Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Let Texas Secede

September 02, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

If you haven’t heard, some Texas secessionists had a rally the other day.  Rachel Maddow had this lovely video.

Truth be told, I felt a bit like seceeding after those lunatics voted for George W. Bush the second time around.  And I’m not the only one.  I know this because Sam Schechner posted an article on Slate called Could the Blue States Secede?.

O.k., maybe we were kidding (sort of), but I’ll bet I’m not the only one who was checking immigration info for Canada and Brazil.  And when Puerto Rico or Hawaii or the Lakota Sioux push for independence, I’m sympathetic.  So, for the sake of consistency, I support the crazy Texans.  I think we should join their campaign for a referendum on Texas secession.

No really, hear me out.

McCain won Texas, but Obama received 44% of the vote.  That’s three and a half million Texans who voted for Obama.  According to Gallop, Texas is officially competitive for democrats.   Perhaps I am overestimating Texans, but it seems unlikely that a referendum would pass.

The most likely outcome is that a significant majority would vote against it.  The kooks would have to shut up about it, or at least redirect their anger towards their fellow Texans.  Politicians would not be able to use the issue to fire up their base, because they would specifically be advocating for something the majority of their constituents clearly do not want.

Granted, a close vote would be a problem.  It would give the secessionists a new lease on life, but the chance of that is so slim.  And if they do leave the union there are all sorts of benefits for the rest of us.  We get rid of tons of right wing, racist loonies who are helping to screw up our government. We would never have another president from Texas. Most of the sane Texans would undoubtedly immigrate to the U.S.  We would have to reroute Highway 40 and so would no longer have to drive through stinky Amarillo on our way across country.

It could be really great.

Obama is Going to Win Florida and Here is Why

November 02, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Whenever anyone talks about Florida, they always make it seem as though winning Florida hinges on the votes in South Florida. But Florida is a big state and who wins or loses depends on more than just a handful of Cubans and Jews in South Florida.

In fact, South Florida is in the bag. It always votes democratic, despite the heavily Republican Cuban vote. In the 2004 presidential election Miami-Dade County favored Kerry over Bush 409,732 to 361,095. Broward County, where Ft. Lauderdale sits, was even more democratic with 453,873 voting for Kerry and only 244,674 for Bush.

In the 2000 Presidential Election Gore received 39,275 more Miami-Dade County votes than Bush. And Gore received a whopping 209,801 more votes than Bush in Broward County. That’s about 69% of the vote. If it were up to Dade and Broward Counties, Florida would have gone democratic in both of the last presidential elections.

I would expect to see those democratic number rise even higher this election. George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency will certainly push the votes in that direction, but so will demographic and generational changes. Look for an increase in votes from the citizen children of non-citizen immigrants who arrived from the Caribbean (particularly Haiti) beginning in the 1950s. Their children can vote, and I’m guessing they will.

Further, the Republicans’ main voters in South Florida are an aging group of white Cubans. Their children may still be Republicans, but their ideological dedication isn’t nearly as strong. What’s more, later arrivals (many of whom are Afro-Cuban and have more ambivalent feelings about the Cuban government) may have a more open mind.

Regardless of how much Obama wins by in South Florida, it is northern Florida where the race will be won. It is northern Florida, which more closely resembles Georgia, that usually votes Republican in national elections. Duval County (Jacksonville) favored Bush in each of the last two elections. In 2000 it was 152,098 to 107,864 and in 2004 it was 220,190 to 158,610.

Duval County is about 30% African American, but only 60% of of African American voters in Duval showed up in 2004. A significant increase in black voting in Duval could turn the county democratic. If northern Florida counties turn democratic, and I believe some of them will, Barack Obama wins the state comfortably.

Another northern and Central Florida trend to keep an eyeball on is the influx of Puerto Ricans to the area. While the Puerto Rican community in the Orlando area has been growing for some time, it is only recently that they have been moving to places like Sarasota. Puerto Ricans tend to vote democratic.

