Sunday, September 16, 2012

POTUS: Potent Political Potables (A Roundtable)

We're approaching the home stretch of the American 2012 election season, and from Cable TV to Facebook there's a lot of buzz in the air. Unfortunately, most of that buzz is like angry wasps: annoying and calculated to make you to swing your arms in wild panic. In the interest of sparking a more reasonable discussion in our tiny corner of the internet, I asked each contributor to write briefly and non-satirically about the election: What issues are important? How do we feel about the candidates? How, if at all, might we vote? My goal is an open-ended starting point for something a little more thoughtful and respectful than that your typical Facebook political rant.

Casey's Thoughts On the 2012 Elections (Warning: Moderate Cynicism ahead)

I should start by noting thanks to the wonderfully undemocratic Electoral College, my vote is effectively cast for Mitt Romney, so congratulations, I guess. But since there's no point writing without maintining the fiction that it matters, I'll set that aside. My political approach is that of an amateur wonk: I'm less concerned with how I perceive candidates' grand visions of America than on what specific policies they are likely to implement and what effects that might have.

As for my de-facto candidate, Romney and I don't really see eye-to-eye (17% on I Side With). What bothers me is how he seems to be misleading his own supporters. Conservatives right now tend to be concerned with government spending and budget deficits, for which, correctly or not, they blame Obama. Meanwhile, Romney pledges to reduce top marginal tax rates -- in other words, cut taxes for people like him -- and offset that with (unspecified) spending cuts and by eliminating (unspecified) loopholes. In practice, the only way to make that work is to eliminate middle class tax deductions or slash medicare, both of which are politically dangerous. The more likely alternative is more borrowing, more deficits, more debt. For Romney to pretend otherwise by relying on platitudes and vague proposals seems disingenuous. Meanwhile, I can best describe his foreign policy as "like Obama but with more bluster."

As for the incumbent, last year I wrote approximately this:
He's high-minded, charismatic, and professorial; a policy wonk with limited executive skills who is genuinely liberal but more hawkish than he'd like his supporters to believe; and who probably believes that risking violations of civil liberties is acceptable because he doesn't think he's abusing it. He probably hoped that his election, in the wake of Bush-backlash, would create a rallying effect that would lead to more Americans embracing his agenda and has been surprised at the intensity of his opposition.
This year I'm in an interesting position: I generally agree with the guy (87% on I Side With) but probably won't vote for him. I like his tax plans and I see Obamacare as an imperfect but justifiable step toward truly universal healthcare. And yet, I voted for him four years ago with the expectation that he'd roll back Bush-era infringements on civil liberties and dial down the War on Terror. Instead he has strengthened and codified many of the same executive overreaches that he campaigned against, going so far as to claim authority to monitor and assassinate citizens and foreign nationals without independent oversight. While he's far from the cartoon villain some opponents have invented, Obama nevertheless helped create a dangerous legal framework. Killing Osama Bin-Laden doesn't justify that. When Bush claimed such authority Democrats howled; now they are complicit. Neither candidate intends to reverse course, and I fear we'll soon start taking it for granted how much 9/11 really changed.

Setting aside fiscal and social issues on which I tend to lean left, what I really want is a candidate willing to officially and permanently end the "War on Terror." Terrorism is a tactic, not an opponent; it can't surrender or be beaten, and should be dealt with through diplomacy and police actions. By using the language of war, politicians have created justification for endless warfare. War necessarily leads to abrogated freedom in the name of protection, so perpetual war means there's no theoretical justification for ever restoring lost freedoms. No mainstream candidate is willing to talk about that, nor does the media ask them, so in some ways it doesn't really matter who gets elected.

Allan's Thoughts:

When I was invited to share my thoughts about this upcoming election here were three successive thoughts which ran through my head. I’ll do what I can to share them briefly; I am well aware that brevity is not the soul of Allan. Here’s what my mind keeps coming back to:

Point 1: Ignorance

I am not informed. Oh I know some sound bites. I’ve caught a few episodes of The Daily Show here and there. But in a sense of republican (note the little ‘r’) virtue and responsibility, I am vastly under-read and unprepared to speak to many complex and complicated issues. But I am willing to own that. I’ll admit I did not watch any second of either the Democratic or Republican national conventions. I did not really follow the debates leading up to the Republican primaries. And truth be told, I doubt I’ll pay much attention to the presidential debates that are quickly approaching. To be honest, four years ago, I was in no position to criticize Sarah Palin regarding her lack of newspaper readership. Granted, I was not running for Vice-President, but out of principle I still refrained from jumping on that bandwagon because I have never really cultivated a routine of following news stories. I am afraid that I can speak much more to the federal and state politics between 1870 and 1960 than I can for today. Maybe it’s a point worth raising in a substantive way.

