Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Romney Reward

I've been spending a portion of my summer thus far working for Organizing for America, the campaign to re-elect Barack Obama. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my job, I was under a strict media blackout - a restriction that included blogging. Fortunately, after weeks of speaking with my supervisor and looking to renegotiate exactly what it is I do, I'm now able to write somewhat freely. My campaign work is still off-limits (honestly, it's not that exciting, they just don't want anybody even remotely associated with the President saying something stupid to the media), but I'm allowed to use this and other public forums to discuss my opinions about the upcoming election.

So here goes. First off . . .

I am not a Democrat.

I'm registered as a Democrat. I've voted for Democrats in the past. I share a lot of ideology which is commonly held to be "liberal" in nature.

I am not a Republican.

I've supported Republicans and conservatives in state and local elections. I share a lot of ideology which is commonly held to be "conservative" in nature.

With that in mind, I had one person I usually looked towards as a role model for politicians. John McCain.

However, in November of 2008, as I stood at the voting booth staring at the two names in front of me, I was locked in place.

John McCain, whom had been a hero of mine for almost a decade. A veteran, an established politician, and a good man with a long history of working for what he believed in. A long-serving Senator with a history of working across party lines on important subjects, rising above petty politics, and connecting more than any other candidate with actual issues and the concerns of America.

Barack Obama, who . . . was handsome?

Then I looked down at the Vice Presidential nominees. Joe Biden, a Democratic analogue for John McCain. Well-spoken (as long as he doesn't speak too much), experienced, well-respected, and deeply involved and dedicated to working with fellow members of Congress, regardless of their political affiliation, in order to do the work that needed to be done.

Sarah Palin, who . . . was pretty? Or was that Tina Fey?

Barack Obama pitched a good game. He never had any of the "gaffes" media outlets scour every speech for along the campaign trail. Just by virtue of his being black he represented a paradigm shift from the establishment of American Presidential politics. Whenever the mud was slung his way, he seemed to rise above it. He inspired people with his presence, got millions of young people out to the voting booths, and had everybody talking about his meteoric rise.

However, it was all predicated on a keynote speech he gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. After that he had a single, somewhat unremarkable run as a Senator from Illinois, and then immediately rode the wave of public interest built up around him all the way to the Presidential nomination. All in all, he hadn't really done much, he just talked a lot.

McCain got down and dirty. He steamrolled over Mitt Romney in the primaries with every attack on his record and character he could come up with. When the general election came, he let campaign ads run demeaning Obama's character, his friends and associates, and his experience (justifiably, in that last case). He played on the fear of terrorist attacks and illegal immigrants taking over our jobs. He allowed people associated with him paint Obama as a non-American Muslim.

He did everything I never thought he would do. He became a typical dirty politician. He abandoned decades of good work in Congress so that he could ensure his nomination, and once he had it he couldn't back down from those platforms. His loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 primary taught him a lesson - you want to be President, you play ball with the Party, and he never let that go.

But the fact remained - I knew John McCain was the person he was, the person I had admired, and I believed that once in office he'd do an about-face, flip off Bush's neo-cons, and run the White House the way he wanted to. I didn't know anything about this Obama character.

Yet, I checked his name, not McCain. Because under John McCain's name was Sarah Palin.

At the time of the election, McCain was 72 years old. Being President is an incredibly stressful job. The thought of John McCain dropping dead one day in office and Sarah Palin becoming President of the United States was not a reality I wanted to encourage, even taking into account the potential face-off with Putin.

Sarah Palin represented something I didn't want in office. Forget the idea that she was uninformed or ill-prepared, or even the notion that she only got the nomination to try and woo Hillary supporters. As Vice President (or President!) Sarah Palin stood for . . . whatever it was the party told her to stand for. She never demonstrated an original thought or idea, she never strayed from popular talking points, she never tackled anything that the Republican party, and specifically the most conservative elements of its base, didn't have a prepared statement for. I didn't want this woman anywhere near the White House, and she cost John McCain my vote.

I think time proved that to be the right decision for other reasons, as I've written about before.

So now it's four years later, and this time around Mitt Romney wisely sat back and let his opponents destroy themselves before calmly marching up the wreckage of their campaigns to claim the Republican nomination. It's still some months out from Election Day - though closer than you think - and so far I have yet to see anything from Romney that sets him apart from Sarah Palin. The man makes me think someone had a powder somewhere in a package that read "Instant Republican Nominee: Just Add Water" and they just doused that thing.

