Oct 102012
 

One result of the widespread cynicism about public institutions that grew out of the Sixties era—combined with the thirty-year Republican war on government’s capacity to do its job—is a large number of people who state proudly that they do not vote, or who choose to vote for minor-party candidates who have no possibility of reaching office.

Typically, their arguments include one or more of these elements:

Conspiracy theory. “Shadowy Powers really call all the shots in our world, and the elections are just a show.”

Cherry-picking complaint. “My issue is X and the major parties are lousy on that, so if I vote at all, I’m voting for Righteous McFringerton of the Thoroughly Groovy Party.”

Overgeneralized false equivalence. “Both major parties are the same. They’re controlled by the same people, so it doesn’t matter who you vote for.” On the left, the supposed puppeteers are “the rich” and “corporations”; on the right you get “special interests,” which is code for racial and sexual minorities, public interest nonprofits, and unions.

Strategic fantasy. “I vote third party because we have to start somewhere, and the two mainstream parties are lost causes. One day, the Good Stuff Party will be a major force in this country.”

I’ve been asked by several people how I would make a case to such folk that there is good reason for them to vote, and to vote for a candidate with an actual chance of winning. This post is in response to these requests.

To begin with we have to recognize that people who make these arguments do so because at root, they feel powerless. They prefer to believe that they are “in the know”, unlike the “sheeple” that make up most of the public, because it allows them to feel good about themselves in the context of that powerlessness. They have chosen this stance as a preferable alternative to grappling with complex issues and an electoral system in which most of us can only play a tiny role.

So please read the following responses with the caveat that rational argument cannot trump an emotional impulse. Many who express these beliefs simply aren’t persuadable: they need their shelter too much to give it up.

On “they’re all run by the same Powerful Interests”: I don’t think anyone disagrees that there are powerful interests which swing disproportionate weight in this country. But 100 years ago, it was far worse: mining and railroads and heavy industry were completely in charge. They openly bought and sold votes…and politicians.

But somehow, voters managed to do a lot of things those interests didn’t want to see happen. They elected reformers who started regulating those industries. They passed child labor and workplace safety laws, and the 40-hour work week, and guaranteed insurance for our bank deposits, and legal equality for minorities, and air and water quality protections, and invented the national park. Those voters and the people they elected are the reason you don’t have lead pipes delivering your drinking water or arsenic dusted on your food to deter spoilage. They’re the reason we have Social Security and Medicare, which are probably keeping some of your relatives afloat right now.

Powerful interests fought against all of those things, but they lost. Just a couple of years ago, those big interests lost on issues like the health care bill and the Wall Street reform bill, even though they spent millions on lobbyists trying to stop them.

Did we get all of what we wanted? No. But what we got made things a lot better than they were previously, and those interests hated every bit of it. That is what can happen if we put people in office who feel more loyal to us than they do to those interests. And the only way to do that is to vote for them.

A lot of men and women were terrorized, jailed and murdered to get the power you’re saying there’s no point in using. They knew voting mattered. Getting the vote meant the difference between oppression and freedom, between hope and despair, and in many cases between life and death for those people and their kids. The interests who tried to keep them from getting it knew it, too, because sure enough, when those who had been shut out of the election booth finally got the power to vote, things changed.

Think about it: whatever your opinion of him, Barack Obama could never have been President if African Americans had never been allowed to vote or run for office. That proves that voting matters, even when powerful interests are on the other side.

Sure, Exxon and the Koch Brothers have a lot of influence in our politics…but so do millions of ordinary people, if they gather together around what they care about, and back candidates who mostly agree with them and have a chance of winning.

I’m not saying the system can’t be improved. But it could also be a lot worse. To me, the excessive power of the wealthy and powerful business interests is even more reason to work to elect people who will push back against them.

On the major parties (or the President) being wrong on My Pet Issue (usually, pot legalization):  You know, you can’t expect the political system to be like a genie granting you wishes. You have to fight for what you want, and sometimes it can take a long time before you get it. In the meantime, the idea that just because your issue isn’t making much progress right now means that voting isn’t worth bothering with at all doesn’t make much sense, does it?

That’s like saying you’re willing to starve to death because your favorite food isn’t on the menu.

Look at it this way: there are more than 300 million people in this country. In anything even somewhat resembling a real democracy, government has to listen both to you and to people who completely disagree with you. So outcomes are going to be somewhere in the middle. Nobody gets everything they want.

But the only people who get to make those decisions are the ones who are in office. If you help elect someone in the name of an issue you care about, that official has to pay attention to it. Being a part of a winning campaign puts you in a position to make progress on the things you care about.

Incidentally, what about everyone else? If politics are making progress on your top issue progress difficult, don’t you have friends or family who care just as much about other issues? Like a woman’s right to choose, or the environment, or civil equality, or the cost of a college education, or taxes, or war? Why wouldn’t you help elect someone who can help make the difference for them?