McCain’s campaign seems to have assumed that they would continue to pull in the Central and Northern Florida counties that have traditionally gone Republican. Or maybe, as Adam Nagourney reports in the New York Times article While McCain Looked Away, Florida Shifted, they believed that “Mr. Obama, as an African-American, would have trouble winning support from two of the state’s key constituencies: Hispanics and Jews.”

If his report is true, it is delightful. Republicans have been trying to convince us that we hate each other and that we do not have common interests for so long that they actually started to believe their own hype. Once again, they counted on racism to help them win an election. But this time it is going to backfire in a huge way. Sweet.

Why Can’t McCain Make His Accusations of Socialism Stick?

October 22, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Historically, if a politician, particularly a Democrat, dared to bring up the subject of inequality, they were branded as a Marxist or accused of trying to start class warfare. McCain and Palin have been reviving this tactic with gusto and are now trying to make it sound like tax cuts for the middle class are an “un-American” redistribution of wealth.

In the past, Republicans calling Democrats elitist or accusing them of socialism was effective. This time around, it isn’t working. Why?

  • Economic Crisis – The most obvious answer is the economic crisis. It is blatantly obvious that the Republican sacred cows of greed, deregulation, and lowering taxes for the rich have caused an economic disaster. Even Alan Greenspan has (partially) admitted the error of his ways.
  • Anti-Corporatism – Feelings against large corporations have been growing for a long time. Growing up in the 80s, I watched massive layoffs of people who thought they had lifetime jobs. I saw the Reagan administration union busting. I watched savings and loan scandals and saw my father’s small business be destroyed by Office Depot. I saw all of this in the midst of a cocaine and yacht-filled orgy of greed. Many of my generation learned not to expect much of employers. We refused to dedicate our lives to a company, preferring to make fun of work in movies like Office Space. From anti-Walmart films to protests against the WTO in Seattle, we have built up a deep distrust of “big business.”
  • Generational Divide – The Cold War was the defining theme of my parents generation, but it is barely a blip for me. I am thirty-five years old and the only thing I know about the Cold War from personal experience is that a wall came down in Germany when I was a kid and that Reagan used communism as an excuse to fight illegal wars in many of my friends home countries. McCarthy is long dead. The Berlin wall has been down for almost twenty years. Cries of “socialist” don’t mean much to anyone under the age of 40.

The truth is that it is Republicans who have been the primary class warriors. They’re the ones who are always advocating policies that benefit only the wealthiest class while getting less wealthy people to vote for them by branding anyone intellectual as a coastal “elite.”

I think we are all really tired of people with more houses than I have shoes telling us that letting them get richer, and bailing them out when they screw up, is necessary, but that doing something about the more than a million homes now in foreclosure is “socialism.”

If McCain Loses, Does the Southern Strategy Finally RIP?

October 14, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Republicans have consistently and explicitly used racism as a political strategy. Sadly, their tactics have all too often worked. They are trying it again this election, but this time it seems to be failing. If it fails, especially if it fails big, does the Southern strategy finally die forever?

Racism in Republican Campaigns

In my lifetime, I have come to know the Republican Party as the party of white people; specifically, old, white, Protestant, men. The Republican Party has encouraged this perception and still managed to win quite a few elections.

When Nixon talked about “states rights” in the south, what he really meant was that the federal government shouldn’t make Southerners integrate. When Ronald Reagan began his run for the presidency talking about states rights in Mississippi, in the very county where three civil right activists were infamously murdered, he was sending a very strong message.

When George H.W. Bush used images of a black felon who committed horrible crimes (Willie Horton) in his race against Michael Dukakis, he conjured up images of the scary black man to win an election. And when George W. Bush’s campaign flyered the South insinuating that John McCain had an illegitimate black baby, Bush rode racism all the way to the Republican nomination.

