Election Year Musings


Last week I was searching for Ron Paul’s views on gay marriage (conspicuously left off of his official website), which led me to this quote, “I do trust individuals to make their own decisions,” and I realized that the spin is all wrong: conservatives are the idealists. True conservatives believe the government should get out of the way so citizens can get on with their business, defining liberty as permission to succeed—and fail—on your own merits. Liberals assume that more often than not we will fail, at which time conservatives will say, “Too bad, you had your shot: it’s not the government’s place to bail you out, that’s why you have friends, family, your church, and chapter 7,” while liberals say, “Here, let the government help you, because, let’s be honest, who else will.” In effect, politics is a problem of parenting: do you let your child cry until they figure it out on their own (or another kid in daycare comes over to help), or do you pick them up, wipe their nose, and teach them to do better next time? I don’t know.

Taking care of a nation of 313 million raises many complicated questions. How do you fix an economy that is affected by local, national, and global events: do you protect the consumer or the employer? Do you decrease the government’s role in the market or increase it? How do you secure peace in world in which different peoples have different beliefs, priorities, and needs? Do you provide monetary assistance? Military assistance? Military force? Or do you simply back away? How do you protect a citizenry from itself? Do you impose laws that guide them towards a healthier/safer way of life, or do you butt out and let the dumb ones kill themselves off and hope the smart ones survive?

No one really knows. How can we? We’ve never been here before. Do I think Obama and his advisors are certain that what they’re doing will solve these issues? Nope. But I think they have as good a guess as anyone else. It is easy to say, “I would have done differently, and it would have worked,” because there is no way to disprove the perfection of plans never executed. When Obama took office, unemployment was at 7.8%; last week it is finally back down to 8.5%, its lowest in three years. Is that .7% difference the fault of his policies, of his stimulus packages, of the bank bail outs? Or did those decisions prevent the recession from wiping out more jobs and buffer us somewhat against the Eurozone crisis?

That we can’t really know what will work is why many are more comfortable (myself included) focusing on issues of belief and the character of our candidates. Abortion, gay marriage, faith. Issues that do not boil down to will-it-work-or-won’t-it, but is-it-right-or-isn’t-it, because these are quandaries we can answer for ourselves—or at least wrestle with on an equal playing field as our candidates. It is why I, intrigued by Ron Paul’s call for smaller government and a retreat from world affairs, went looking for his thoughts on gay marriage. Issues pertaining to homosexuality are easy for me. Being a Kinsey 6 is not a sin because it’s no more a choice than being a Kinsey 0. I think that love is love and that those who cite the Bible against gay men and women are focusing on the wrong chapters and verses. Two of Rick Santorum’s congressional directives will be to “Advocate for a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution” and “Call on Congress to reinstitute Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”? That makes it easy for me: I’m done with him—regardless of whatever else he might have to say.

Listening to the rhetoric surrounding the Iowa caucuses made me realize how republicans must have felt in 2004. Perplexed. A little hurt. Defensive. Why are all these people traveling around to a few choice states badmouthing our president, while with the same breath preaching patriotism? What has our president done that is so bad that he deserves such disrespect? All of the republican candidates can tell you all the reasons. About 58% of Americans can tell you some of the reasons (according to the most recent Gallup poll). I can’t tell you. I see a man who has done the best he could with the cards he was dealt—not even dealt, really, handed as he tagged the other guy out of the game—at a poker table of unprecedented partisan politicking. I see a man who, if given the chance of a second term, will probably tiptoe a little less around harder issues, some liberal agenda items and some unfortunate-but-necessary reforms (entitlements). Less concerned about being reelected, he’ll probably get a bit more done. Whether that idea pleases or terrifies you, of course, depends on who you are.

It also depends on where you get your information. Last week a colleague told me her dad was furious with me for giving David Mamet a platform to voice his newly articulated conservative views in a guide for Race. Of course, for me, part of the appeal of writing an article about Mamet’s political conversion was just that—presenting conservative opinions in a publication consumed by a largely liberal readership. It is too easy to avoid challenges. It is easy to find trustworthy voices you agree with; it is more difficult to find those you trust and disagree with; it is harder still to find sources that are impartial. I have been frequenting The Political Guide for some unbiased news pertaining to the primaries. I recommend it, but encourage you to tell me if the site is actually nefarious! In addition to information about all the candidates, it also has a really great article about the National Defense Authorization Act Obama just signed (to the chagrin of his liberal base).

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