Point 2: Memory

Okay, so now that I am back in DC . . . in a graduate program . . . in theatre . . . I am hearing A LOT about the terror and doom that will befall America if Mitt Romney gets elected. I am by no means a fan of Mitt Romney; I will not be voting for him in two months. However, at the same time, I do not experience the sort of fear and anxiety that many of my colleagues seem to be exhibiting. As a liberal Democrat who’s hopeful for President Obama’s re-election, would it be crazy if I asked everyone to remember who could have been the Republican Party’s nominee? It surprises me that my dear friends, in their concern over the potential presidency of Mitt Romney, have forgotten that the other options were candidates like Michele Bachman, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. There were some alternatives I could have supported more than Mitt Romney like Tim Pawlenty or Jon Huntsman, but I realize that I am not the ideological demographic the Republican Party is trying to pick. My point being, I am not a fan of Mitt Romney, but I am a fan of laborious primary system which weeded out a pack of alternatives who I would have really not liked. Yes, the process means that you get a pre-packaged candidate that generally has to agree with the party line so there seems like there is less room for innovation and it seems like it’s hard to escape from the trappings of a really bland electoral choice where you’re picking between the “lesser of two evils.” But honestly, no matter how things go in a couple of months, I think I’ll be content.

Point 3: Meh on Expectations

So I did not vote for Barack Obama four years ago. I didn’t vote for McCain either. When the time came, I couldn’t choose. I loved McCain in 2000. I was excited when he won the nomination in 2008 and was surprised that I could see myself preparing to vote for a Republican right after the Bush years. McCain soared in my eyes after Obama received the nomination over Clinton. I just didn’t think he enough experience at the time. And then the McCain campaign made a number of choices that just did not go well. Palin was one of them and became the most glaring, but there were other things too.

I mention this because I find that I am in a very different position than other young people my age that were super excited about Obama four years ago and who have lost the enthusiasm that surged his campaign and approval ratings. I didn’t have great expectations. So in my eyes, while President Obama has not fulfilled all of my personal dreams and I think there have been plenty of mistakes and controversies and problems, I actually think given all that has occurred in four years outside of his control, he and his administration have done a decent job. I won’t buy a poster or a t-shirt and I’m not giving the DNC any money (I swear, you register one time and they email you for life!); but he’s got my vote because I think I appreciate the voice and experience he can now bring to the office.

Brett's Thoughts on the Election: (Now with more uncertainty!)

Gingrich 2012. Next panelist.

...Okay, so maybe that was sarcastic. In all seriousness, though, this election has been far more complicated than I would have thought, and far more complicated than my friends on Facebook make it out to be. Much as I wish I could say something as definitive as, "Obama is ruining this nation," or, "Romney is waging a war on [insert social class/minority group here]," I'm realizing that it's more nuanced than that.

Well, "nuanced" isn't the right word. I think I actually mean the exact opposite of that. As Casey pointed out above, President Obama is actually fairly moderate (and a hawkish moderate at that). Romney's track record is similar; they're both surprisingly moderate while leaning toward their respective party's direction. During election season that may not seem to be the case, but then again, they're trying to curry the favor of their parties while setting themselves up as different from their opponent. In the end, with the two candidates we have, I'm not too worried. Whichever one wins will do a decent job of governing the nation; I'll like some of the things they do, I'll disagree with other things, and in the end, I suspect the nation will basically keep going like it has.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure if that's optimism or pessimism. Thanks to NPR, I'm convinced that neither candidate's economic policy will really fix the economy, so that certainly swings toward pessimism. However, while I don't think they'll fix the problem, I'm also not one to think they'll make things worse. I'm more inclined to agree with Obama on social issues, but thus far that's only speaking to his rhetoric, not his example, so that seems pretty pessimistic also. I want to like Romney, I really do, so maybe in that way I am a little optimistic.