Republicans Moment of Demographic Realization

Bill Clinton’s popularity and success depended in large part upon the votes of women, Latinos, African-Americans, and young people. It took Republicans a while to catch on, but some time during Bill Clinton’s presidency they realized that demographics were against them. In fact, in just thirty-four years, white people will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population.

In 2000, the Republican National Convention looked like Sunday in Harlem (literally, the 2000 convention featured a black gospel choir). Republicans started trying to appeal to black voters and to court Latino voters (particularly Christian conservative blacks and Latinos). Prominent Republicans were even apologizing for their use of the Southern strategy.

McCain’s New Southern Strategy

This time around, Republicans seem to have conceded the black vote and nearly conceded the Latino one. The possibility of the first African-American president is as exciting as the Bush administration’s response to Katrina was infuriating to black voters. Their support of Barack Obama is strong. Latinos are angry at the anti-immigration Republican vitriol that has often turned just plain anti-Latino, and especially anti-Mexican. The GOP is losing them as well.

This leaves John McCain with only one way of winning. He has to make sure he appeals to the most base conservatives of the Republican Party (no that’s not a typo) and bring them out in force. He must make sure every fearful, racist shows up at the polls to vote against the black guy with the funny name. He needs women to show up for the Republicans, as white men alone won’t get them a win. Republicans thought they covered their bases by choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate. She is certainly appealing to anti-abortion zealots, Christian conservatives, racists, and aging cold warriors. Just check out some fan videos.

The Southern Strategy Backlash

Of course in trying to appeal to the fringe elements of the Republican Party, the party was bound to lose some of the moderates. They are betting on the fact that there are enough fanatics and racists out there (men and women) to bring the election home for them. But the gamble doesn’t appear to be working.

Moderate Republicans and true conservatives are abandoning ship. Colin Powell just came out in support of Barack Obama, specifically citing the tone of his campaign and his choice of Sarah Palin. William F. Buckley’s son, conservative columnist and writer Christopher, also came out in support of Obama citing the same reasons. A friends father, who hasn’t voted for a Democrat since the seventies, is voting for Obama in large part because of the Palin choice.

In fact, it seems that the Southern strategy may be pushing the numbers in Obama’s favor in some battleground states like Florida and Virginia. Polls there have shown Obama’s numbers jump since McCain has gone increasingly negative, trying to paint Obama as an outsider, un-American, and suspicious.

The End of the Southern Strategy

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who worry about the ugliness of the campaign. They are afraid that appealing to racism will work yet again and wonder what happens then. A better question is, what if it doesn’t work? What if it fails so spectacularly that no Republican politician running for national office will ever believe that he can win using those tactics?

A rout this election will not only give democrats a win, it will give fiscal conservatives and Libertarian Republicans an opportunity to end the days of the Southern strategy. It will give them an opening to end the stranglehold social conservatives and neo-conservatives have on their party. Let’s hope they take it.

Does McCain Want to Replace FEMA with Fedex?

September 19, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

After the appearances of McCain and Obama at the recent forum on service at Columbia University, most of the pundits were saying that there was not “a lot of contrast between these two candidates” (MSNBC) – or something to that effect. Not one person mentioned McCain’s comments about the private sector.

When talking about service programs, McCain took great pains to “emphasize…it doesn’t always have to be run by the government” and then he laid out his philosophy. “My philosophy is, lets not have government do things that the private sector can do or other organizations can do. That’s just my theory of government.”

Let’s break that statement down a little. Is there anything that the private sector couldn’t theoretically do? The Bush administration certainly doesn’t think so. They’ve been desperately trying to privatize social security. They’re giving billions of our tax money in no-bid contracts to well-connected private companies in Iraq. Intelligence is now largely in the hands of private contractors.

In fact, private contracts in general have exploded under the Bush administration and now account for 40 cents of every discretionary dollar in the federal budget. Think about that for a second. Your hard earned money is being taxed and then given to huge private companies. And I’m not talking about thousands of dollars, or millions. They are receiving billions. And what have those companies done with your money?

