Why I’m Voting the Way I’m Voting

Posted on October 23rd, 2012 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

Vote!

Note: I’m just a dumbass with a blog.  My purpose in writing this post is not to convince anyone to change their opinions, but to (one hopes) maybe have the slight effect of making sure that those who agree with, disagree with, or don’t care about my opinions will be more likely to vote next week.  Having every eligible voter vote is the key to keeping America free and strong, in my opinion, and discourse tends to motivate people.

I’m a 51 year old white male who is mid-to-upper middle class. I got my first job when I was 12 years old (paper route) and have never not worked since then. I’ve never been fired or laid off, some of which is luck and some of which is brains and hard work. I’ve lived on the West and East coasts, but have lived primarily in Texas and consider myself a Texan.

My mother’s family were Texas farmers, and she and her seven siblings picked cotton, tended the animals, and used slop buckets. I did not come from money, but I was raised with a strong work ethic, a strong moral compass, a strong family bond, and an open mind.

Through the decades I have voted for Republican, Democratic, and independent candidates. For most of my life I strove to vote for the person, not the party, with the (perhaps naive) thought that if we always select the best available candidate, that will lead to better government.

However, that only works if the elected parties are willing and able to compromise in the pursuit of (what should be) common goals. However, the American political landscape is at its most divisive in my memory.  Personally, I think the system is broken, and our voting is barely more than political theater, a show that is put on every four years to allow us to retain the illusion that We the People run this country.

Also, my take is that, by definition, any candidate for national political office is a combination of professional liar, megalomaniac, and borderline sociopath, something I talked about several years ago.  I see our choice as being between differing styles of lies and misdirection.

However, even if any of the above were true, we still do have a choice.  Politically I lean towards fiscal conservatism and also towards social liberalism.  Here are my key areas of concern for this country:

  • Control of the federal deficit
  • Revamp of health care
  • Free and fair elections
  • Maintain a strong defense and leadership of the Free World
  • Strengthening of civil liberties and civil rights
  • Return to technological leadership
  • Improved national and global economy

I am not an expert on all of the above topics (just like 99.9% of all voters), but I do have my opinions (just like 99.999999% of citizens).  As noted in the disclaimer above, I’m just a dumbass with a blog, but my take on these key points is as follows:

Federal Deficit
I think that balancing the budget will be best achieved through both spending cuts and revenue (tax) increases.  Having a growing economy would help, but waiting for the economy to grow before attacking the deficit is a fool’s game.  If you gathered ten people in a room could you get them all to agree on the same spending cuts and tax increases?  Nope.  However, we elect our representatives to do that hard work for us, to work together for the greater good of the country as a whole.

Yes, I know that sounds naive, but bipartisan cooperation is the key to resolving our issues.  I personally look at bipartisanship as one of the key factors in assessing a candidate, because if you are dogmatic and a pure party animal, you’ll never get anything done other than perpetuating a broken system.  I also think that we need to focus on electing officials who will draft and pass a true balanced budget amendment.  Just like a household that is caught in a debt spiral, the first step is stopping the bleeding by living within your means.  We, as a country, need to do exactly that.

Health Care
Regarding health care, I might be considered an extremist, but my take is that having a for-profit health care industry is unconscionable.  I’m old enough to remember when most hospitals were not-for-profit. When the concept of for-profit hospitals came into vogue (the 1980’s in my recollection), the concept seemed nonsensical to me. The goal of a for-profit company is to maximize profits. The goal of a hospital is (or should be) to maximize the health and well-being of their patients. Those are mutually exclusive goals, and a for-profit health care system, by definition, does not put the patient first.

I’ll try to put it into simpler terms. Today, right now, the health care industry makes more money by treating illnesses over extended periods than by curing or preventing them. Also, it is their fiduciary responsibility to maximize their profits. So, this dis-incents the health care industry from pursuing cures or prevention, because it would directly impact their bottom line in a negative way. Our current health care system would be like setting up for-profit fire departments that made more money when there were more fires and those fires burned longer and did more damage. It doesn’t make any sense, and it needs to be fixed.

