Archive for the ‘electoral politics’ Category

Utahns: Sign the Fair Boundaries Petition Online

January 21, 2010

The Fair Boundaries Initiative to implement a less partisan and more honorable districting process in Utah now has an online petition to sign. Utahns, if you haven’t already done so, please sign!

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Do We Need Another Kennedy?

December 19, 2008

After weeks of gossip, Caroline Kennedy seems to be overtly presented herself as a candidate to fill Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. I view the news with a bit of dismay. I don’t really like the idea of another Kennedy in a powerful government position.

This has nothing to do with the Kennedy’s themselves; I’m rather ambivalent about the clan and their record. I consider the disdain of many on the Right toward the family to be just as silly as the adulation which many liberals heap upon John, Robert, and their relatives. Personal conduct of some members of the family aside, they have collectively done their share to promote liberal values in the nation—though they appear to be as willing as any to compromise their ideals when those ideals conflict with their personal interests.

But none of that really has anything to do with my reticence. I’m more bothered by the concept of dynastic succession. I’m troubled by the appearance of a growing governing aristocracy in the nation. The Kennedys are the most obvious example, but hardly the only one. Prescott Bush made Senator, his son George was president, as was his son George W, whose brother was governor and is still considered a potential future presidential candidate. Two generations of Al Gores held the Tennessee Senate seat, the second also climbing to the Vice-Presidency. Bill and Hillary Clinton are another obvious example, albeit with an unusual horizontal, rather than vertical, familial connection.

These few examples (there may be other national examples of which I’m not aware, and there are plenty of local-level examples, such as Chicago and the Daly’s) hardly constitute a wave. And it isn’t as if there isn’t historic precedence ( John Adams and John Quincy Adams; William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison); there have been political families in the past.

Nevertheless, I would prefer we avoid any possible dynasties. One of the concepts which we have come to hold dear in this nation is the concept of widespread opportunity and social mobility. One’s success and mobility isn’t supposed to be based on one’s family ties, but on one’s merit. as celebrity families become entrenched in politics, as whom you know and to whom you are related become more important factors in the political field, it weakens the basis of social mobility and creates rich breeding grounds for corruption.

Having well-connected relations should not disqualify Caroline (or Hilary, or Jeb, or anyone else) from entering the political arena. If a given tree truly provides outstanding fruit, so be it. But I think we should be cautious and carefully inspect the fruit to ensure that we are not selecting them more for their heritage than for their own qualities. Granting them entrance via appointment rather than the normal election process seems alarmingly dynastic to me.

Nov 5: Post Election Day thoughts

November 5, 2008

The seemingly interminable Presidential campaign has at last been terminated. Barack Obama will be our next president. With the day upon us, my wife and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. The relief only grew as drew on and the final results came in.

I was impressed by McCain’s concession speech. While it included many obligatory lines, I felt McCain made some very genuine, gracious statements. They recalled the man whom I admired in the 2000 campaign, for whom I voted in the primaries in 1999, and who has been absent far too often in the intervening years. I’m glad to have sighted him again. Hopefully he will reemerge in the new Senate.

I was rather confident that Obama would win this election, and I’m grateful that my confidence was not misplaced. I chose to vote for Nader as the best possible choice. But while I believe McCain would have been an improvement over the current administration (his choice for Vice President notwithstanding), Obama is the mainstream candidate under whom I have the most hope for a more progressive direction to our government.

Race is no reason to elect a President, but last night race certainly was a reason to celebrate a President. The ugly stains of bigotry were still dark and widespread in the fabric of our country not so long ago (it is within my lifetime that the LDS Church finally surrendered its own racist policies). Nor has racism been expunged from the republic. Yet this election is an enormous symbolic step for blacks and other minorities. We should relish that step and the jubilation of our minority sisters and brothers who feel empowered, inspired, and validated by this moment.

Obama’s acceptance speech was brilliant. I was moved by the humility, by the solemn tone, by the broader perspective of the task ahead. Of course, being a marvelous speaker does not make one a great president. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the number of Obamaniacs who seem smitten solely based on his oratorical skills. Obama obviously has intelligence and incredible poise, but only time will tell whether he has the virtue, wisdom, and the fortitude to be a truly great president. We will see whether he has the character to bring people together to change course, or whether “Change” was merely a cynical political slogan. We will learn if he can make the honest political compromises necessary in government without being compromised.

