Category Archives: Presidential Election 2012

26 Memos to the Winner on 11/6

Okay, so my own politics may show in this post, but I sincerely believe both candidates might benefit from reading these memos…

1. I’ve resigned myself to your election but want you to know—if you represent the true values of America, as you’ve professed over and over during this campaign, then you cannot ignore what I think or feel… because I truly am an American.

2. During the election, I couldn’t tell if all the talk about jobs and who would create more was really about people or dollars. Let me clarify: people need dollars to live, but people are more important than dollars.

3. Large or small, government is of the people, by the people, for the people, and, as we’re in this together, is it unreasonable to expect you to model kindness and respect?

4. As the American president you cannot discount or dismiss any American. Not one.

5. Don’t say you understand what I feel or think without making a sincere and diligent effort to discover it.

6. You’ve succeeded in confusing me thoroughly about taxes, but please spend my money well. I’ll be watching.

7. And please don’t ask for money from those who have none to give or spare those who have it. Please, just try to be fair.

8. Beware believing your own misdirection. You regarded some issues as too complex for the campaign trail, but they are just as real and pressing.

9. Don’t think we fall for pretense. We live in a nation of advertising and hidden agendas. We’ve learned to be distrustful and suspect lies even before they’re uttered. We will know when you lie to us.

10. Even if we don’t know, you shouldn’t test us.

11. I will do my best to trust you as long as you seem worthy of my trust.

12. I’m not insensitive to being hated by much of the world and want to know why. Find out why. Consider what has landed us here and what might be done about it.

13. We want to be proud of where we live. We want to be proud of you. Please make us proud.

14. Capitalism and democracy are not the same thing, and you will never understand the place and purpose of government until you consider all the different forms currently in use, including “socialism,” a word you fear.

15. We could use some intelligence, resourcefulness, and open-mindedness about now.

16. Trickle down, trickle out, trickle up—you can’t ignore history. If it hasn’t or has worked you need to think about why and how before you can reproduce or avoid it.

17. It’s okay to acknowledge matters that aren’t government’s domain. It bears remembering that no government has ever succeeded in making everyone believe what it wishes.

18. The founding fathers wanted to separate church and state.

19. We are equal by virtue of citizenship. Whether we are haves of have-nots is incidental.

20. Everyone I know seems as tired of fighting as I am. If you can’t cooperate with the other party then maybe the system is broken and needs fixing.

21. Of course you’re right that initiative and ambition are to be celebrated, but where it relies on hindering opportunities for others, it’s really cruelty.

22. We’ve had more than enough melodrama over the last few months. Please don’t make melodrama your standard operating procedure.

23. All this acrimony and ill-will and bad blood and un-mending fences will be tragic if it’s all been about who will profit.

24. Whatever you may think, the next presidential election cycle has not begun.

25. Please put aside politics and govern.

26. And don’t fiddle. We’re burning.

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Filed under America, Arguments, Doubt, Experiments, Jeremiads, Laments, Lyric Essays, Modern Life, Politics, Presidential Election 2012, Resolutions, Thoughts

Angry Politics

All my life I’ve tried to avoid offending people and wondered if that’s even possible. Sometimes the gap between intention and effect inches a little wider and suddenly someone you thought your friend or ally (or at least sympathetic listener) feels hurt or disrespected. You don’t mean to offend, but you do.

And I’ve been on both sides. The most neutral and, in retrospect, most innocent statement sends me into paroxysms of sensitivity and peevishness. “What did you just say?” my psyche shouts, its back instantly up, its fists balled, ready to retaliate.

What can you do in such moments? You can beg help from reason. When you’re on the offending side, you ask, “What did you hear me saying?” and when you’re on the offended side, you say, “Explain what you mean.”

But not always. Sometimes people throw their hands in the air and walk away, content to leave everything unsettled and proud to wound or feel wounded. Then they don’t really want a solution so much as proof of their rectitude. Though, as Robert Half once said, “Convincing yourself doesn’t win an argument,” sometimes that’s the only part of the argument people care about, the part that allows them to preserve their self-image. They need to be okay, so no one else can be.

We do a lot of walking away these days. Self-righteousness runs rampant in the current political climate, and few candidates seem interested in engaging or even listening to the opposite point of view. Civility offers no political advantage. Strategically, offending your opponent can pay off if you bait him or her into another gaffe, the sort of devastating mistake required to torpedo a campaign. Offending others  is the point. The intention isn’t to be polite or reasonable or to exchange political views but to goad your opponent into blowing his or her cool.