Blackwater “private security” was kicked out of Iraq after murdering civilians. STIS was given 320 million dollars for building an Iraqi power plant that was never built. Bricks of money were sent to Iraq and just disappeared into the ether. If you want to get really depressed, read Matt Taibbi’s article, The Great Iraq Swindle.

To the Reaganites (and as often as they mention Reagan it appears all Republicans are Reaganites) “government does not solve problems, it subsidizes them.” To these people, government is always bad, or at least worse than the alternatives. Apparently, they believe that the minute a person steps over the threshold of a government building to take a job, they are immediately evil. It’s the Invasion of the Body Snatchers theory of government. (Although that would explain a lot about Cheney.)

Republicans have been telling us that government is evil and inept since I was in diapers, and they have been doing a damn good job of proving their point. Perhaps the best example of this was during hurricane Katrina. FEMA was in shambles after the Bush administration was through gutting it, privatizing it, and appointing political fundraisers to head it.

When McCain was asked about the government’s role in disasters, like Katrina, he admitted that “the role of government obviously is the primary role,” but then he went on to say that “I don’t think frankly if Fedex or Target or any of these organizations had been in charge we wouldn’t have had a truck full of ice ending up in Maine.”

Would Fedex have done a better job than FEMA? They certainly couldn’t have done worse, but it is not because people who work for a private company are inherently better and more capable. It is because Fedex would never hire a CEO for disaster relief who had done nothing but run a horse track.

I understand peoples frustration with taxes, government, and bureaucracy. When I see the salaries of Halliburton executives, knowing that my tax money is paying that salary, it makes my skin crawl. But rather than just take the Republican bait about all government being bad and all taxes being evil, we need to start having sensible conversations about what government is and should be.

Of course, if we look at many on the left, their feelings about the private sector are a mirror of Republicans feelings about government. As much as I hate the Walmartinization of everything, not everyone who works for Walmart is automatically evil. And a new government agency for every problem isn’t the solution either, Democrats.

Is it that government corrupts or that power corrupts? Is there any organization that would be impervious to greed? Is the problem that we rely too much on “representatives” rather than direct democracy? I’d love to have a real conversation about that, rather than what passes for a conversation in our system, which goes like this:

Republican: They are just a tax and spend democrats.
Democrat: Republicans don’t care about you.


Is Education Overrated?

June 14, 2008 By: Mel Category: Stratification

Recently, John McCain opposed a bill requiring equal pay for women. He received a maelstrom of blogosphere criticism for his assertion that what women needed was “education and training.” Let’s, for the moment, set aside the fact that we were talking about women with equal education and training. Was what John McCain said really so different from the same tired lines we always hear about education?

Education as a panacea

Both Barack Obama and John McCain’s websites highlight our failing educational systems. McCain focuses on public schools “cultural problems” and lack of choice. (Read: Fearful parents should be able to remove their children from schools filled with the other.) Obama wants to provide funding, improve teacher pay and make a college education affordable for everyone.

Regardless of whose position you most agree with (and I admit that I agree with Obama’s), the implication remains the same. Without education, children will fail in life. They will not be able to get good jobs. They will be poor. They will always struggle. And all of this joblessness, poverty, and struggle will be the result of their poor education. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who will disagree with that statement. No one seems to question it at all.

What do we mean when we say education?

About a year ago, I was on a mini-tour outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. My boyfriend and I were on our way to some natural hot springs called Las Fuentes Georginas. Sharing the van with us were two other tourists, one woman from DC and one from Australia. As we drove the winding road to the hot springs, passing Mayan farmers working their fields, the Australian commented on the impressiveness of their mountainside agriculture. The American quickly responded that the Peace Corp had come in and shown them how to do everything.

