Saturday, February 9, 2008

Not Smart Enough To See

While I’m not sure about electronic voting machines that do not leave a paper trail, I do emphatically believe that technology has led to dramatic improvement in the American political process. What else could I think as I watched CNN overanalyze every aspect of tonight’s primaries in High Definition? (We political spectators are part of the process, too.) Wolf Blitzer’s well-trimmed nose hairs never looked better than they did tonight on my widescreen HDTV as he interviewed Mike Huckabee about his primary victories. Huckabee’s answers, however, demonstrated that technology has a long way to go before it can make dramatic improvements in the candidates themselves.

At some point amid the usual primary night softballs Blitzer was lobbing, Wolf threw one a teensy bit harder. Huckabee, unclear how to respond, actually leaned in and took it on the helmet. Blitzer had asked the former Baptist minister/Arkansas governor what he hoped to achieve by staying in the race when it was extremely unlikely that he had any chance to get enough delegates to win the Republican nomination or even to keep John McCain from getting enough delegates to force a “brokered” convention. Huckabee’s answer was, essentially, “We’re not smart enough to see that far down the road.”

Sure, Huckabee was right about Republicans wanting a choice of candidates, instead of just accepting the ‘annointed’ candidacy of John McCain. Now they can choose a candidate who’s not very good at making plans to anticipate likely future events and cannot attract campaign staffers who are able to count to 1191. Seven years of George W. Bush’s presidency has taught most of the rest of us that this is not the direction in which we wish to go in 2008.

Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination because: a) he knew he could not win; and b) staying in would be bad for the party. Despite his “aww shucks” answer to Blitzer’s common-sense question, Huckabee is and will remain in exactly the same position Romney was in because he knows he cannot win and will hurt his party in the 2008 general election by staying in the race for the nomination. Why, then, did he lie to Wolf Blitzer?

The answer lies, I think, in the what the TV news analysts keep saying over and over (as they continue to demonstrate to us all that round-the-clock, minute-to-minute coverage of each primary’s every hiccup is too much coverage). Democrats are coming out to vote in these primaries and caucuses in record numbers, while Republicans…well, not so much. Psychology, economic theory, and common sense all tell us that most people will expend the time and effort to undertake an action like voting if they think they have a chance to make a difference. Democrats, witnessing the ongoing train wreck that is the Bush administration, feel they have the chance to choose the next President of the United States by voting in these primaries. Republicans…well, again, not so much.

I think Huckabee knows the damage that he may be causing his party by staying in this contest is a moot point, because he, like many of the Republican voters that have stayed home for these primaries, doe not believe that McCain—or any Republican nominee—has a real chance in November. So, when McCain loses after failing to “energize the base” of his party, who will be in the perfect position when ‘the base’ goes looking for a candidate to dethrone the Democratic president in 2012?

How will a decision by Huckabee to stay in the race, which winds up hurting McCain in the general election, affect his support among the Christian conservatives that have become such a large part of the Republican base? Answer: Not at all, because they never liked McCain in the first place. They tend to display the same all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to politics as they do in most aspects of their lives.

Huckabee will have counties and counties full of red-state voters, donor lists, and the rudimentary campaign organization he put together for this election just waiting for 2012, tuned up and ready to go by whoever wants to be the next Karl Rove. Unlike McCain, who started nearer the center and has tried unconvincingly to make a sincere reach for the rightward end of his party, Huckabee will start off with the religious right already secured (he is a Baptist preacher, after all) and he will be a lot more convincing when he makes his reach towards the center.

Of course, Huckabee could have been telling the truth when he told Wolf Blitzer that he (and the people who honestly believe that he would be the best person to the next President of the United States) are not “smart enough to see that far down the road.” Unfortunately, even if it is true, it might not cost him a single vote among the Christian conservatives, who have never shown a propensity for selecting candidates based on intellectual ability.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Left of Center?

Not long ago I was caught off-guard by a response to a piece I had written. I knew that not everyone would agree with the point of view I was offering, but I was totally unprepared to be labeled with the “L-word.” No, I am not a gorgeous actress on Showtime’s Sapphic drama. Somebody called me a liberal!