He hasn't deviated even one syllable from party-line rhetoric. He hasn't expressed a single idea which could be controversial to his constituent base. He hasn't done anything to make himself seem like an individual running for the highest office in the land instead of a mouthpiece for the monolithic entity backing him.

But let's put that aside. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Mitt Romney was the greatest possible candidate available. Let's ignore Bain Capital, his own Health Care reform in Massachusetts, his stance on the middle class, all of it. I want you to imagine the most perfect Presidential candidate you can think of, and then pull the image of Mitt Romney over it.

He still shouldn't win.

Here's why.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about my general and growing frustration with the political system in the U.S. As we grow closer to the next election, that sentiment has only grown more pronounced.

The Republican party supposedly represents the conservative viewpoint in America. They're for a small federal government, strict interpretation of the Constitution, tightly controlled federal spending, increased power to state and local governments, a strong military combined with a healthy dose of minding our own business globally, and the increasing of personal liberty for the individual, among other things.

So, quickly, off the top of your head, when was the last time you remember any of that being the forefront of the Republican agenda?

It's not like bills concerning these matters aren't being written and voted on - or not voted on, as I'll touch on in a minute - but they're far from what the Republican party is presenting as the heart of their agenda.

Let's put aside for a moment the radical shift in recent years towards trumpeting legislation which is anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and pro-what-they-define-as-Christianity-and-people-who've-never-picked-up-a-Bible-stand-behind. I'm putting that aside specifically because it's at the forefront of what the party has been doing legislatively. Behind all of that, you'll find a number of Republicans who don't support or actively argue against these kind of bills. They don't tell the whole story, just what we hear more often than not.

No, the real story is the same as it's been for the last four years, and what practically every Republican Senator has been in perfect lockstep with. Obstructionism. Making sure that, in the words of Mitch McConnell, the number one political priority is to deny Obama a second term.

The number one political priority of the party is to unseat Barack Obama. Their chosen method of doing so is not drafting superior legislation. It's not promoting the reasons why the Republican agenda is better for America. It's simply shouting down the Obama administration when they attempt to do anything. Anything at all.

Things like jobs bills, infrastructure bills, a bill to provide benefits for 9/11 First Responders, a bill to extend lower interest rates on student loans, and a veritable laundry list of others. Ostensibly, their objection was that Democrats weren't letting them add amendments. However, after deals were struck to allow more time for Republicans to put in their own amendments if they would stop filibustering . . . they kept right on filibustering.

Because the goal was never to perfect legislation. It was never a case of conservative ideology versus liberalism or government spending or "family values" (more on that in some future post, perhaps). The simple goal, one which has been largely achieved, was preventing as many things that could give Democrats and the President something to tout as an accomplishment for the American people as possible. Once that's been done, point to all of Obama's failures and blame him for them.

So for four years, with a mostly underwhelming list of exceptions, the Republican party has stood diametrically opposed to anything coming from the White House. They stand for lower taxes - until Obama presents the Recovery Act, the largest middle-class tax cut in history. Once that's on the table, tax cuts are out, it's about reducing spending now. A Democratic plan to reduce spending? Not good enough, and the federal government almost shut down - again - for what's usually a routine procedure on the floor.

You know what? It's okay if the Republicans want Obama to be a one-term President. He's a Democrat. They want a Republican in office. I don't expect them to sing his praises or tout his accomplishments. I expect them to do their jobs. And the job of an elected official is to do right by the people they're elected to represent. What this party has done amounts to nothing more than stonewalling any piece of legislation that could be used by Democrats to say "we did something for the people." So as a result, nothing gets done for the people.

So that's why I advocate against voting for Mitt Romney.

I don't want the Republican party to be rewarded for their behavior. I don't want this to be viewed as "okay." This is not something we, as a people, should encourage from our officials.

Politics is about discourse. It's about argument, negotiation, compromise, and cooperation. A politicians job is to examine what's best for the people as a whole and work towards getting the best result. People have conflicting ideologies, so our representatives will as well. That's only right. What's wrong is when we reduce complex social, economic, and political issues to talking points in order to rally mass groups of people behind single-issue candidates and boil things down to black-and-white. When we talk about "conservative" or "liberal" instead of right and wrong, when we argue based on labels we've attached to ideas instead of their actual merit for society, when we make value judgments of an entire way of thinking simply because we're told "that's wrong," with no explanation why, we do ourselves, our country, and our future a terrible disservice.

