Pre-election reflections

Election day tomorrow, and I was planning to write one last plea for people to vote for President Obama.  Conventional wisdom has been that if the election was about the economy, Romney would win, and if it turned on foreign policy or other issues, Obama would.  Breaking it down further, those who think our highest economic priority should be job creation tend to support Obama, while those who think the highest priority should be deficit reduction favor Romney.  I think that’s probably how it’s breaking down, but I don’t get it. While it’s true Romney’s plan includes nothing that might stimulate job creation, it’s an even worse disaster when it comes to deficit reduction.  A five trillion dollar tax cut, two trillion in extra defense spending, with no plausible funding mechanism for either and no serious specifics on spending cuts–well, I can’t think of the words adequately to convey the preposterous absurdity of Mitt Romney’s economic plan.  Good guy, of course, but come on.

No, but what’s really crazy has been the apocalyptic rhetoric on both sides about what horrible horrible things will happen if the wrong guy is elected.  Charles Krauthammer had a particularly silly column on Sunday declaring that this was the most important election in American history. (Really?  More important than 1860? 1828? 1932? 1968, with Bobby and Dr. King dead in the streets and the country falling to pieces?)

And that’s nothing compared to what Chuck Norris thinks.  “Socialism, or something much worse.” I keep linking to that Chuck Norris video, first, because, for a movie star, he seems so uncomfortable on camera, and also because, my gosh he looks great for a guy in his seventies.

The Tea Party movement has been a major force politically the last few years, and it’s been interesting to see the result. What has Chuck Norris and Charles Krauthammer so exercised is the End of the World, the end of American civilization. My Dad’s kind of a Tea Party guy, a little bit, and I think in part it’s a grandpa thing; he wants his grandkids to have a better life than his, and he sees that threatened.  He sees it threatened by the deficit, for one thing, and that’s certainly a legitimate fear.  My brother’s the same way; he sees the deficit as terrifically dangerous, and sees Mitt Romney as a good businessman who knows how to balance the budget.  The nonsensical specifics of Romney’s published plans don’t trouble him much; the point is to get the right guy in office.

But one of the things the Tea Party does seem to fear (based at least on the signs they carry at rallies and the things they say when interviewed), is the end of White American civilization.  And again, that’s a legitimate fear.  In 2008, 73% of the electorate was white. Obama got 43% of the white vote. He won the election–won it handily–by sweeping the black and Hispanic vote.  On This Week with Snuffleupagus on Sunday, the panel estimated that 68% of the electorate will be white in this election. Maybe it drops to 63% in 2016.  Romney will do well with whites, especially white men.  He’s still going to lose the election, though, even with an incumbent saddled with a tough economy.  I do think it’ll be closer this time. But 90% of Republicans are white.  I mean, we saw this at the two national conventions.  The Republican convention just looked really really white, while the Democratic convention achieved ethnic diversity without seeming to even try very hard.

This is very bad news for the national GOP.  If the GOP remains a party of and by and for white people, it’s going to start losing elections big every time.  Race is a factor in this election and in American politics generally.  I know a lot of liberals tend to be hyper-vigilant about coded racial appeals.  But the biggest gaffe of the Romney campaign–the 47% comments–did play into old racial tropes; lazy, worthless free-loaders supported by hard working American job creators.

But if America is getting more racially and culturally diverse, why isn’t that a good thing?  I know a lot of Tea Partiers, and they tend to react pretty negatively when they see, for example, a business with a sign up that says ‘se habla espanol.’  But Hispanic entrepreneurs are major job creators.  A whole lot of immigrants, legal and illegal, come here, not just to find farm work, but to start businesses and employ folks. Maybe the Right should consider retiring the word “amnesty.”  As in: “immigration reform!  That’s Amnesty!  Amnesty!”  Maybe increasing green cards and making citizenship easier would be good things for us to try.  (Oddly enough, one guy who thought so was George W. Bush.  Not a great President, but solid on immigration.)

So yeah, white majority culture is currently being threatened. Why is that a problem?  Why is that a bad thing?  America’s strength is its diversity; we are a nation of immigrants.  Call us a melting pot, or a big huge burrito supreme; we’re good at mixing and matching.  And inter-marrying, and isn’t that great too?

The biggest anti-Obama meme on the right, however, is the charge that he’s a socialist, that he’s moving the country closer to socialism.  And in one sense, that’s preposterous.  Barack Obama is a pro-business moderate if ever I saw one–actual, real socialists have found his Presidency extremely disappointing.  A socialist wouldn’t have bailed out the auto industry–a socialist would have nationalized it.  And the ACA (otherwise known as Obamacare) provides a market-oriented solution to the problem of health care access–me, I was all about single-payer.

But I also don’t see a lot of point in denying that Obama is, actually, moving our country closer to socialism.  That accusation, turns out, is entirely true.  Just depends on what you mean by socialism.

I love to read the Letters to the Editor section of the Deseret News, especially including the on-line comments responding to the letters, and I’ve been known to toss some hand grenades in that forum as well.  And whenever the ‘Obama’s a socialist’ meme comes up, you can count on someone quoting President Ezra Taft Benson–former President of the Mormon Church, and a hard-core John Birch conservative.  Something about how socialism is communism and evil and no country’s ever prospered under either.