But no matter how Obama turns out, we should take inspiration from his beautiful address last night. The focus of the speech was not “Yes I will,” but “Yes we can.” No matter how magnificent a president he may turn out to be, he cannot solve all of our problems. His wisecracks at the recent charity dinner aside, Obama is not Superman. Conversely, no matter how inept or unprincipled he might reveal himself to be, we are neither powerless nor incapable of reforming our nation from the grassroots up. As Obama pointed out, this nation has made remarkable steps towards overcoming its flaws—not without stumbles and serious deviations from time to time; but improvement nonetheless. That progress, slow as it may be, has only occurred through the determined effort of people throughout society.

In this period in which we face many serious challenges, we can and must harness the energy catalyzed by the Obama campaign before it fizzles out. We can mobilize the youth who supported Obama in such numbers to continue to follow the liberal impulses which drew them in. We can recognize that, despite what Palin and those of her persuasion believe, community activism and organizing are noble and meaningful pursuits. We can put aside the self-interest which has played such a dominant part of the nation’s ideology to instead focus on sustaining the community; looking to care for the earth which supports us all, as well as for the needy, the downtrodden, and “the least of these.”

Yes we can.

Jeffery Zeldman: A Modest Proposal

September 16, 2008

Among the things I do when not pretending to be a political commentator or actually doing my job at the library is I pretend to be a web designer. I’ve put together a few small websites (honest, Kyle, yours is coming together!), and try to keep follow the latest developments on css presentation, interactivity, and web standards on the online forums, journals, and the blogs of the industry leaders.

One of the biggest names in the industry is Jeffery Zeldman. But Jeffery also shares some good common sense thoughts on politics on occasion. Recently he made a plea for a very common sense idea in political advertising.

It is illegal to make false claims in a TV or radio commercial unless you are running for political office.

If you’re selling toothpaste, your claims must be vetted by legal and medical professionals. But not if you’re selling a candidate.

If you’re selling a candidate, not only can you lie about his record, but more to the point, you can lie about his opponent.

…Lies, and a candidate’s embarrassing efforts to brush them aside, fill the news cycle and constitute the national discourse. And this terrifying and morally indefensible rupture from reality persists even when the country is on its knees.

If networks refuse to accept cigarette advertising, how can they readily approve dishonest political advertising? Cigarettes kill individuals, but lying political ads hurt the whole country. No democracy can afford this, let alone when the country is at war, and under existential threat from terrorists, and in economic free fall (“A Modest Proposal,” Zeldman.com)

The entire post is well worth a read. The idea isn’t novel, but it is certainly worth pondering. There isn’t any way to ban lying, as truth is so often in the eye of the beholder. But requiring campaigns to have some coherent evidence upon which to base their claims (as well as having a media willing to take up their vital role to our Democracy as the fourth estate and aggressively challenge the statements of the campaigns and their supporters) would do a lot to improve the situation.

Experience, Exshmeariance

September 13, 2008

I’m passionate about and fascinated by political theory and ideology. But when I observe electoral politics, such as the current presidential campaign, I’m reminded of how nauseating it is to watch the sausage being made.

Much has been made of experience by both major parties in this race. Curiously, the type of experience considered important has varied depending on the given situation. For McCain, national service experience was the key factor for most of his campaign, with experience in war and as a POW seemingly implied as particularly relevant. Since the relative neophyte Palin was added to the ticket, government executive experience at any level became particularly important (though Rove apparently has a caveat for executive experience in Virginia). For Obama, experience was overrated—that is, until the selection of Biden and the introduction of Palin. Now federal experience is crucial (as is, apparently, experience as executive of a presidential campaign). And if we want to recall ex-candidates, Clinton seemed to consider being a member of the presidential household experience compelling to the electorate.

In reality, experience is a rather insignificant factor in determining presidential material. Plenty of presidents have served adequately or better despite little political experience, such as the iconic Abraham Lincoln. A long record can help give us insight into the candidate’s comprehension, judgement, and competence; but that record, that experience, does not itself guarantee quality. There have been plenty of politicians with lengthy tenures whose most outstanding characteristics were their consistent mediocrity.

Rather than listening to the campaigns quibble over experience, voters would be better served getting a measure of the competence, comprehension, and judgement. For example, instead of listening to imaginative speculation that Alaska’s proximity to Russia and Canada or the governor’s role as commander-in-chief of her state’s national guard translates into meaningful foreign policy experience, the public should view Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson for clues as to her depth of understanding perception on international affairs. Same goes for Obama, McCain, and any other of the third-party candidates you personally may (and should) consider. Simple as that. The prattle of each campaign about experience is just an annoying distraction.

