Saturday, November 15, 2014

Some Thoughts on the 2014 Election

            In national politics, 2014 is “the year of magical thinking.”
            The Democratic Party's ideals match up better with the average person's.  Voters in four states upped the minimum wage and voters in Oregon and D.C. legalized pot.  These ain't Republican platform planks.  
            But Republicans captured the Senate, even though their plans weren't in the interest of most of us.
            First, for decades, whenever a president has reaches his sixth year with his party holding the Senate, his party loses the Senate.  It ain't just Obama.
            Second, Republicans blamed Obama for ebola, ISIS, gas prices, and the weather.  Meanwhile they projected that they could easily solve our problems, most of which do not have easy solutions. 
            The Republicans were aided and abetted by:
            The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United: Both parties, but particularly the Republicans, used a bundle of money, cleverly concealing its sources, on huge and mostly false attack ads within the final days, too late for meaningful defense by victims, or analysis by journalists.
            Short memories and poor analysis: When Bush deceptively dragged us into the Iraq War, it was obvious that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and that attacking Iraq would create a bunch more terrorists clamoring for our scalps.   
             Although our underlying economic difficulties preceded him, Bush exacerbated our problems by supposing we could fight two wars while lowering taxes, and by doing nothing to address inequality;   Obama staved off Depression, got more people on health care with generally better policies, and  reached agreement with Republican leaders on a reasonable Immigration Bill that other Republicans then shot down.    
            Barack Obama: Obama isn't the Socialist Dictator the screamers scream he is; but he has distinct deficiencies as a president.   He's a much better orator than he is a manager;  he's less aggressive than I wish he were, particularly about articulating his accomplishments to the citizenry;  and he's a little too proud or particular to schmooze easily with donors or Senators he doesn't really feel like schmoozing with.  I doubt even Lyndon Johnson could have schmoozed and conned his way out of the Republican intransigence Obama faced right from the start; and Barack's no Lyndon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
            Democrats could have campaigned on what they believed, and what Obama had accomplished.    Probably in some states the anti-Obama sentiment was so deep that trying to run from him made sense.  In most, it didn't.  A true low point was the Kentucky candidate for U.S. Senate refusing to admit she'd voted for Obama!  She looked like a weak, waffling idiot.  Everyone knew the answer.  The falsity rang clear.
            Racism: Although Republicans spoke of FDR almost as harshly as they do of Obama, I believe the fact that he's a black man (and “uppity,” light-skinned, and highly articulate) played a role in the depth of animosity he's inspired without actually doing anything very radical.  Race also played a role in his election: his color and his eloquence convinced voters he was a lot more of a change than he truly was.   Enhanced expectations meant greater disappointment.
            This should not be overstated: it's just a piece of the story; but it made demonizing him (to whites) a whole lot easier.   
             Mostly, The Republicans attacked Democrats wildly and offered us easy-sounding false solutions to everything.
             We have serious problems neither Bush nor Obama created.      
            The answers aren't easy.  Denying science, economics, and logic won't help.  Nor will claiming problems don't exist (climate change), are natural (rising economic inequality / people without healthcare), or have easy answers (immigration, Ebola, the Middle East, and the economy).   
            But “It's morning in America” still sounds great!
[The above column appeared today, Sunday, 16 November, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.]
[The concept of "racism" is worth an essay of its own.  When I was a kid, the term meant, more or less, "one who believes color is an important dividing line among people and that blacks and others are inferior to whites, and that keeping blacks in their place is an important, if not the most important, issue in any political discussion, decision, or campaign."  There were a lot of racists.  There were also a lot of people who were not racists (as the term was then defined) but who didn't feel like socializing with blacks, kind of felt they were either inferior or comical, but didn't think much about it and were sincerely courteous to the blacks, if any, they happened to meet.  To varying degrees, they were racists as we would now define that term.  In fact, I did not believe then that any of us, including myself, could be entirely free of racism. 
I'll post that essay later this week; but for now, let me mention that racism as we now define it includes folks for whom someone's blackness triggers thoughts of inferiority or is an impediment to friendship, or whatever, but also folks with the equally artificial concept that blacks they meet must be better than other folks.  Either way, the "racist" sees the race, and can't see through that to see the person clearly .  I know some folks saw Obama as somehow not a politician, but he certainly was.  Prescription for serious disappointment.  A friend says maybe some folks who didn't much like the idea of a black President voted for him to show themselves they weren't racist.  I don't know -- but that too was a prescription for minimal patience -- and perhaps an extra dollop of anger.
At any rate, I don't think it's right, in 2014, either to ignore race as a factor or to claim that it was the major one.]
[I'm no economist, but certain things are pretty clear from history:
1. Periodically a nation rises to the top with a new idea or new method of production or distribution.
2. Nations at the top are hampered in staying there by the need to police the world and protect their foreign interests, such as shipping lanes, colonies, and foreign markets.
3. A perfect storm (two destructive wars fought in Europe, the relative freedom of the U.S., the fact that we speak English, our vast natural resources, our distance from Europe  (so that our fields and factories didn't get bombed, or trampled by soldiers, and others) put the U.S. way on top.  The much-quoted fact that we were 6% of the world's population and controlled 60% of its wealth illustrates the situation.  What we did not necessarily understand was that our situation was abnormal, and could not be sustained forever.  We were never going to be a second- or third-rate country, but we were going to fall back to the pack, or have other nations' fortunes rise toward our level.  That process is not Bush's fault or Obama's, Reagan's or Clinton's.  
4. Great economic inequality is bad for a nation's productivity and economy.
5. Scientific consensus can be wrong, but we ignore science at our peril.  That authorities in Europe insisted the world was flat, or was the center of the universe (and killed folks for disagreeing) didn't make those beliefs "true.".  Evolution -- though we certainly have more to learn about how it works and perhaps some wrinkles we haven't spotted yet -- not only exists but is such a subtle and beautiful mechanism that any God should be proud to have  thought it up and put it in place.  Fossils and various discoveries that show the age of this planet is greater than 10,000 years will not dissipate because some Christian Churches don't agree or because some Indian creation theories are very different.
6. The best way to solve a problem, be it slavery, the Nazi threat to the world, the forces causing our declining international stature, climate change, or ebola, is usually not to ignore it or to stick our heads in the sand and pretend the threat is gone.  Usually facing it, learning what we can about it, and trying to identify actions we can take that are both effective and (economically, politically, and scientifically or logistically) feasible.
These seem to me pretty clear from history and science.  Many in U.S. politics deny some of them and haven't noticed others -- or pretend they know nothing to suit large contributors or conservative constituencies.  Sad.  They should be something more like leaders (as Jefferson and Franklin and Madison were) respecting our democratic control of the the country but shining light on areas of which we're ignorant They lack the vision, the insight, the objectivity, or perhaps just the guts.]

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