As a general rule, nothing is black-and-white. If someone has you convinced that you are absolutely right in your way of thinking and there's no room to expand your viewpoint, chances are they're either not giving you all the information or you're avoiding it on purpose. When the Republican party advances an agenda of blocking everything the President does, it reduces our political discourse to "conservatives are right because liberals are wrong." You don't have to think, you don't have to examine the facts, you don't have to consider another point of view, you just have to know which side proposed what and then vote for or against it. It really streamlines the process when you don't have to consider right or wrong.

I think we're better than this. I'm sure amongst the hundreds of bills proposed during the most recent session of Congress there were some unworthy of being passed. I'd still prefer they made it to the floor and were argued on based upon their merits, not whether their author had a D or an R in front of their name.

You know what, though? That's not the fault of the Republican party. They mustered everything they had to stand in the way of any progress in the way of budget reform, finance reform, tax reform, or health care reform. They got away with most of it, too. Because after taking sweeping hold of the White House and Congress in 2008, Democrat proceeded to collapse in amongst themselves and show about as much backbone as your average slug.

If the President seemed unpopular, Democrats distanced themselves from him. If legislation looked like it might hurt their careers, they voted against it. Anything remotely risky, anything that could jeopardize their chances at re-election, Democrats wouldn't touch. 2008 was a year in which a majority of American people clearly rebuked the Bush-era Republican party and asked for a more liberal, progressive agenda in Congress. Democrats responded by giving in to Republicans on practically every major issue, abandoning or changing meaningful legislation. With an overwhelming majority in both Houses, they failed over and over again to advance significant change because they were fighting amongst themselves. Energy the President could have devoted towards pushing a more aggressive agenda had to be spent keeping his own party in line.

President Bush could always count on the support of the Republican party. Even when public sentiment began turning against him, the party stood by their President. Because Republicans understand loyalty, strength in numbers, the power of a united front, and the importance of staying on message. Democrats who should have been taking cue instead bolted like rabbits at the first signs of trouble.

Good works were done recently. The passage of the Affordable Care Act. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. These were good steps Democrats took towards pushing a progressive agenda forward. Yet so much else has been abandoned. In a time when the national deficit was controlling the political dialogue, they agreed to extend Bush-era tax cuts. They did nothing to advance an agenda of campaign finance reform. Drug policy, same-sex marriage, immigration, job creation - Democrats again and again have either remained silent or let themselves be steamrolled by Republicans out of fear. Those in vulnerable positions abandon their party again and again to protect their own interests.

The rise of the Tea Party is partly responsible for this. Though it's been the source of many a headache for John Boehner, the conservative/libertarian group, it also put fear in the already timid Democratic party. Many members shifted their rhetoric to the right, perceiving Tea Party voters in their constituency they now had to please. It worked against them. 2010 was a resounding defeat for Democrats. For all its momentum and media coverage, the Tea Party is still just a blip on the political radar - if those same Democrats had dug their heels in and stood by their party and the voters who put them in office, they might have retained some seats. Instead they proved fair-weather friends to the party, and the voters reacted accordingly.

Democrats might have thought a backlash favoring them was coming around with the eruption of the Occupy movement. The all-inclusive, anti-finance, pro-reform group spread across the nation like wildfire and demonstrated peacefully but forcefully at centers of government, finance, and most visibly, Wall Street. I stopped in to see the Wall Street occupiers on several occasions and was enamored with the movement myself.

But it never went anywhere. It never materialized into a movement that worked to actually affect change. Without leadership, without a spokesperson or a clear set of goals, without the cohesion needed to turn all that energy into action, Occupy has thus far accomplished nothing whereas the Tea Party is represented in Congress many times over. So there is no far-left base coming to energize Democrats and scare Republicans. It all still comes down to the people in the middle.

Here's the secret about voters in America. As much as Republicans or Democrats might want to claim they have a mandate about this or overwhelming support about that, the truth is there are not enough voters on either side of the fence who identify with either party. Most candidates have a core of voters who will vote for them no matter how many babies they set on fire during national debates simply because they refuse to vote for the other party. Beyond that core, there are the people whose votes they actually have to win, most of whom are ardently against baby burning.

I like to think this is a positive sign. The more voters we have who identify with a political party, the more close-minded we become, and the more we let a constructed narrative drive us to the voting booth instead of an informed opinion about our candidates and their intentions, the more we promote the system we're currently in. Tempering this, however, is the fact that the majority of those independent voters tend to "lean" one way or the other. That might mean they believe their values to be more in line with a particular party but don't just vote blindly and actually pay attention to their candidates . . . or they think being independent sounds cooler.

