieve. (Yes, I know that LBJ was a Democrat, but today’s Democrat is not particularly nostalgic about Johnson’s policies concerning the war in Viet Nam.) Big Government is almost impossible to reign in no matter what well meaning justifications and legislative acts are created by the most tolerant and enlightened of individuals. Somehow, governmental control eventually gets in the hands of the wrong people.
And then there is the Iraqi’ War. The latest discussion has been that there may not be any major withdrawal of the troops until 2011. The dirty and not so well kept secret about the Democratic Party is, despite all of their pious talk of “bringing the troops home,” that the party leadership (Clinton, Kerry and Edwards) has voted to fund the war from the very beginning and have never truly faced George Bush down on the issue. I know, “Bush lied,” and this is the major justification they can give for caving into a President they claim to have never trusted. The reason that Obama has escaped scrutiny is because he was not in the United States Senate when the major proposals were voted on in 2002, 2003 and 2004. When he takes office, Obama will have a Democratic controlled Senate and Congress behind him, so we will see if he truly does move up the timetables for withdrawal. However, I think that opponents of the war should prepare to be disappointed.
What is an interesting aside to every Presidential election is the lament concerning lack of voter turnout. Actually, in the last three elections since 2000 voter turnout has increased. This year’s election showed voter turnout rates nationwide at somewhere around 64 percent, the highest rates we have seen in forty years. This is actually quite low compared to the rate in many European nations, but I for one am not one of those persons distressed by this fact. We do have more college educated people today, so it’s not surprising that rates are somewhat growing. Yet I’m not particularly interested in having my vote cancelled out by a bunch of undecided voters that finally cast their ballot based upon a bunch of drivel that they have recently heard on television. Now perhaps I am being uncharitable in making such a statement because I sometimes do tend to judge people too harshly. However, the voter that says they did not decide on whom to vote for until they actually entered the voter booth does not sound like a promising prospect to me. What motivated them to make their choice? One candidate’s name was listed further up on the ballot than the others? One’s name was too difficult to pronounce so they lost a vote? One candidate’s name sounded like a close relative? I understand struggling with what candidate to vote for, but I certainly hope that the struggle is over something relevant and had been thought about over the course of many months. We tend to blame the candidates and the media for not informing us about what is going on. It’s not their fault. That information is already out there if we really want to look for it. The candidates and media by mouthing platitudes are merely providing us with the information being requested by the very most important individuals voting in every election: the undecided voters. In short, the message is being dumbed down precisely for them. We don’t need an educated electorate. What we need is an experienced electorate whose knowledge is derived from a direct connection with the world and senses the direct consequences of what will occur if a certain official is elected. I heard somewhere that young voters did not turn out to a much greater degree in this election than they did in 2004. If that’s the case, it is only going to cost them because eventually politicians and everyone else are going to quit caring for what they think.
And in an election that was all about “change,” let’s deeply consider a few things before we try to throw the old items out. Let’s pause and consider why items like the Electoral College, our method of voter registration, our crazy private institutions (i.e. businesses, churches and the press) that don’t always seem in tune with the wishes of our government, and the cantankerous electorate have functioned so effectively for so long - though no one has every really diagnosed why. We live in an ungrateful nation if we don’t see that so many traditions have worked better here than almost anywhere else. (My only wish now is that I will not be beleaguered in 2016 with arguments over the Presidential election of 2008 as we have been beleaguered for the past eight years concerning the election of 2000 and how the outcome could have been different.)
To state the obvious, Barak Obama is our first elected African American President. That is one thing that should have been made allowable more than 200 years ago, and it shouldn’t have just come allowable at this point in time. I wish the President–Elect well. Other than a few Republican hopefuls that are now looking towards the Congressional elections of 2010, it benefits none of us if Obama ends up being a failure as a leader. However, as with any President that is always a possibility, and we should do our best not to let this destroy our lives if the new President does not live up to our expectations. When our happiness becomes dependent upon the leadership of one man - that is more indicative of problems than if we mistakenly voted in a buffoon. We can live with buffoons in the government so long as we don’t become dependent upon that same government.