The one issue that might swing me Obamawards is healthcare. More and more I am realizing the benefit of universal healthcare (thanks again to NPR...I think I'm revealing a bias here...) and so I like his push toward that. I don't know if that's enough to make me overlook less appealing aspects of his presidency, however. But then again, would Romney be any more appealing? I don't like a lot of his right wing rhetoric, to be sure, and while I like much that he did as governor, he's distanced himself from those aspects I admire the most. He does, however, have an impressive business resume, and I think he is pretty savvy there. Also, the more I've looked into his work on the Salt Lake Olympics, the more impressed I've been. Casey mentioned; according to them, I also agree way more with Obama than Romney (also, I apparently should vote Green party, because man do they seem to represent me well), so maybe that should be influencing me as well.

And as much as I hate to admit it, there are also other forces working on me. I've mentioned before how in the last election, I basically stepped off the plane from Ukraine and voted in a presidential election. I had spent one day listening to my dad (an ardent liberal) and one day listening to my brother (a staunch conservative) try to woo me over on their respective candidates, then jumped into the voting booth. I was very uninformed. I ended up voting for John McCain (though like Allan above I did in fact like McCain, in hindsight I didn't like his campaign--especially his VP...). The point is, in the election that resulted in the first African American president of the United States, I voted for the other guy. I know that that shouldn't matter. I know that would have been a terrible reason to choose someone to be president. But that thought is still floating around my mind. Now, though, that thought is compounding. This year, though, I'm more torn--I could either miss voting for the first African-American president for the second time, or miss voting for the first LDS president--a person from my own minority demographic. Like I mentioned, these are terrible thoughts processes that I am not proud of. These are not the things I should be considering when I am selecting the leader of the free world. But I would be lying if I said they weren't on my mind.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure who I think I should vote for. I might not know for sure until I'm in the polling booth.

Words of Cory
Cory is a friend of the blog we invited to contribute in the interest of adding more ideological diversity, because we're all about affirmative action here. -Eds.

This is the first time I have ever written a political blog post, and I've gotta admit it's a little intimidating. I don't closely monitor every detail of every action each candidate makes, and I haven't watched cable news (other than just in passing) in years. Perhaps, my lack of following the political ticker can help my viewpoints relate to a different audience than political junkies since I think my level of following is more typical of the average American. I could easily voice the "conservative viewpoint" by reading a few conservative blogs and regurgitating the talking points verbatim, but I choose not to. I wouldn't be surprised if some of my assertions are shot down, but hopefully the general idea will get across.

One bias that I freely admit is my membership and activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite the church's standing as the fourth-largest Christian church in the United States and its worldwide membership exceeding 14 million people, it feels like a small world. Perhaps this is still influenced by the church's early history with the persecution and distrust of neighbors, some levels of unfamiliarity and distrust still today, or any other number of factors. The fact is, I relate to Mitt Romney because of his shared membership in the church and his background in leadership callings: it gives him credibility in terms of moral values. By "moral values" I mean things beyond hot topics like abortion and traditional marriage. I trust him to make difficult decisions based on correct principles, not political or peer pressure. Now, nobody is perfect and I'm sure detractors can easily list decisions he's made just for political gain, but the sentiment still exists. The POTUS has to make decisions that will cause a large number of people hate him, so having the conviction that decisions are rooted in correct moral principles can make them easier.

My next reason for supporting Romney echoes a point Bill Clinton made in his 1992 campaign against George H.W. Bush: "The economy, stupid." I consider myself a moderate, methodical, and logical thinker and I don't blame the current economic situation on any one person or entity. I don't think that President Obama is secretly trying to turn the USA socialist or trying to kill capitalism. I don't blame President Bush, as he has been out of office four years. I think there is blame to be spread around since the economic system is so large and complex, with culprits including (to some degree or another) Ben Bernanke, imprudent bankers, Congress, China's economic policies, and President Obama. Wait... didn't I just say I don't hold him responsible? Well, I think, as a leader, he deserves some of the blame. I don't think that one man (even the POTUS) has the power or ability to change the economy; however, being a leader means taking responsibility when things go wrong. Yes, he inherited a bad situation, but he has been in office for four years. By now he may admit that that he bears some responsibility, but I am tired of hearing politicians still blaming Bush. When Obama was elected, his party had a majority in both the House and the Senate. For two years he had ample opportunity to enact the changes that he felt would turn things around; however, the recovery has been disappointing, to say the least.

