Where It All Gets… Interesting…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking – far too much, actually – about this election. I am not going to blog here about the relative merits of each candidate – anyone undecided between these two extremely different candidates at this point hasn’t been paying attention. In fact, this will probably be my last election-related blog prior to the first results coming in. There are a few things bothering me, however, that I have to get off my chest:

1. Smoke and mirrors
2. Media spin
3. One party rule by super-majority: threat to checks and balances, or just another day in D.C.?
4. Who really pays

Smoke and Mirrors

As is always the case, lots of people are voting, for only slightly coherent reasons, at best. To pick just one example, a friend relays that she heard two people in a doctor’s office arguing about the importance of the Second Amendment. One of them declared, “Well, I’m pro-gun, so right there, I’m obviously voting for Obama.” I don’t get it. There’s really no telling what some voters have heard or think they’ve heard. But that’s not where the rubber meets the road.

No, where I get worried is cases like this one: a friend of mine blogs under the name Tommy Carcetti. He’s a true conservative; while we disagree on some issues, we do approach the world in much the same way. Here’s what he said in his most recent post:

I will admit that I like Barack Obama. There is a wonderful line from the 1961 classic film Judgment at Nuremberg — one of the judges on the tribunal asks Spencer Tracy’s character where he falls politically. Tracy responds “Me? I’m a rock-ribbed Republican… who thought Franklin Roosevelt was a great man.” That’s kind of how I’ve always felt about Barack Obama — I don’t agree with him on much, but I think he’s an excellent man who will make a very good president. He represents something fresh and new, and it is hard to overlook the history-in-the-making aspects of his campaign, too.

I know lots of people who would agree with this entire quote, and lots who would agree with it except for the Republican bit. But when “Tommy” agrees, I get worried. What I worry is this: between the outrageously long primary season, the overwhelming amount of press coverage, the hype over the nominees for Vice President, and the tendency of candidates to tack to the center during the general election, we’ve lost something key. That something, I suggest, is the rational reporting and true information required to tell the two candidates apart and see that their visions of our collective future are so fundamentally different that they cannot both be decent choices, nor can they both be unmitigated disasters-waiting-to-happen.

Take an issue: the economy, the war in Iraq, abortion, the judiciary, foreign policy, etc. With the possible exceptions of health care and immigration, the candidates are worlds apart. If you see good in some liberal policies and in some conservative policies, that’s fine, of course. The fact is, though, that the American public, whomever they elect, has to make stark choices about fixing or leaving broken certain aspects of our government. (Or if you prefer, the choice may be between breaking something and leaving it alone.) It cannot be true, however, that both men, by attempting to enact radically different policies, will do a very good job over four years; one way or the other, each will improve America or make it a worse place in which to live and work.

The biggest concern I have here is that I’ve seen people on both sides of the aisle express completely absurd points, which cannot be supported by evidence or common sense. Either we’re not, as a nation, paying attention, or we no longer recognize rhetoric and dishonesty when we see it (no matter which side you think is better). Want proof? If you’re feeling sturdy today and have recently reinforced your faith in democratic processes and the participants therein, go read some of the thousand-something comments on this Newsweek column. Horrified? I was.

Media Spin

Is there really any debate over whether the media is balanced this year? A perfect example is a recent story titled, “Pelosi debunks triple threat rumor.” Aside from the obvious nonsense – nay, bunk – contained in the title, the story uncritically presents Pelosi’s views, including attacks on Republicans and McCain, without presenting the opposing argument nearly as fully. In fact, the article quotes Pelosi’s recent whopper, “But I do tell you that if the Democrats win, and have substantial majorities, Congress of the United States will be more bipartisan.” No comment by the author, no mention of Republican critiques of that amazing statement. In fact, the entire article is structured around Pelosi’s thoughts – she says this, McCain is mentioned, she “debunks” his comments, McCain is mentioned, and the article devolves further into nothing but a statement of what she thinks and believes. No bias here.

One-Party Rule by Super-Majority

Speaking of Pelosi’s comment, the idea of one party – either party, any party – holding the presidency and dual super-majorities is just scary. Our entire system of government is structured around checks and balances between and within the three branches of government. In a modern political party, however, uniting that much power under one party’s banner practically gives that party’s leadership – and especially the President – nearly unfettered power of precisely the type the Founders of this nation sought to avoid. This should scare Republicans, Democrats, independent voters, and everyone else.

It’s not just Pelosi, of course. Senator Obama needs big, across-the-board, Democrat wins in order to enact the radical programs and reforms he preaches about on the trail (assuming, of course, he plans to actually deliver, which is a fair doubt in any political campaign). Chuck Schumer, in a fit of hypocrisy, jumped on the one ring party bandwagon, as well.

Who really pays?

Who will really pay for the outcome – whichever one it is – of this election cycle? It’s tempting to say only the rich pay for Obama’s plans, or only the middle class for McCain’s, etc., when one is talking about electoral politics. But this is too convenient a fiction. The reality is that we all do. Rich, poor, middle class, whether you pay taxes now or not, your future and that of your children hinges on the scope and type of economic and tax policies enacted now.

Americans disagree, still, on the wisdom of programs like Social Security. We all agree, however, that for decades everyone drawing a salary has been paying into the system, with a few very narrow exceptions, like that for ministers. That plan was intended to restore confidence and ease the burden of caring for one’s family to speed recovery from the Great Depression. Yet more than a half-century later, it’s not only still breathing; it’s the proverbial “third rail of American politics.” Touch it at your peril.

What is really on the line here is not the fate of Social Security or even the war in Iraq. It’s not Detroit manufacturing, Wall Street, Main Street, or Joe the Plumber. No, it’s much bigger than that. What’s at stake in this election is nothing less than the American Dream, itself. Americans can and do disagree about how best to preserve that dream and whether there are limits as to how far one can pursue it. The fact is, however, that it has been placed very much in play this cycle, as the people closest to acheiving that dream are seeing it slip away.

Like the Obamas in their earlier years, my wife and I have enormous debts. Not from spending irresponsibly or buying a house we can’t afford, but in the form of student loans incurred while we were pursuing a higher education in order to enter a profession and build a good future for ourselves and any future family. We have a high income, but a disproportionately huge tax burden and enormous payments to be made on student loans. If our taxes go up, despite our relatively large income, we will be hard-pressed to buy a home in the next couple of years (responsibly, anyway). The American Dream may be within our grasp, but it also might be taken away, or at least be capped arbitrarily by politicians who already have an average net worth near $7,000,000. If you wonder about the havoc this could wreak when this power is exercised arbitrarily, you owe it to yourself – and to everyone else – to read Thomas Sowell’s commentary on the topic.

Conclusion

Like I said before, this will probably be my last commentary until Tuesday. I don’t think I can persuade anybody, but I do need to vent, and I do hope everyone out there who reads this will think about what is at stake here and what vision for America is really best suited to preserve what makes this nation great. Even if you’re already sure you know, please: try to convince others to think about the same. Then get out and vote.

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