Schlafly’s Lie about Democrats and Abortion

September 4, 2008

A few days ago, Tom Ashbrook interviewed Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum and a primary leader in grassroots conservatism. One particular exchange caught my attention.

CALLER CAROLINE: …I would like to ask her: If Sarah Palin were a Democratic candidate with a tiny special needs child at home and a 17-year-old daughter that’s expecting a baby that’s unwed, how the Republican Party of family values would view the fact that the mother went to work just a few days after the special needs baby was born. So that’s what’s happening with the Republican Party, and I would like her to comment…

TOM ASHBROOK: …We’ll put it to her. Are you a Republican, Democrat, independent, what?

CAROLINE: Former Republican, due to this, exactly what we’re describing.

ASHBROOK: Phyllis Schafly, what do you say…?

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: If Sarah Palin were a Democrat, she would have aborted the baby. That’s the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats (“The Soul of the GOP,” On Point with Tom Ashbrook )

Never mind the fact that, as was pointed out later in the interview, 90% of Down Syndrome pregnancies are aborted (does Schlafly presume that the overwhelming majority of Down Syndrome pregnancies are conceived among Democrats?). She stood by her statement, outrageous as it was.

As I’ve addressed at length before, many—perhaps most—liberals (people like Schlafly typically conflate liberals and Democrats) do not encourage or approve of abortion. We may believe that there needs to be some recognition of and respect for what is typically an agonizing choice for the mother, a recognition that postnatal life deserves just as much sanctity as prenatal, and that we can do more to support life by providing support for those who chose life than by heavy-handed government control. Unfortunately, people like Schlafly are determined not to see the difference between that broader perspective and actually advocating abortion.

A good friend of mine, one who is ardently liberal, recently wrote a very intimate and emotional essay in which she expressed her abhorrence of abortion.

For years now I’ve been saying, “We need to keep abortion legal to save lives,” and I still believe that. But at the same time, I hate abortion. Abortion is violent and invasive. I can imagine that just as birth and health exams can be extremely traumatizing for women who have been raped or sexually abused, abortion is no different. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a surgical abortion with a history of sexual abuse or after being raped, but given the high percentage of these incidences, it seems likely that a great many women who choose to abort are in this category. That makes abortion a seriously disgusting proposition…

…Pro-choice advocates do women a disservice when they refuse to recognize the authentic human experience of abortion, in which a woman might not leave the clinic feeling empowered and independent, but instead feeling abused and disgusted – even while feeling also that they absolutely made the right choice…

I hope that abortion will stay legal, but even more importantly, I hope to see the reasons for unwanted pregnancy attacked with precision and strength. This means, above all, preventing unwanted pregnancy from occurring. This speaks to issues of comprehensive sex education, the availability of contraception to people across the economic spectrum, and further development of contraceptive methods.

This also speaks to poverty and our culture of rape and easy exploitation of women and children. Our habit of blaming the victims followed by ostracism and judgment doesn’t help, either. Our lack of support for women for whom abortion is not the uterine equivalent of dental work speaks volumes about perpetuated stereotypes and dichotomies in our culture. (“Abortion Redux,” Conscious Intention )

Like my friend, I vehemently challenge the Pro-Choice advocates who trivialize the procedure—though I rarely hear such arguments. Maybe they were more prominent a few decades ago, earlier in the abortion conflict, but those sentiments seem rare now. Virtually everyone I hear from on the Left recognizes the gravity of the issue.

I join Schlafly in my admiration for Palin’s willingness to take on the challenge of raising the Down Syndrome child God gave her—just as I equally admire the Democrat running for the Utah House of Representatives in Davis County who is raising a Down Syndrome child.

Schlafly is right to criticize those who promote abortion or discuss it lightly. But she is wrong to lump all Democrats (or all liberals) in that same boat. It is an outright lie to assert that a Democrat would have aborted the baby.

I’ve heard conservatives complain that it is wrong when some liberal voices assert that conservatives don’t care about the poor and disadvantaged. And these conservatives are correct; while far too many conservative commentators use the Moral Conservative Criticism against Social Justice, or disregard the problems which poverty represents, there are a good many who do care deeply about the poor. We may have disagreements with them about the manner in which to alleviate poverty, but we cannot discount their sincere concern for the issue. I hope these same conservatives will understand our grievance with Schlafly’s statements.