Now, for those of you who do not know, indigenous people of the Americas have always been some of the most gifted agriculturalists in the world. Their efforts over centuries have brought an incredible array of foods that the world relies on to survive, most importantly corn and potatoes. In fact, recent scholarship has focused on how to undo some of the western agricultural practices imposed on indigenous people by our so-called experts and on learning about their much more sustainable traditional ones.

The point of my story being that the American could not conceive that someone without a formal education could know something. It was easier for her to believe that a twenty-something Peace Corp volunteer would know more than a 40 year old farmer who had centuries of knowledge passed down to him or her.

When we say education, we mean formal education. We mean education that comes with a piece of paper. We mean that someone who has already been certified as worthy confers on us this same worthiness. We can then show this paper to the world and say, you see, I deserve to make a decent living.

Is formal education just stratification?

For employers, the formal education system is, at best, a shortcut. Presumably, that piece of paper evidences a certain level of knowledge and ability that the employer can rely on. But since not everyone has the opportunity to get that piece of paper, it also acts as a barrier and as a means of conferring status from one generation to the next. If you are wealthy and one of your parents went to college, you are far more likely to go yourself.

Employers are not necessarily conscious of the prejudicial filtering effect of this system. Every nonprofit I have worked for has been chagrined at the lack of diversity in their offices. They often set up diversity committees to figure out what is going wrong. They think of elaborate ways to recruit a more diverse staff.

The reason non-profits are not diverse (ethnically or economically) is simple. Minorities are disproportionately poor. They have less opportunity to go to college. Since nonprofits require a bachelors to sweep the floor, they filter out good people who had less opportunities in life. (On top of which, the main entry point to the world of nonprofits and government is through unpaid internships, which no poor person can afford to take.)

What is societies responsibility to business and vice versa?

There was a time when business was required to provide training to their employees. Then, at least, if an employer was going to make money from your labor, they had to provide you the skills to do it. Today, we are expected to obtain the skills ourselves. Employers want society to provide education. They want their employees to have previous experience. For-profits don’t want to waste a penny of their bottom line on training. Non-profits use the excuse of few resources.

In fact, university education itself has changed. It is no longer about a liberal arts education. It isn’t about pondering the meaning of existence or critical thinking about the issues of the day. It has become, more and more, about simply providing the skills that businesses are looking for. If our entire education system revolves around what business wants, is it any wonder that business has taken over our political and personal lives as well?

Does an “uneducated” person deserve their fate?

When we were kids, my father used to tell my sister that, if she didn’t improve in school and go to college, she would end up flipping burgers in Wags Restaurant. (Wags was a lot like Denny’s, if you’re not familiar.) This was said with absolute certainty, without any doubt as to whether or not this most terrible fate would be deserved (or if it was a terrible fate at all).

When I was in high school, a classmate of mine was stabbed to death. During the trial, the defense brought up his poor performance in school as evidence of his inherent badness. The logic went that, if he performed poorly in school, he must be one of those bad kids. If he was one of those bad kids, he must have done everything that the defense said he did. They bought it and the murderer got off.

Whenever we hear about a farmworker making pennies and living in a cardboard box, or an inner city youth who can’t find a job, or an Appalachian former coal miner barely surviving, our response is that they need eduction. The implication is twofold. Without a formal education, it is acceptable that someone can’t even make enough to feed their family, regardless of how hard they work. And without a formal education, a person doesn’t have the ability, knowledge or skills to contribute to society in a way that deserves decent compensation.

What role should education play in our lives?

I’m not suggesting we all embrace illiteracy and ignorance. I’m saying that knowledge from a professor duly authorized by the university system is not the only kind of knowledge there is. Not only people with graduate degrees deserve to live humanly.

Perhaps we need to start questioning the motives of people for whom formal education is their answer to everything. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves how much our idea of education should revolve around certification of the skills some well-paying businesses want and more around how to produce a just society in which everyone can participate.