On “both major parties are the same.” You know, back in the 1990s this was somewhat true. But now it is completely untrue. The Republican Party has become a raving gang of right-wing extremists. On any major issue you can name, there are huge differences between them and Democrats.

If they’d had a Republican President, Congress would never have ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Republicans are trying to reinstate it right now, and permanently ban gay marriage anywhere in the country with a Constitutional amendment. Republican leaders complain that we ended the war in Iraq. They want to go back to a system that allows health insurance companies to drop your coverage if you use it. Their solution to all problems is to give more money to the rich, even though that’s been proven a disaster for most Americans. Many of them want to eliminate public education, take away any meaningful help for people in their old age, make homosexuality a crime, force women to have babies against their will, even if conceived by rape, and sell off most of our national parks and public lands. They deny that climate change exists. The list goes on, and it is ugly.

There is a difference. There is a tremendous difference, and pretending there isn’t doesn’t make you look smart or knowledgeable.

If nothing else, think about the Supreme Court. Republicans have appointed a narrow, 1-vote majority of hard-right Court Justices which handed the White House to George W. Bush even though Al Gore won the election, which have taken away much of our right to privacy, and which approved unlimited corporate expenditure in political campaigns. They’re getting ready to make important decisions on issues like abortion rights and even access to birth control. The next President will appoint at least one Justice to the Court, and maybe as many as three. That will lock in the direction of the Court—and our rights—for decades. Several of the current Court majority believe that government has every right to police what you’re allowed to do in your bedroom. If for no other reason, don’t you think that’s a good reason to vote for the guy on the other team, who doesn’t agree with that stuff?

On the fantasy of “building a national third party”. At the local level, sometimes third parties can bring new ideas and shake things up. That’s not a bad thing. But at the national level, history says they’re a counterproductive strategy, and a formula for failure.

The United States settled into a two-party system shortly after the Civil War, and the only effect third parties have had since was to split the vote and hand elections to the people the third-party advocates disagreed with most.  Ross Perot and his Reform Party split the Republican Party twice, and gave the White House to Bill Clinton. John Anderson undermined Jimmie Carter, and we got Reagan. The Green Party’s Ralph Nader drew away enough voters from Al Gore in Florida to give the election to George W. Bush, thus providing us the unnecessary Iraq War, a draconian Patriot Act, a smoking crater of an economy, and a shameful reputation on the international stage, all of which wouldn’t have happened if Nader hadn’t been running. Heck, you can go back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party in 1912, which split the Republicans and handed the White House to Woodrow Wilson.

It doesn’t work. It’s been tried repeatedly. It’s a failing strategy.

Oh, and if you think you’re “making a statement”? You are, but it’s not the one you think. By and large, elected officials write off those who vote for third parties as fringe extremists and cranks who may safely be ignored. Voting for a third party makes you and your issues less influential, not more.

Please: think like an adult. You don’t get to have the ideal government in your mind. It isn’t the political process’ job to hand you your wish list on a platter. This is a complicated world full of shades of grey. It isn’t about “the lesser of two evils,” it’s about choosing the best of the available options.

Third party candidates aren’t real options. They’re castles in the air. The only possible effect of chasing them is to undermine the issues you claim to care about. In other words, to make things worse.

Finally, I find that this tends to make advocates of the conspiracy theory sit up and take notice:

You’re being used. The Republican Party has been encouraging cynicism about government and the political system for more than 40 years, because most of us disagree with their policies, and they can’t win if we turn out and vote for Democrats. And you’re playing right into their plan.

Why do you think they’re pouring so much effort into trying to suppress the vote in areas that vote Democratic? Why would they bother if the outcome isn’t important? C’mon: business guys don’t pour millions of dollars into something that doesn’t really matter.

So wise up: vote, and do it for candidates who 1) have a shot at winning; and 2) you agree with: not on everything, but on most things.

How hard is it, after all? What on Earth can it hurt?

At publication, the Dragon was PASSIONATE

Oct 042012
 

Sorry I’ve been gone for a few days, folks. New content promised is coming, I swear.

Meanwhile, try the new stout. Particularly good barrel, I think.

 

This’ll be brief, but it’s interesting to me, and…well, this is where I write about stuff that’s interesting to me.

Today, in the digesting of the first Presidential debate, we are confronted with the collision of two nearly independent media realms: traditional broadcast, and the newly-risen social media, which have orders of magnitude more penetration, sophistication, and response speed than they did in 2008. And what we’re hearing from those two media realms is, for perhaps the first time ever, sharply divergent in relation to the same single event.

Traditional broadcast media: ”Romney won!!!!!”

Social media: “Romney lied like a rug on every major topic he addressed, and here’s documentation.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: Romney swung for the rafters because he had to, Obama played it cautious because he could—but too cautiously, in the end— and so the “optics”, as pols and pundits like to say, were clearly in Romney’s favor. This, too, was noted in the record-breaking avalanche of tweets, liveblog streams and Facebook posts that tracked the debate in real time and continued after it.