So what about Sweden? Or Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand? When Benson talked about socialism, he meant North Korea, he meant Cuba, he meant the Soviet Union.  Dinosaurs all.  He didn’t anticipate Norway.

Since the end of the Second World War, one of the most interesting and successful movements in politics and economics has been the development of the hybrid state, encompassing the best of both market economies and socialism.  I just finished reading a very interesting book about Einar Gerhardsen, Prime Minister of Norway from 1945-51, and again from 55-63.  He was sort of a Fabian socialist, the ultimate pragmatist, breath-takingly eclectic, combining industrialization with regulation, and creating a social safety net in the process.  His legacy, and the legacy of so many other social democrats throughout Europe, is the balance they achieve between the demands of commerce and the laudable eradication of poverty.

European-style social democracies are not hostile to entrepreneurship.  That’s what we like to think of as our uniquely American invention–upward mobility, invention and innovation.  Anyone who’s ever dealt with IKEA will tell you that those squishy Swedish lefties can also be ferociously hard-headed businessmen.  And I don’t mean to suggest that Europe is a paradise next to the US. i am saying that we’re well on our way to creating a uniquely American version of European-ness. And we not only should continue down that path, we are inevitably going to. We’re arguing about pace, not direction. Because Jeff Daniels has it right, in this amazing clip from The Newsroom.  There was a time America was the greatest country in the world.  And that time is past.

And the fault is not socialism.  It’s not encroaching statism. It’s not liberal do-goodism, it’s not our habit of throwing money at intractable social problems, or increasing the power of the state, or those darn neo-troglodite conservatives or any of it.  Our country has lost its way because we’re not honest with each other or with ourselves.  Our country has lost its way because we’ve gotten stupider, and that, in part, is the fault of a politicized education system, where teachers are forced to teach to a test, forced, by the pressures of rank and salary and promotion, to prepare their kids, our kids, not to think, but to pass a standardized test. (At the university level, it’s called an ‘assessment instrument’). And it’s just so easy to take any reasonable thoughtful proposal and twist it and warp it and make it sound sinister, deliberately, for political advantage.

Why did Rome fall?  You’ll hear all sorts of answer to that question, but to me, one the real tragedies of Rome was the failure of rhetoric.  Schools stopped teaching engineering and science, and started teaching rhetoric, how to use language to sell anything, how to warp language to convince anyone of anything, however preposterous.

Heading into this election, one fear was that the Citizen’s United decision would lead to Big Money dominating elections.  What has happened instead has been that the experience of watching television has become incredibly annoying, because of the incessant, dishonest, unwatchably crude, and in every respect despicable political commercials. Citizen’s United has exacerbated the most disgusting aspects of American politics, the lies and the distortions of truth, twisting men’s words to a snare, and a trap and a stumblingblock, to quote the Apostle Paul.

It’s Jim Matheson, running against Mia Love in Utah’s third district, hammering her day after day for raising taxes as Mayor of Saratoga Springs, all the while knowing that she was mayor of one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and that those ‘tax increases’ paid for badly needed infrastructure.  It’s Mitt Romney, clobbering Obama because Jeep, saved in the bailout, is selling cars in China.  It’s Obama hammering Romney for investing in businesses that do business in China.  It’s using China itself as a bogeyman.

So, yes, the United States is slowly growing more socialist, more like Europe, a development that’s been happening for decades, is historically inevitable and which is not even remotely a bad thing.  And yes, Obamacare, reasonable and moderate as it is, does inch us a bit closer to socialized medicine.  And in 2016, we’ll have enjoyed the benefits of Obamacare for two years, and it will be popular enough to not even be a campaign issue. It won’t matter.  Some other imagined monster will have replaced it.

We’re in the grip of history, and we’re losing our grip to history.  We’re no longer the greatest country in the world.  We’re really good at making war, and really bad at politics, and we’re not educating our people.  And sitting on enough decaying and degrading weapons to kill everyone on earth (a non-issue in this campaign) while blithely ignoring the existential threat of climate change (another non-issue).

We have work to do, and we’re not doing it.  We have decisions to make, and we’re not making them.  We have issues to tackle, and we’re so tangled in political calculations nothing’s getting done.  And this election, dishonest as it’s been, won’t fix any of it.

And yet, I feel somehow optimistic.  I’m encouraged by both the Tea Party and Occupy. Citizens meeting, arguing, talking; how is that bad?  I’m encouraged by my brother, working to incorporate the town he lives in, and by a friend in my ward running for school board, and another friend running, quixotically, for the State Leg as a Democrat. I’m encouraged by the mayor of Provo cracking down on predatory towing companies, and steadfastly encouraging good art at the Covey Center. And I’m encouraged by my friend Lindsay Wiblin.

Freezing cold morning a few days ago, we met under the shelter house at the park in our neighborhood, and voted for neighborhood chair.  Lindsay ran, another guy ran too.  They each talked about our neighborhood, about real issues; stuff like making it easier to make a left turn off Carterville Road to 1720 North.  That kind of thing.  Lindsay won, his opponent (another really good guy), was then selected vice-chair, and they promised to work together.  Democracy at its best, non-partisan, focused on actual problems and real-life solutions.

We can fix this. We can fix all of it. We just need to decide to.



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