Drug Policy Changes and the 2008 Presidential Election

June 08, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Looks like it’s going to be Obama vs. McCain in the general election. One has freely admitted former drug use. The other’s wife is a recovering addict. Back when Bill Clinton was running for office, his non-inhaled pot smoke caused an uproar. This time the controversy surrounding Barack Obama is that he may not have done as many drugs as he seemed to indicate in his autobiography. Does this mean the change voters have been clamoring for may extend to drug policy?

Drug Policy and Past Presidents

I was born in 1973, just a couple years after Richard Nixon kicked off his war on drugs. I grew up in South Florida where the uber-wealthy did lines on their yachts with impunity, while crack houses in Liberty City were raided on the five o’clock news for everyone to see the dark face of the drug problem. In those years, the drug war was the political issue. Anyone who needed a bogeyman, from Hollywood to the Whitehouse, just pulled out the archetypal evil drug dealer.

Every successive president tried to outdo the last in a violent, futile hypocrisy-fest. Ronald Reagan escalated the drug war, while at the same time illegally supporting the Contras in Nicaragua (many of whom were, according to congressional testimony, known to be involved in the drug trade). Then there was his successor, George Bush, with his now debunked claim about buying crack in front of the Whitehouse. And Bill Clinton who went out of his way to prove how tough on crime (ie. not a bleeding heart liberal) he was by presiding over an administration which saw the U.S. prison population grow by leaps and bounds – in large part due to drug laws.

Obama and McCain on Foreign Drug Policy

The basic tenets of U.S. foreign policy related to drugs have been:

  • Push to ensure other countries make illegal the substances we want illegal
  • Push for harsh penalties for violating drug laws
  • Provide money, weapons, and logistical support for police and (more often) military
  • Eliminate the “source” of drugs using crop eradication

Not only have these policies been ineffectual, they have side effects. Eradication programs have killed food crops, displaced rural communities, damaged ecosystems, caused health problems, and exacerbated international conflicts. And, as drugs and democracy in Latin America so clearly shows, our support for military solutions within countries (solutions that would be illegal in our own country) have contributed to violence, human rights violations, and the weakening of civil institutions.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that either a McCain or Obama presidency would change our foreign policy regarding drugs. Neither have challenged the basic tenets of our policy. Both McCain and Obama have come out in support of the Merida Initiative (increasing counter-narcotic support to the Mexican government). They have also supported Plan Colombia.

McCain, for his part, said in a speech to The Florida Association of Broadcasters that “our security priority in this hemisphere is to ensure that terrorists, their enablers and their business partners, including narcotraffickers, have nowhere to hide.” Obama, when questioned at a foreign policy event I attended about how to handle opium growing in Afghanistan, said that we need to look at bringing in agricultural experts. While his looking at the root of the problem (the need to make a living) and not resorting to a knee-jerk military response is laudable, crop substitution programs have been tried and failed.

Obama and McCain on Domestic Drug Policy

On the domestic front, things are somewhat more hopeful. There seems to finally be some recognition that our policies have failed. The two main areas of movement are:

  • Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Decriminalization
  • Alternatives to Incarceration of Drug Offenders

McCain opposes decriminalization of marijuana. Obama has, in the past, come out in favor of marijuana decriminalization, but he recently did some very disappointing backpedaling. Both McCain and Obama have stated in the past that they would respect state’s rights and end the federal raids on state medical marijuana patients. It is McCain who has backpedaled some on that issue, but Obama still says that arresting medical marijuana patients and raids are not a good use of federal resources.

Both McCain and Obama have advocated alternatives to prison for first time users. In fact, the only place you will see drug issues listed on Obama’s website is under the civil rights section. There he advocates rehabilitation through ex-offender programs (including substance abuse treatment), elimination of sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, and the expanded use of drug courts (which even the U.S. Department of Justice admits reduces recidivism).