Why I Like Obama’s Chances: The Historical Perspective

July 2, 2008

I know of a number of liberals who are (understandably) frustrated and pessimistic. Snakebitten by the previous elections, they don’t believe Obama is going to win, and that we will be stuck with another Republican president.

I’m not saying Obama supporters can be complacent or that it is in the bag. But I think there is plenty of reason to be optimistic.

In 2000, the Democratic candidate was a stiff, wooden candidate, unable to connect with voters, tagged by the media as a liar, and who made all the wrong political moves. The Republican candidate was considered folksy and personable. He also had an incredible fundraising machine, and was able to significantly outspend his opponent. The Democratic candidate defeated the Republican candidate before the Supreme Court threw the election.

In 2004, the incumbent Republican candidate was almost at the peak of his popularity, yet to be dragged down by his administration’s botching of the war effort. He maintained a massive war chest. The Democratic candidate was an aloof, distant candidate, tarred as a flip-flopper and dogged by the very effective (if underhanded) Swiftboat campaign. He lost by an incredibly narrow margin.

This year? The Republican candidate is one who is loathed by many among the conservative base. Discontent with the reigning party is high. Support for the war and conventional foreign policy, the central platform of the Republican candidate, is at low ebb. The Republican candidate, while not aloof or unapproachable, is often seen as cantankerous. His “Maverick” and “Straight-Talk” cachet has worn thin with many. The Democratic candidate is one with incredible charisma, able to inspire and galvanize action. For the first time in years, the Democratic candidate has a significant edge in fundraising.

Two straight elections, the Republicans had substantial advantages, and still only eked out wins. Why not feel hopeful this time?

Obama vs. McCain

June 27, 2008

We now know (finally!) who the two players are in this year’s general election. We have Barack Obama and John McCain. Both have been cast as “different” politicians at various times, and both come with some questions.

Given these choices, I will tentatively support Obama. I’m not locked in; the possibility remains that I’ll go for a stronger statement and vote the independent Nader, the Green Cynthia McKinney, or write in Dennis Kucinich. I’ve been skeptical about the messianic fervor over Obama. I don’t believe that his undeniably brilliant oratorical skills should be a clinching factor in my vote. And a few serious warts have come up regarding his candidacy. Given the mess I believe our method of financing elections is in, I’m saddened that Obama went back on his word and opted out of the public financing system. Furthermore, while Obama said virtually all the right things on foreign policy during the Democratic Primary, I was bitterly disappointed by Obama’s recent pandering to AIPAC, promoting a more traditional sounding foreign policy agenda. Frank of Simple Utah Mormon Politics recently wrote a very insightful post on the conventional U.S. foreign policy agenda regarding the Middle East (a self-described conservative, Frank might well be considered by some almost as “negative” and “anti-American” in his foreign policy views as am I). For Obama to seemingly embrace this sort of foreign policy approach is hardly “Change.”

But while he might not be perfect, I still feel Obama has more integrity than any mainstream candidate in quite some time. Barring further disappointments, I’m comfortable with the idea of Obama as president. And I think the presidency is his to lose. I don’t see McCain being able to rally the support necessary to beat Obamamania.

The fever is even catching here in the typically right-wing Book of Mormon Belt. This may be the first Democratic candidate in decades with an outside chance of winning Utah. Not a great chance, mind you. But where his predecessors had absolutely no chance, I really think Obama has a slim chance.

If what appears to be a largely honorable, slightly left-of-center candidate can win the general election and maybe make some headway in The Reddest of the Red States, that is at least a step in the right direction which I can support.

Update

It appears that I’ve been lax in following the federal news. The recent activity on the FISA bill somehow slipped under my personal radar. I’ve been catching up, and in particular investigating Obama’s involvement. I am now very disappointed. This bill is an egregious breach of the civil liberties for which our nation is supposed to stand, and rather than taking a courageous stand against politics as usual, Obama has thrown in his support.

Given the portent of the AIPAC speech and the FISA bill, I’m now very strongly considering a third-party/write in vote. It is a tough decision. Would the now apparently modest but immediate change Obama is likely to represent worth sacrificing the more fundamental but less probable change represented by third-parties? Something to ponder.

The Misbegotten Furor over Reverend Wright

April 30, 2008

The worst thing about the perpetual campaign for the Democratic nomination is that while the race dominates the airwaves and internet, precious little substantive discussion is going on. Most media coverage, including the debates, is dominated by superficial trivialities. It seems to me particularly pronounced in the coverage of Obama. The nation is facing some potentially grave economic times, a thorny international situation, and the rats nest which is Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the general blowback from the spurious War on Terror. Instead of some very hard-hitting, critical analysis of Obama’s agenda, his economic and international philosophies and his proposed policies, I keep hearing gossipy speculation and innuendo about flag-pins, salutes, unsavory neighbors, pastors, childhood schools, and even the man’s middle name.

