Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I'm Liberal, but I'm a pragmatist, not an ideologist

If I were granted the privilege to decide who the Democrat nominee will be I would choose Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Sanders. I'm not telling anyone how they should vote on this matter, but rather I feel a need to defend my own choice because there is a lot of "how blind and stupid must you be to put your support behind her?" going around the Internet from Sanders supporters. It's a fair question, even if asked with a bit too much vigor and presumption (and too often) for my taste.

I made the following chart--which has the illusion of being scientific, but in fact is based on my subjective visceral feelings--and it illustrates my general thinking. Click on the graph to enlarge.

Basically it comes down to the feeling I have that Bernie's floor and ceiling are lower than Hillary's floor and ceiling. In all likelihood they both would end up being in the 5-7 range of goodness (goodness according to me and what I want out of a President).

But perhaps the thinking that got me to the graph is more interesting than the graph itself. How did I make up these imaginary data points? To answer that requires some introspection but first an admittance: I think the version of America that Bernie is selling is more akin to the version I would like to live in. In many people's eyes that should be sufficient to get my vote. So for starters I'll say Bernie is selling me a nine or ten level Presidency while Mrs. Clinton is selling me a seven or eight level. And yet, I think her ceiling is higher. Bear with me here.

Let's first look at what is wrong with the GOP. They have an insistence that the candidate they put up be a reflection of their farthest right ideology. They think it is appropriate that a person as far right as possible should run the country even though clearly half of the populace would prefer the country resemble a more liberal place. This works on small scales (like Congress), but we're talking about hundreds of millions of people when we talk about the President. It's simply unrealistic to think the most extreme candidate you can put up should speak for all those people who fall into a wide spectrum of political beliefs. Beyond that it's a good way to lose an election.

But aren't you settling if you don't pick the person furthest to the left or right? Maybe? Perhaps? I don't have a good answer to that. However, I don't in actuality believe Hillary and Bernie are that far apart in what they believe is right; where they mostly differ is in what they believe can be accomplished, and perhaps should be accomplished for a population as large and as varied as ours. And to be honest, what I think this country's politics lacks more than anything is a willingness to compromise. I get wanting what you want. But the left isn't the entire population and we have to respect those with differing ideas about the country even if we have the presidency. We have to compromise. I'm probably more liberal than Hillary and closer to Bernie in my personal beliefs, but picking the candidate to the furthest left simply feels unwise and counterproductive to me. At some point someone has to stop the madness that is the game of one-up-manship the two parties are playing with each other, someone has to offer an olive-branch to the other side. This incessant pushing toward the edges is what will tear this country apart, IMO. So while some value Bernie's seemingly unbending nature and his unwavering demand for his policy changes, I value someone who will work with the other side. I'm of the opinion that if a vast majority of the population and politicians aren't on board for a change as massive as single payer health care, then the version we get is going to be sabotaged and ham-stringed if it ever makes it into law. We'll all end up hating it. We need all our best minds on how to make this work, and whether we like it or not, some of those best minds don't share your political ideology.

I've seen the list of amendments Bernie has made during his time in Congress, and it's a fine list, but it's not large in number nor are any of them vast in scope like the big changes Bernie wants to make. He's shown himself to be effective at adding small pieces of legislation to larger bills but not getting big ideas and projects through, and he's been trying a long time. I'm just not convinced he has the political know-how or the demeanor to compromise in meaningful and fruitful ways that this country needs right night. Would I take him over the mess on the right? Of course, those guys are insane (at least the two with any chance of winning), but I just can't see Bernie being as effective as Hillary.

Then there is the boogie-man of Hillary changing her ideas/mind over time. People say this like it's a bad thing. In my mind part of being a liberal is not being conservative (which by it's very nature tries to prevent change). A person changing their opinions and admitting faults in the past is not a negative at all to me. It's a sign of growth and progress and a certain amount of humility. So again, when people complain about her in this regard, I view it as a plus not a minus.

Why is Bernie's floor so low? Because if he is as bullheaded while being the President as he sounds on the campaign trail, then American politics will continue the downward spiral of doing nothing. Even if he compromises and gets some of his ideas into legislation he's still not getting everything he's promised and he likely will have to do some serious compromising with the right, which will be okay with me, but will risk causing major disillusion in new voters who thought he was going to be as unto an angel coming down from the firmament. He either has to dig in his heels as President and get nothing done or get a subset of his ideas done but look like a sellout to those who placed so much faith in his ability to cast some sort of wizardry over Congress. This limits his ceiling.

