Friday, October 24, 2008

Election 08

This is a looong one, so be forewarned….

Temperamentally, I have an aversion to controversy, & I try to be open to differing points of view. Because of this, I’ll have to admit I’ve been reserved—certainly by blogger standards—in openly declaring where I stood on this year’s presidential election. I don’t see Robert Frost’s Banjo as a political blog, but I also believe the presidential election is a serious matter, & that despite the blog’s relatively small readership, I also believe I should be open about my position on what could be a significant election.

I’ve always liked to think of myself as an “independent,” because I do have some serious problems with the two party system—I’d prefer more parties being given a real voice so we could consider more diverse opinions. Sometimes I’m struck by how the two party system as it currently exists creates a “liberal/conservative” dichotomy that all too often is simply a construct used to create divisiveness. Especially in an extremely powerful nation such as the U.S., politics on the national level is about power first—“liberal” or “conservative” positions run a distant second.

Because of this, I’ve voted for third party candidates in a couple of recent presidential elections. While I certainly never harbored any illusions about these candidates winning, I don’t equate voting for a candidate with betting on a horse. I believe it’s an act of conscience; I also believe that casting protest votes such as this can potentially alert the “powers that be” to the fact there are voters who’d like a different agenda considered.

This year, I won’t be voting for a third party candidate; I will be voting for Barack Obama. Do I have any illusions that Senator Obama is some sort of savior who’ll right everything that’s wrong with the U.S.? No—Senator Obama is a politician, & presidential politics is about wielding power, which is always fraught. However, Senator Obama claims to be interested in public works & infrastructure, something I’ve long believed needed to be addressed, & something I’ve long believed would be stimulate the economy—after all, my father was in the Civilian Construction Corps in the 30’s, so I come by this opinion honestly. It also strikes me that a candidate who’s not part of a ticket based on “Drill, Baby, Drill,” might very well do more to wean us off our dependence on petroleum. No matter where one stands on the global warming “question” (I don’t see it as a question, but I acknowledge some folks do), one has to admit that—since there aren’t any dinosaurs around these days to create more oil deposits—we need to start seeking alternative energy sources in a concerted manner. In addition, I believe it’s important that we start to pursue a foreign policy based first & foremost on diplomacy, with waging war as very much the option of last resort, & I believe the Obama-Biden is more likely to pursue such a course than the McCain-Palin ticket. I also believe it could be important for a relatively younger person to serve as president, & without doubt having a qualified & charismatic black man as president of this country ultimately could provide some amount of healing for an ugly history we often try to forget—but as Utah Phillips said, “The past didn’t go anywhere, did it?”

Speaking of this, there have been some ugly stories come out during this election cycle. Efforts to cast Senator Obama as some sort of terrifying “other” have been extremely disturbing; there are some alarming details in the following article. Of course, the McCain-Palin campaign per se presumably isn’t directly linked to the most egregious of these situations. However, the effort to tie Obama in with Bill Ayers—who was a radical during the 1960’s, when Senator Obama was less than 10 years old—are disquieting, & this connection has been drawn explicitly by the McCain-Palin campaign, especially by Palin. I only know what I read about such topics; based on what I read it sounds as though Obama & Ayers (for what it’s worth) are relatively casual acquaintances. I do know that I maintain actual friendships with several people who hold views
that are contrary to mine on a number of issues —views that, considered by themselves, separately from the person who holds them, I find disquieting; however, I wasn’t aware that friendship required a lockstep view of the world. In the absence of other information, I can only look at a question such as this from a personal standpoint; & I also question how much first-hand knowledge Governor Palin has about Senator Obama’s social network. Finally, I’d note that William C. Ibershof, the lead federal prosecutor of the Weather Underground case said in a letter to the NY Times dated October 8th 2008, "I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child." Despite any of these considerations, Governor Palin, in a recent interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, said she would reaffirm her statement about Obama “palling around with terrorists"—"I would say it again," Palin said.

There was also the following recent statement by Minnesota Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann when asked by Hardball’s Chris Matthews if she was concerned about Senator Obama holding “anti-American views”: “Absolutely. I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views. That's what the American people are concerned about. That's why they want to know what his answers are." Bachmann has since said she regrets the statement, apparently blaming the remark on the fact she wasn’t familiar with the Hardball show….

On the other hand, there are some encouraging stories, like “Rednecks for Obama” (viewed at this link). I particularly liked the quote from Missourian Tony Viessman, who said, “My dad used to say, 'A poor man who votes for a Republican is a fool.'” It reminds me of my own father, a World War II veteran, lifelong hunter & fisherman, & as working class as they come; he always had the same sentiment. I also noticed that great old-time musician Ralph Stanley of the Stanley Brother has recorded an endorsement for Obama.

At one time, I actually thought McCain could be an interesting candidate—I’ll admit, I wasn’t seriously considering casting my vote his way, but I respected him as a centrist & a “maverick”; his campaign tactics,
however, haven’t impressed me, & I question his judgment (& motives) in choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate; this choice was, I suspect, fundamentally cynical. Now it’s true that by current definition I’m a pretty “liberal” guy, so you’d probably expect me to say that. On the other hand, retired generals aren’t usually considered bleeding heart lefties, & much of what I’ve said echoes what I believe were reasoned remarks by Colin Powell.

Do the Democrats sling mud, too? Of course; in general, political campaigns are a distasteful exercise in spin & manipulated perception. While it strikes me that some of the Republican rhetoric this year has reached a disturbing level, I’m fully aware that both political parties distort facts. Do Democrats promise things they can’t deliver on? Yes, all politicians do this: I never forgave the Clintons for promising health care reform in 92 & then making a boondoggle of the process—overall, I was never anywhere near as impressed with Bill Clinton as he seemed to be with himself.

So do I know that Barack Obama will be a good president? No—I don’t have any pretensions to being a prognosticator. I do believe he & Joe Biden are clearly the better choice based on the information we have to date, & I believe it’s important to vote for him. Of course, living in Idaho, this has the force of a “protest vote” anyway, because there’s essentially a zero chance the Idaho electors will be Democrats—more on the “red state, blue state” biz next week—but it’s still an act of conscience.

I’m sure some readers will disagree with this—I certainly accept that as your right. For those who intend to vote for McCain-Palin, I accept your right to do so. I do hope that when you cast that vote, however, you’re voting from an active, positive belief in your candidates’ capabilities, & not from a position of prejudging or fearing the opposition.

TOMORROW: Back to Poebiz—with a surprise poet!

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