At the beginning of my professional life I was used to being the most conservative person in the room when politics was discussed. I had always been proud of the pictures of my baby crib in the Nixon campaign headquarters. As a third-generation Republican I believed myself immune to the “L-word” label.

I felt perfectly comfortable saying that Ted Kennedy and Al Sharpton, often sounded like they were out of the mainstream of American political thought. I knew that immediate welfare reform was absolutely crucial to our nation. It was obvious to me that the U.S. ought to worry less about international consensus and more about international action.

I knew that raising taxes to pay for big government was bad. I knew that gay rights was just a bunch of hoopla brought to us by a lot of noisy perverts. I knew that government regulation was death to business and that lower corporate taxes meant more jobs for Americans.

I knew that Republicans were much more pragmatic than Democrats when it came to working in a bipartisan fashion, thus taking better advantage of America’s human resources. I knew that if we ever took over the Presidency and both houses of Congress, we would set such a fine example that Democrats would leave their party in shame.

I believed a lot of things I am no longer quite so sure about.

In the decade since I turned 30, I have seen quite a few things that leave me somewhat to the left of my former self.

The rush to implement politically popular welfare reforms has in some places brought with it a whole slew of unanticipated problems that weaken families instead of strengthening them and sometimes put children at risk. Programs based on people’s needs, rather than programs based on political ideology would have been a step in the right direction.

In light of recent administrations, it now seems to me that the Presidents of my youth displayed much more wisdom, grace, and ability than our current leader in their building consensuses and taking international action. The son seems to come up far short in comparison to his father.

Conservatives in this nation used to stand for fiscal responsibility and decried the “tax and spend” liberals. Now the so-called conservatives want to cut taxes and still spend, spend, spend—with no regard to who will pay for the tremendous deficit. No one likes paying taxes that are too high, but it is difficult to see why multimillionaires think they are paying more than their fair share of this nation’s tax burden, when it is the benefits this nation provides that give them the opportunity to be multimillionaires in the first place.

For various reasons it has become more and more obvious over the years that gay rights makes sense in terms of fundamental human fairness. The shrill, moralistic bigots who decry homosexuality as a “choice” or “lifestyle” seem at odds with reality. Reality seems to be that some folks have brains that are “wired up” to be sexually attracted to people of their own gender. The only people who actually know whether or not homosexuality is a choice are homosexuals—and they say it isn’t. I’m for giving them the benefit of the doubt—as opposed to creating a special category of second-class citizens, which seems to be the course favored by the aforementioned shrill, moralistic bigots.

The seemingly never-ending series of corporate scandals and the sub-prime mortgage crisis have made it seem that, for the good of investors, customers, and the nation at large, a little more governmental scrutiny and a tad more regulation of business might be beneficial. Enron, Martha Stewart, and numerous mutual fund managers using insider information seem to have pooped on the Republican ideal of even the common folk having the same chance as the bigwigs in the stock market.

Corporate taxes seem to have more to do with investors’ profits than creating jobs. Differences in the price of labor are what give American jobs wings to fly across borders to other lands. Higher corporate taxes seem unlikely to cost anyone jobs, whether Americans or foreign laborers making pennies an hour.

The current conservative administration lacks the wise bipartisanship that has, in the past, made our nation great. When the Bush administration put together the lists of civilian professionals who would go into Iraq to help rebuild that nation, doctors of all specializations were rejected out of hand if they held a different view on abortion than the President. What in the name of all that is holy does abortion politics have to do with being an ophthalmologist or an anesthesiologist? Is Achmed the Iranian likely to care that the doctor sewing his son’s arms back on is Pro-Choice?

I didn’t vote for Al Gore because his tone always seemed condescending and that irked me. The one thing I didn’t understand before the election about President Bush is his no-one-who-disagrees-with-us-can-be-right smugness. It’s a smugness that seems to permeate the entire neoconservative movement and I can’t abide it.

So now, as I talk with my students and colleagues I find myself faced with the realization that where I used to lean to the right, now I’m somewhere left of center. I feel like a stranger in a strange land and I have to work hard to remember that I arrived here not merely because I was moving left, but because the center was moving to the right.