Questions for Obama and McCain

While there appears to be some improvement on domestic policy, we still have a long way to go. Here are a few questions about drug policy I would like to see asked of the candidates in a debate:

  • Would you agree that a law is a rule we as a society agree to live by? If nearly half the population is breaking a law, wouldn’t a reasonable conclusion be that the law may not be appropriate or just? In 2005, the Department of Justice reported that 46%, or nearly half, of all adults surveyed had used illicit drugs in their lifetime. Would you send half the population to prison?
  • Senator Obama, you have in the past said that you supported marijuana decriminalization. Recently, your campaign stated that this was a misunderstanding of the term decriminalization – which means to remove criminal penalties. Are we to take it that you support criminal penalties, including jail time, for possession of small amounts of marijuana. If so, please explain why, aside from its current illegality, it is a good idea to send people to prison for marijuana possession.
  • Both of you have supported continuing Plan Colombia and ratcheting up support for similar programs in Mexico. Does this include support for eradication programs, which have been shown to have disastrous effects on food production, caused environmental destruction, had negative health effects on populations, and caused potentially explosive border disputes with neighboring countries? And does it take into consideration the fact that it was a supposedly successful eradication campaign in Mexico in the 1970s that actually pushed drug production into Colombia in the first place – the well documented balloon effect.
  • If a business has been cheated or stolen from, they generally have options as to how to address that problem. They can call the police. They can sue in civil court. They can go to the newspapers. If a drug business has a similar problem they have only one option, violence. Wouldn’t it follow, that by opening up other options, by legalizing drugs, we might be able to curb the violence plaguing places like Mexico and Colombia? Senator Obama, in a recent speech to the Cuban American National Foundation you criticized sticking to “tired blueprints on drugs and trade, on democracy and development.” Aren’t our current tactics in the drug war the most tired blueprints of them all?

Now I don’t expect the candidates to have an epiphany, but I do think there is a chance in this election that we might get some thoughtful answers for a change. Perhaps this is a public discussion we are finally ready to have.

Picking a President: The Argument Against Experience

May 28, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

My mother waffled back and forth between Clinton and Obama. She ultimately went for Clinton because, she said:

  • She has more experience
  • She doesn’t have a penis

The second one isn’t a direct quote, but it is the gist of her argument. I’ll save my comments on the all-too-prevalent lack o’penis argument for another post. For this post, lets just focus on the experience argument.

The two burning questions are:

  • What constitutes a wide breadth of experience
  • And does size matter (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

Clinton’s Experience Claims

In the democratic primary, Clinton sold herself as being more experienced and many people (including most of the pundits) seem to have bought it. A few, like Alissa Warters and Scott Kaufman on History News Network, did question the validity of Clinton’s claims. But even when democrats were up in arms about Hillary’s suggestion that she and McCain had experience and Obama had only a speech, people rarely challenged her.

These days, Clinton is still using her ready on day one argument to try and sway superdelegates. But they would be crazy to pick her based on experience. Is she really going to try and run against McCain based on experience? He’s got all the traditional pre-presidential creds.

  • War hero – check
  • Bazillion years senate experience – check
  • Life as a white male people want to have a beer with – check

Judging by what looks to be the outcome of the democratic primary, it appears Clinton’s experience argument swayed some older voters like my mom, but didn’t do much for the rest of us.

Now comes the real test. Did the experience argument not sway because people don’t think experience matters or because of the gaping holes in Clinton’s experience claims?

So far, Obama has chosen to counter the experience argument by pointing out that people with a lifetime of experience (like Dick Cheney) are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place. Obama claims it is not Washington experience, but life experience that matters. Even more important, he says, is having good judgment.

Experience, Not so Great After All

Obama’s claims have been effective, but they don’t explicitly challenge the whole idea of experience being mostly positive and sometimes neutral. I’d like to make a clear argument for the opposite. Often experience is a negative.

It’s not a given that people learn from their mistakes. Experience does not always mean wisdom. Sometimes, experience so corrupts a person that any value gained from having seen the mechanisms by which things work is far outweighed by the myopia and emotional baggage that comes with that experience.