If it's the former, though, then this shift towards not identifying one way or the other means that more people are coming around to the idea that you can't be an uninformed voter. This puts the burden of making sure we stay informed on us, but also on politicians to promote themselves and really get their message out there if they want to garner the votes they need.

That makes it all the more confounding that the major disappointment in all of this was that the Democrats, and the President in particular, didn't do more to get the message of the things they did achieve across. Since its passage, we've been inundated with so much misinformation about what it does and doesn't do that most of his constituents didn't bat an eyelash when Mitt Romney proposed replacing Obamacare with the exact same thing.

Here's the thing; the glut of the Affordable Care Act can be summed up easily enough for a five year-old to understand it.

That's not the point, though. The point is that it is easy to understand and forms a comprehensive reform that everybody can agree on, as evidenced by the fact that Republicans thought of it first. When it was finally passed, it was by the narrowest of margins. Before, during, and after its inception, it has been attacked relentlessly by the right.

And when he should have been out there every day doing everything he could to make sure Americans were getting the right information, understanding what was at stake and what we stood to gain as a nation, not being taken in by hyperbole and flat-out lies, Obama let things go. When he should have been shouting down every naysayer across the country, he chose to take what I suppose he thought was the high road. So this bill, which really does accomplish a great deal of good for the American people, is still going to be used against him in the upcoming election. He has no one to blame for that but himself.

I've made no secret of the fact that I think health care is kind of a big deal. My agenda includes making sure that one day every American has health care. I think this is the responsibility of the government to provide and the responsibility of every American citizen to put money towards. Look, call it what you want - if you don't want socialized medicine, good luck finding a civilized country anywhere else on Earth you can move to that doesn't have it. We're so far behind the curve that when Taiwan instituted their universal health care system, they specifically looked at the American model as an example of what not to do.

This isn't that. Obamacare makes a lot of good moves, but it doesn't go far enough for me.

However, it sets the stage. From this, one day, some President in the future will be able to accomplish that which has been eluding this country since it was first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt. An America where every citizen has health care. Obama did that. He set that stage.

Maybe you still aren't sold on the idea. Maybe you're just avidly against many of this administration's goals for a variety of good reasons. Maybe you know, and can articulate magnificently, exactly why logic and reason dictate that the President not be given a second term.

Romney still shouldn't win. Because a victory for Romney in November brings us closer to a world where none of your arguments or opinions matter. It brings us closer to a world where being informed, intelligent, and responsible as a voter means less than who gets the most media coverage and who shouts the loudest about how the other side is wrong. It brings us closer to a world where the label on the box is more important than its contents.

A victory for Romney validates all the political games, deceptions, and attacks that sunk us so deep into this swamp to begin with. I don't want that. I think we, as a country, deserve better and can do better. I also know we won't get any better until we start showing the people who field candidates we aren't as dumb as they want us to be.

The final point I'll make is also the most important - getting that message across begins at home. The elections that take place on the state and local level will have the most direct impact on you and your life. You do yourself a disservice by not being informed about your local candidates and what exactly their records and positions are, and what the responsibilities of their seat would entail. Believe me, if you can vote for it, it makes a difference in your life somehow. These are the decisions that matter most, and yet when it comes to school boards, city councils, and, most distressingly, judges, an unsettling majority of people don't even know who's running or why. These people - and again, I have to stress, especially judges; judicial elections are just as or more important than any other position you can vote for at the state level - will be the ones making the ordinances and laws directly affecting you far more concretely than any federal bill sitting in limbo on the floor of Congress.

Take the time to go out and do the research to discover who really will best represent you. Help them get elected. Volunteer for their campaigns and you'll be surprised at the kind of work you can fall into. Don't let yourself be distracted by if a person is a Republican or a Democrat. From your town hall to the Capitol Building, people are just people, and people can be good or bad. Find out for yourself which candidate is best fit for you. That's how we make this democracy work, and work well.

I don't ever want to let myself get bogged down by the notion that any idea is inherently bad just because of who thought of it. If Mitt Romney becomes President of the United States, we'll be showing the people in power that that's exactly the idea they have to keep pushing, and so long as they can slap a label people don't like on an idea, they'll have a voting block ready and willing to jump up and shout it down.

I just have to think, I have to trust, that we're better than that, and we deserve to have our leaders treat us better than that.

So don't reward bad behavior. Don't vote Romney.

Thank you, and God bless.

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