“In science,” Carl Sagan said, “it often happens that a scientist says, ‘You know, that’s an interesting argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their mind, and you would never hear that old view from them again.” In politics, Sagan said, that would never happen.

I like to think that, were humans telepathic, they might feel exactly what others feel and perceive their intentions exactly. It’s hard to judge harshly when you truly know the other person. Knowing comes close to understanding, and understanding comes close to love. Even if someone aimed to criticize or offend, we might know the source of the ill-will and accept at least its subjective validity. Knowing why the conflict exists might be enough to soothe any hurt and reach a compromise. But who is asking why now?

“Use soft words and hard argument,” says an English proverb. Perhaps we’re bound to argue, but, these days, the soft words rarely appear. Intractability is the current political fashion. Good sense and moderation seem politically devastating.

Though I did not watch much of the political convention aired this week, I saw many angry faces and heard many angry sound bites suggesting no less than the complete erasure of the last four years. I understand these speeches aim at converts. They hope to inflame adherents and spur them to a level of support bordering on zealotry. At a national party convention, you have no need to persuade or convince. Yet, I’d be more moved by dispassion, reason, and the sort of subtle distinctions that might locate the increasingly narrow path to solutions and progress. I’m tired of vehement disdain promising only more offense and more conflict.

I’m beginning to wonder who is listening and who even cares to.

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Filed under America, Anger, Essays, Laments, Modern Life, Opinion, Politics, Presidential Election 2012, Thoughts, Worry

My Vote

ballot-box-l.jpg Reprise…

Some time ago, I read an article in Slate setting the odds of a single vote influencing an election at 100,000,000 to one; however, if you live in a populous state and you’re voting in a sizable election—like the presidential race—your odds are probably much worse.

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of Freakonomics, report few economists vote because it’s embarrassing to be seen doing so. They know the cost of casting a vote—the trouble it takes—doesn’t come close to its utility.

And you don’t need economists or odds-makers to question voting. Thoreau described voting as “gaming” and said, “Voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.” He believed voting worked only for the people on the popular side. Elections silence dissent, he pointed out… even when 49.5 % of the people dissent.

Yet—though Thoreau’s perspective looks like common sense, scientific even—I vote.

One in one hundred million is greater than zero and, psychologically, I have to have my say. More than that, I want to suspend disbelief and act according to my convictions. We’re certainly lost as a society if we stop believing we can do anything together.

For much of our history, we put faith in collective action—striking or boycotting or buying or not buying. We believed that banding together gave us more power, a choral voice. We were naïve then. Not all of us are so cynical, but many people now believe nothing other than a law can control behavior—and laws are only as good as their enforcement. For some, social movements are silly, as pointless as voting, economically absurd. We seem to have lost trust in like-minds and the principle that good sense is persuasive. These days, we do or don’t do according to our own devices.

Maybe voting is better suited to tiny and ancient Greek city-states. But in the modern world, voting still has powerful symbolic meaning. It represents collective identity, the last proof we live in one country together.

A friend once pointed out that a corporation, in a single day, can undo a lifetime of recycling, taking the train, and walking. I know he’s right. In a consumer culture individual actions mean very little unless some number of people—a big number—act responsibly. As long as we buy SUVs, manufacturers will continue to produce them. As long as we prefer or accept excessive packaging, molded plastic and styrofoam-encased boxes in boxes covered by layers of paper and more plastic will be the rule.

Asking corporations to change doesn’t work, unless we ask by withholding our dollars.

Our times call for a new sort of social revolution. Before we believed in strikes, boycotts, and consumer movements, and now we must behave quixotically, ignoring how statistically paltry our individual actions are. We must behave responsibly even when any half-brained person could see what any one of us does matters little or not at all. The new world requires not banding together, but adhering to personal resolutions that only make sense from a collective perspective, as if everything each of us did was multiplied by three-hundred million instead of divided by it.

We will either succeed at fooling ourselves into believing our individual actions are critical or fail collectively. If everyone believes actions don’t matter, they will be right.

One definition of faith is belief despite reason. Perhaps voting is an act of faith, willingly investing in a fiction because the alternative is so much worse. Picking up an empty water bottle and carrying it home to put it in the recycling is also an act of faith, pointless but symbolic.

I’m not naïve. I know in November I won’t really decide the leader for the next four years—as in all things public, an aggregate will decide that—but I’m voting for voting. I’m expressing an illogical but vital faith in social change, a hope we can escape our selfish desires and believe—despite our differences—we are one people.

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Filed under America, Arguments, Essays, Hope, Identity, Modern Life, Opinion, Politics, Presidential Election 2012, Resolutions, Thoreau, Thoughts, Worry