Hillary Clinton is a perfect example of someone experience has not been kind to. Her lifetime of experience told her that a president needed to be seen as tough, as able to be Commander in Chief. She spent her political career trying to look tough and ended up running for president at a moment when we were all tired of cowboys (or cowgirls) who want to “obliterate” Iran.

McCain has been corrupted by his experience as well. His experience showed him that, unless he sucked up to Bush and to the right wing of his party, he would lose his bid for the presidency in another barrage of nasty attacks and innuendo like the Rove assault in South Carolina in 2000.

Bill Clinton has been a walking argument against experience. The saxophone playing, smooth as silk, empathizer-in-chief turned into a sad, petty, race-baiting, fact-fudging shell of his former self. (O.k., we all knew about the fact-fudging, but he was so much smoother about it before.)

Getting through life without becoming jaded and compromised by your experience is a difficult thing to do. That is especially true for people in power. Many people see Clinton (and increasingly McCain) as being too compromised. Obama, on the other hand, is right on the precipice. He has enough experience to run an incredible campaign organization, but not so much experience that he seems completely tainted – yet.

Of course, nobody knows how long Obama will be able to keep that mojo going. He too will likely be corrupted by experience some day. Lets hope it takes a few more years.

Obama’s So Called Jewish Problem

May 11, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Increasingly, pundits are talking about Obama’s supposed Jewish problem. This “problem” stems from his unproven “support” for Israel and, after the Reverend Wright broo-ha-ha, his tenuous association-by-association with Nation of Islam leader and gasbag Louis Farrakhan. Recently, McCain has also been hinting that Hamas and Obama are BFF.

The strategy of republicans, and the increasingly republicanesque Ms. Clinton, is to shave off as many voters as possible by appealing to irrational fears and selfish desires. They think playing up the association with Reverend Wright, pointing out that Obama once expressed some human compassion for Palestinians, and trying to associate him with Hamas will peel off enough Jewish votes to bring them wins. In the republican case, and since Jews make up less than 2% of the population, I can only imagine that they are aiming for Florida.

Lets break this one down a bit shall we. The assumptions being made are:

  • All Jews fundamental issue is Israel. Israel is a litmus test that a candidate must pass in order to get our vote – I’m sorry to break it to you all, but Jewish people actually do care about the economy and the environment and the war in Iraq.
  • “Support” for Israel means blind approval of any action the corruption-scandalized Israeli government feels like taking – While it is true that criticism of the Israeli government is taboo in the United States, rational people understand that no government is immune from making mistakes. We Jews have our fair share of irrationals, like anyone else, but most of us know that the Israeli government has made many mistakes and that every criticism is not an attack on Jewish people. In fact, many of us would like to see more criticism of the Israeli government. None of which is to say that Obama has actually criticized the Israeli government – which, I personally wish he would.
  • Polls show that fewer Jews are supporting the democratic candidates this time around and pundits claim that has to do with a perception that republicans are stronger on Israel – I’ve only known one (admitted) Jewish republican in my life and he said he became a republican because he thought, as a token Jew, he would get farther politically. Now I’m not going to say that all Jews who vote republican are despicable panderers (although I might think it), but there are certainly other reasons why the republican party has been able to siphon off a bit more of the Jewish vote. My personal guess is that the majority of those republican voting jews are old, male, white, wealthy and hawkish about a lot more than Israel. In other words, they are the republican demographic and are as likely to be voting based on the desire to pay less taxes on their wealth or make money on their Haliburton stock as on Israel.

Jews and Israel are not one inseparable entity. It’s frankly insulting to speak as though we are. And while we are at it, how about having a Jewish pundit besides Kristol or Dershowitz or some other conservative uber-zionist? How about having a real debate for a change. Bring on Amy Goodman or Norman Finkelstein once in a while.