On the other hand I don't fear Hillary will ever be as obstinate as Bernie appears to be. At worst she keeps us where we are (which I know is not optimal) but at best she compromises, plays the game of politics which she appears to be apt at, and pushes American social systems further left. But beyond that having a woman as president feels like it could do so much for this country, for every little girl or woman who has ever felt powerless or dumb or less than. It's palpable and has great and incalculable value. Bernie makes fantastic speeches and inspiring videos, but when I saw Hillary's first video announcing her candidacy I was moved to tears. While some find value in a bird sitting on a podium I find mine elsewhere, but it's no less heartfelt. So even if Hillary accomplished the exact same set of legislative goals as Bernie, she offers something more, something beyond, something that puts her ceiling above his in a meaningful way to me.

And finally, I think she has a better shot at winning the election than he does. I know there are polls out there saying he has as good of a chance or better to win than she does vs Trump or Cruz. However, he's greatly benefited from having Hillary in the race as the supposed nominee. He has it good right now because the GOP spends its days worrying about email servers and Benghazi. If Hillary isn't going to be the nominee then no one on the right is going to have time to worry about those things when they have articles to write about how bad socialist Russia was/is and how much more Americans are going to pay in taxes so that Healthcare can be ran like the DMV. And then his poll numbers will inevitably stop looking so good. Hillary has taken her lumps for 20 years, the GOP damage is done and she still beats Trump head to head. In the end this fact alone is probably enough to push me to her side. The Supreme Court nominations she will possibly have to make are way more important and will have longer lasting effects than what either she or Bernie will be able to accomplish policy-wise as President.

I think I could be swayed otherwise but this is why I'd vote for her today.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

America, the Beautiful?

Yesterday a friend of mine made this poignant remark:

"The day may come when your grandchildren ask you what you did to stop Trump." - Jeff Zentner

Of course I've done a lot of bellyaching about Trump. You know all the usual stuff the left rolls out against him. I don't know if it's worthwhile rehashing any of that here because it still leaves me feeling like I haven't really done anything to stop Trump. I'm part of an echo chamber and I'm likely not changing any minds. Could I wander into the den of lions that is the comment sections of or Even those options feel like jumping on a live grenade in an otherwise empty house.

The first thing I have to do is take a step back and honestly ask myself, do I only dislike him because he's the Republican front runner? I'll no doubt be accused of this. I think I can honestly answer this question as "no" based on two reasons. I'm no old man but I've been eligible to vote and paying attention to politics now for four presidential elections. (If you're doing the math you'll know I've been eligible to vote for five such elections but I shirked my duty that first election (Gore Vs Bush and the Supreme Court)). In that time I've had various reactions to the republican nominees. Bush vs Kerry made me the saddest; it seemed so plain to me that Bush wasn't up to the task of being President, it was heart breaking that we'd re-elect him. But he was only dangerous in his bumbling sort of way, we could suffer through another four years of him. He left us with a pretty sad economy and two stupid wars we didn't have the money for, but thankfully America is resilient. McCain I had some appreciation for and I suspect if he had won the election he would have shifted back to his more central position and away from the far right appearance he had to put on to get the GOP nomination. Romney was probably least offensive of all. I suspect he would have made a perfectly fine President, he was disillusioned about the plight of the poor in this country but he wasn't mean-spirited nor unscrupulous. Secondly, I think I can answer "no" to the question because I've tried the following mental exercise. Would I rather have Trump win the nomination and have a poor chance of beating the democrat in the general election or would I rather Cruz or Rubio win the nomination if they had a better chance of beating the Democrat in the general election? It's not an easy choice, but I bend toward taking Cruz or Rubio over Trump even if that decreases the chance of a democratic victory in November.