On economic issues Mitt Romney's business credentials are very important to me. He made a living buying struggling businesses, turning them around, and then selling them back for a profit. Granted, he didn't have to deal with an organization like Congress, but he did have to deal with boards of directors and stockholders. Is the US economy really fundamentally different? This gets to the core of my support for Romney. Whatever his limitations, he's had success due to his good ideas. He's also knows how to be a figurehead: he can inspire confidence from investors and consumers. The economy is a confidence game: If people believe things are improving, they will spend more and the economy will improve. Optimism is literally the recipe for recovery. Despite President Obama's efforts, he hasn't been able to inspire the requisite confidence in consumers and investors (which isn't to say that some of his ideas have no merit, but that's a discussion for economists who more than me). Inspiring confidence is something I believe Romney can do. Also, I support the bold vice presidential pick of Paul Ryan as somebody with a clear, concrete plan of how to fix things; it's refreshing to have that instead of the usual vague promises.

I could go on to discuss other categories of why I support Mitt Romney, but I'll leave that for later. I look forward to seeing some of the comments and honing my own political opinions more.

Brooke's Smattering of Ideas

Yes my friends, it's that special time again. Once every four years, mother turns against daughter and father against son. Friendships are broken and forgotten. Marriages are shattered beyond hope of repair. Yes, it's election time.

Disclaimer: I am ignorant. I have done little research; I know what I know from NPR podcasts and Politifact. That said... I, like many ignorant people before me, have an opinion.

This particular election cycle, I am registered to vote in the Beehive State of Utah. As it happens, Mitt Romney is Mormon, and thanks to the long-standing secret combination known as the Electoral College, I have no real say in where my vote goes.

Fact: I didn't vote four years ago. At the time, I had been on my mission for 13 months. I knew nothing about either candidate besides their names. I found out Obama had won the day after the election when a bum on the street shouted out to us, "Americanas! Hey, did you know your President is black now?! How do you like that?!" What I learned when I came home a few months later was that my new President had a lot of promises to fulfill, some of which I liked (Casey even mentioned a few I liked). I am no expert on what he did or didn't say, so I'll leave it at that. 

From what I understand of four years ago versus now, Obama has changed gears. He's not making the same promises, but asking for more time to finish whatever it is he started. He's kind of banking on winning, and I can't blame him as Romney is not exactly the moderate godsend the Republican party needed to secure the race. Romney is not what I wanted in a candidate.

Romney, while a "good guy" or a "family man" or whatever you want to call him, is a distant waffler who is impossible to relate to. In the wake of the Occupy movement, the 1% candidate has little chance of winning this race.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Romney is that most of the people I know who support him only seem to like him because he is Mormon. His religion, however, does not tell me who he is, what he stands for, or what he'll do for the country. If you like him, that's fine by me, I just hope you've done your homework. Same goes for Obama. I don't think either candidate will fix the thousands of problems we seem to be having in this country the way their supporters seem to believe they will.

To me, Obama is full of empty promises, charisma, and rhetoric. He's a friendly enough type and seems to be easygoing, but has only shown up to 43.8% of his intelligence briefing meetings. I may be easygoing, but at least I'm reliable. I think I should be able to expect that from my President. Much in the way Mormons are voting for Romney, it bothers me that African-Americans and people afraid to seem racist vote for Obama just because he's black. He's taking advantage of that and reaching out to the African-American population. Like I said, if you do your homework and he's what you're after, go for it.

I'm not voting this year because I see no value in either major candidate. (On, I'm 94% with Gary Johnson, who has no chance because of the two-party system I love to hate).

Whatever the outcome of the election, Romney or Obama, I will be disappointed. They are two candidates who will (in my humble opinion) expand government and fail to fulfill the campaign promises that get them elected. There is a Spanish proverb from El Conde Lucanor (Spain's Aesop's Fables) that says, "Cuanto más alto suba aquel a quien ayudéis / menos apoyo os dará cuando lo necesitéis." Basically, the higher the people rise whom you've helped, the less help they'll give you when you need it. In other words, whoever we vote into office isn't all that likely to help those of us who voted him in.

Just saying.

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