Come on. How puerile is this going to get?

Once again, Reverend Wright is making headlines, and Obama is scrambling to distance himself. I’m tired of hearing about Wright, but I can understand why he is taking a stand. If I’d become a national public whipping boy, I might want to defend myself as well.

When the hysteria over the soundbites and short clips of Wright on YouTube exploded in the media, a co-worker of mine chuckled “The people who are all upset obviously don’t go to church,” she insisted. This woman, a deacon in her own congregation, noted that nobody ever agrees entirely with their pastor. You don’t leave the congregation over it. We shouldn’t hold Obama accountable for Wright’s supposed transgressions.

But are the phrases really transgressions?

I’ve seen little reason to condemn Wright’s statements as egregiously inappropriate. We are warned in the scriptures that if we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind; when Wright says that “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he is only reminding us of that principle’s application in foreign policy.

“God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme,” Sounds harsh, yes. But has not God promised damnation for those societies and people who rise to the pinnacle of hubris? I wonder if it isn’t more sacrilegious to confidently proclaim “God bless America!” as if such blessings are the monopoly of our nation.

I don’t believe that the U.S. government under any leadership has concocted the aids virus to harm the black community, or any other community. But as Frank of Simple Utah Mormon Politics pointed out, there are proven examples in which the U.S. government has deliberately harmed or endangered members of our population.

What about the AIDS claim of Wright, that the US government inflicted the black community with AIDS? I haven’t seen any evidence given by Wright, but I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility. Here’s a couple of things that your government has done:

  • For forty years, the government did experiments on several black men with syphilis, not telling them what disease they had and not helping them to get better.
  • The government conducted open-air testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada in the 1950’s.

(“Is Reverend Jeremiah Wright a Lunatic?“)

I’m no fan of Louis Farrakhan, and I believe that much of his rhetoric intensifies friction between races. But I can respect the fact that he has motivated many members of the black community to take responsibility for their lives, build businesses, organize, and otherwise act with dignity rather than turn to gangs, violence, drugs, prostitution, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. I can accept Wright’s approbation for Farrakhan’s work in that regard.

Yes, Wright is passionate and confrontational. That doesn’t bother me; it is part of the black religious tradition. Not only that, but it is part of the general historic Christian tradition. Many of the Old Testament prophets used very incendiary language to condemn the social injustices of the nation of Israel. The very word Jeremiad comes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, known for his stinging rebuke of Israel’s sins. Christ very harshly condemned society in Jerusalem during his time, and warned them of impending damnation. It has always been part of the responsibility of Christian leaders to admonish with sharpness, not only of personal sins, but of social injustice. For those who believe that religion has no part to play in the conversation on social issues, I would call your attention to Ed Firmage’s reminder of past LDS leaders:

If you are Mormon and want to see class, or at least read brilliance, read the Jeremiads of J. Reuben Clark, Jr, during World War Two. Note: During the Second World War, while our troops were dying by the tens of thousands. What did Clark say? He said God would not forgive us for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or fire-bombing Tokyo and Dresden. He condemned without equivocation the development and storage of biological and chemical and nuclear weapons in Utah. During a war. He condemned the use of our God-given land and air and water and people in the employ of making or storing or disposing of weapons of mass destruction here (“The Reverend Jeremiah Wright…Jeremiads are What the Bible Says”).

The reverend is hardly perfect in his perception. But neither is he the raving lunatic nor hatemonger many have accused him of being. In the end, his opinions have nothing to do with Obama’s capacity to serve as President. People should stop worrying about him, flagpins, and names, so that we can concentrate on meaningful issues of governance.

Election Fatigue

April 23, 2008

This morning, while Barak Obama’s Pennsylvania concession speech played on the radio, my wife turned to me and sighed.

“I’m sick of Obama.”

If my wife, who has been swooning over Obama since the 2004 Democratic Convention, is sick of Obama, the election season has gone on far too long.

UPDATE: I wanted to clarify that my wife’s frustration is with the campaign, and not Obama himself. The point of the post was to comment on the length of the election period. She still is a big supporter and absolutely wants him to win(though the crush may have worn off… 😉 ).