Some on the left might wonder if Cruz and Rubio are actually better options. I have a canned response to that these days with a single example. I'd take Rubio over the other two clowns. Ultimately Trump is worse not because of policy but because of personality. Take for instance the recent encounter with Iran and the American sailors that were gathered up near or in Iranian waters. Obama made that a non-incident with his diplomacy. Trump would have--without a doubt--started a war over that relatively unimportant B.S. Cruz and Rubio, I believe, would be more measured in their responses to such an encounter, probably not as great as Obama handled it but their stupid little fingers wouldn't have hovered over the red nuclear button the entire process. The man is simply too bombastic to be the most powerful human on this planet. There are literally hundreds of millions of people in this country I'd probably rather have as president than him.

Some on the right might wonder if I expect them to vote for Hillary or Sanders. It's probably not too surprising that I think both are infinitely better suited to the job than Trump, but that probably doesn't sooth anyone who thinks Hillary is (x) and Sanders is (y) (sorry to not be more specific but I'll leave slandering my potential vote getter to others). Regardless of how terrible you think either of them are I think you can rest assured that neither of them will draw us into a war (even if it is just another cold war) with Russia after a visit with Putin doesn't go well. And neither are going to be so regressive that they'll bring us all the way back to 1963 or 1864. I won't ask you to vote for my choices, but staying home might have the same effect. I know everyone is suppose to vote, etc, etc, but honestly I'll respect any republican who doesn't vote at all rather than vote for Trump. Or vote for some other third party or pencil your favorite conservative in. Just don't lend your support to him.

To my liberal friends who say they won't back Hillary, they'd rather stay home than vote for her, I offer this personal introspection. Back in 2008 I was heartbroken when California's Prop 8 wasn't passed. Being a progressive means watching progress move slowly. Sometimes it's really painful. It makes your insides hurt. It makes you cry. It makes you wonder about humanity. It surely makes you want to rage against the machine. But there is a far greater pain I'm newly realizing. In the distance, merely a speck on the horizon, I see it, the skull and cross-bones of a pirate ship: regression. When Trump says he wants to make "America Great Again" you can be certain there are those who hear that and believe what Trump intends to do is make America a place where we can again freely disrespect people of color. A place where grown white men can push teenage black girls around without fear of repercussion. A place where we can bomb the families of our enemies. A place where we number and register a group of people based on their religion. Hillary might not be Bernie Sanders but frankly the worst she does is keep us where we already are. She appoints a left of center Supreme Court justice (if Obama loses this particular battle), rather than who knows what crazy Trump pulls out of his past to sit on the bench. There are other liberal justices of very old age that likely will get replaced in the next four to eight years. Hate Hillary, that's fine, but plug your nose as you mark the box next to her name, and sooth yourself by remembering those justices will have a longer lasting effect on America than her four or eight years in office would. But if you want to "feel the bern" of regression, if you want to feel the ache of watching the arc of the universe bend (even temporarily) away from justice, then stay at home and let the Supreme Court become a 7-2 conservative majority. Say goodbye to women's rights. Say goodbye to healthcare reform. Say hello to Citizen's United forever. Say goodbye to same-sex rights. Say hello to a future America that looks more and more like religiously controlled Iran and less and less like the home of freedom. Sure, sit at home feeling smug about your abstinence. Feel justified in penciling in some other name. But the rewards of such actions aren't just for others to reap, you too will be sucked into the chaos that is Trump as President. So I implore you, don't stay home. Don't condemn us all because we can't offer perfection.

Here I expect the complaints about "but what if Sanders wins?" So let me just address that briefly. I haven't heard anyone say they'd stay home if Sanders wins the nomination. So I don't think Hillary supporters need the same motivation, but if they do, please read the prior paragraph and flip the names around and go vote for the man in the general election.

So what am I going to do to stop Trump? I still don't know exactly. I'm going to go out and vote for whoever is against him. I'm going to not belittle either of the democratic candidates because they are our last best hope. They are the firewall and I don't see any point in trying to burn the firewall down as we witness a massive fire approaching. I have a few people in mind who I think might vote for him and I'll pester them until November. I'll write big blocks of text and send them off into the internet in hopes that they'll touch some random person, change one heart. And for my children and grandchildren I will pray. I'll pray that America of tomorrow looks no worse than America of today, that we as a country still have goodness in our hearts, that we can see ugliness when it gets up on a platforms and declares itself before the whole world. I'll pray we do the right thing and not make Donald Trump the most powerful person in the world, not even for a single day, much less four years. Be wise America.