But let’s face it: the traditional broadcast media has turned strictly into entertainment, and it needs a competitive horse race. So it was nearly impossible for Romney to lose this debate in their eyes, given how badly they needed him to win it.

What is interesting to me is that the sense I am getting of the emerging gestalt of the debate—the narrative understanding by the mainstream public—is a merging of these two story lines.

In other words: “Mitt Romney won by lying.”

So while Romney’s team feels momentarily invigorated, and the likes of CNN and ABC News happily chatter about a “game changer”, what is percolating into voters’ consciousness is a validation of Obama’s core messages: Romney is untrustworthy. He’ll say anything. He’s Machiavellian, just as he was in business. You’ll never really know what he stands for. You can’t trust him can’t trust him can’t trust him can’t trust him.

It takes awhile for fact-checking to catch up to felt sense. In some ways it never does. But what Romney gave Team Obama last night was a bonanza of tailor-made “after” clips for devastating “before, he said this, but now he says this” spots. Instead of having to reach back to dusty campaign footage no one cares about, now they have Mitt Romney lying his ass off in front of 67 million people…yesterday.

Meanwhile, his “win” doesn’t appear to have moved the needle at all…except among those who were supposed to be his base. And he still has nearly no possible roadmap to 270 electoral votes.

Take a breath, friends.

At publication, the Dragon was NOT WORRYING ABOUT IT

Sep 142012
 

Earlier, I wrote in this post my suggestions for how the Obama campaign could thrash Mitt Romney this fall. Thus far, they seem to be thinking along the same lines, and it’s working pretty danged well.

We have the debates coming up soon, which are Romney’s very last, hail-Mary chance to gain any chance of winning. So I’ve been thinking about the debates. I was a successful high school and college debater, and a debate coach and argumentation teacher after retiring from competition. For what it’s worth, here is what I would do if I were in Obama’s shoes.

  1. Keep bringing up–with dates and locations–Romney’s widely varying statements on the issues under discussion, and seeking to clarify how these fit together or which of them he has settled on. In other words, tacitly question his veracity and trustworthiness.
  2. Frame Romney’s tax policies with the analyses showing they must inevitably lead to raising taxes on the middle class. Make him defend them. Make him explain again that “middle income” is $200-250K. Press for specifics in the places he refuses to give them, saying the American people deserve to know specifics to make their choice. Contrast with what he (Obama) has done in cutting taxes for 95% of Americans.
  3. Politely hammer on Romney’s desire to double down on failed Bush/Republican economic policies. Remind him and viewers of the facts on how these policies have screwed everyone but people like…Mitt Romney.
  4. If you really want to put the knife in, contrast this slavish devotion to trickle-down economics with Obama’s willingness to consider ideas from the other side of the aisle…like Governor Romney’s health care initiative in Massachusetts.
  5. On social issues, play the right-and-wrong card, and frame in the context of “freedom”. “I don’t understand, Governor Romney, why you think it’s a bad idea for government to have a say in whether or not banks can deceive consumers on the terms of their credit cards, but it’s a good idea for government to make women’s health care decisions for them. I don’t understand why you think we should be telling Americans who volunteer to risk their lives to serve their country that they aren’t equal under the law, no matter who they love. I just don’t see how that squares with a moral America.”
  6. Show viewers the warmth Romney is incapable of mustering. Be sure to reference the suffering you’ve seen in person and in letters you receive. THAT is the reason you knew it was the right thing to save the automotive industry, restoring a flagship American manufacturing sector providing millions of jobs to profitability, instead of doing as Gov. Romney suggested and “letting Detroit go bankrupt”. Americans are hurting: fewer of them than were hurting in 2008, but far too many nonetheless. You get up every day thinking about how best to give people a chance to get back up on their feet. With the wealthiest richer than ever before, you can’t see any reason to believe that giving them even more money is going to help the situation of the people who write you those letters.
  7. Overall: stay cool and cordial–which will not be a problem for O-Cube–and methodically make Romney mad. Romney comes off as a snotty, insincere, awkward and entitled bully even at the best of times. But because he is accustomed to getting what he wants, he is thin-skinned. When he gets mad, his arrogance and assumption of entitlement go off the scale, and he becomes the classic Hollywood stereotype of the Sociopathic Rich Kid. You want America to see Romney being that guy.

Romney is desperate, and he knows he needs to land some punches in the debates. So he’ll be overreaching with his swings, just as he did with the embassy attack debacle. Just bob and weave, wait for opportunities, and keep stinging him with small shots that contrast your achievements with his empty claims, your commitment to bettering the country with his opportunistic flip-flopping and self-interested policies.

Get him steaming. Do that, and the man will defeat himself.

At publication, the Dragon was CONFIDENT