So, my take is that the way to improve health care for all Americans is to move away from for-profit healthcare and to couple that with a single-payer system.  Putting the profit motive into the equation, with for-profit health care companies and/or for-profit insurance companies, means that American citizens are the losers in the equation.  Also, if you think that only for-profit organizations can be cutting edge, look at the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and the like for examples of how it can and should be done.

Free and Fair Elections
I wrote a bit about this in a previous post, located here.  Suffice it to say that I think that in order to restore the American people’s confidence in the government, we have to start by removing any traces of chicanery from the election process.  And I mean any.  Gerrymandering should be outlawed, no person or organization should profit from running election services (meaning you can make and sell a voting machine, but it should be run by the government), districts should be generated automatically using generic algorithms, etc.

The federal government should set up an Elections Department whose sole purpose is to institute and enforce free and fair elections across the country.  I believe that this step is unavoidable and necessary, even though it means creating another department, because the current system has been gamed and corrupted into being a farce.

Defense and World Leadership
There are two prongs here, one is that we remain strong such that nobody will f*ck with us.  Second, we maintain the moral high ground, such that those who choose to f*ck with us will be in a morally indefensible position.  You see, although I love my country, I do not subscribe to the belief that anything and everything we do or have done is 100% correct simply because we did it.

These people do not hate our freedom…

As an example, the picture to the right is from one of many spontaneous candlelight vigils by the people of Iran after the 9/11 attacks on the US.  The Iranian people (not the government) rose up with spontaneous outpourings of sadness, sympathy, solidarity, and support after the 9/11 attacks.  For their demonstration of solidarity, many were detained, arrested, or abused by their own government.

However, today, there is much saber-rattling around the US invading Iran.  I am no geopolitical or warfare expert, however judging from the recent past, the US invading another country does not necessarily result in us being greeted as liberators by their people.

Unfortunately, with a conventional invasion the despots in control wield enough power to use their own people as human shields and/or cannon fodder, such that the result of the US invasion is death, deprivation, and hardship for all citizens of the country, regardless of their original opinions of the US.

Instead, I think that actual invasion/warfare should be a last resort that is limited to only the most extreme cases, such as a conventional attack on our borders, or those of our closest allies.  So far, I’m a fan of the current US tactics of crippling sanctions coupled with crippling cyber-warfare.  I would begrudgingly understand the need for surgical drone strikes on key facilities, if it comes to that.  However, I would hate to see us repeat the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan by doing the same thing with Iran, particularly given that the Iranian people, for the most part, identify with Americans and our values.

So, from my perspective, we need to remain strong on defense, and we also need to remain strong with regards to doing the right thing.  In some cases defining ‘the right thing’ can be complicated by factoring in ‘American interests’, which in the Middle East typically refers to energy companies, and while I support the need to secure our energy requirements as part of the national defense, I do NOT support securing the profits of energy companies as part of that strategy, and too often our actions make it indistinguishable as to what ‘interests’ we’re actually serving.

Also, energy is key to our national security, and I’m going to talk about energy and the environment together, because from my perspective these two issues go hand in hand since they have so much direct tension between them.  I think that true energy independence will only come from new or alternative fuels.  My take is also that development of new and alternative energy sources cannot simply be left to the free market.  For-profit companies have to focus on the best sources of near-term profits, and in energy those profits come from increased exploitation of existing energy sources (e.g. fossil fuels).

However, exploitation of those resources comes at an increasing environmental cost.  At some point the damage we are doing to the environment (and, by extension, ourselves) in pursuit of fossil fuels will outweigh the short-term benefits of ever-more-harmful exploitation methods.  I think we have reached and passed that inflection point.

That means it is up to the government to foster the pursuit of new and alternative energy soures, while penalizing the use of fossil fuels.  There is no other way.  Waiting for the ‘free market’ to make such a dramatic change would mean no change during our lifetimes, in my opinion.  Any and all progress on alternative energy has come from the government investing in and/or fostering such research and development, and this needs to be accelerated dramatically.  Note that I’m not some tree-hugging purist, and I personally think that true energy independence for the US will include some form of nuclear power, as discussed in more detail here.

Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
Although I have an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality (to quote George Costanza), I think that the advances in equal rights for homosexuals is fabulous.  I can usually see both sides of most arguments, but on this my take is that those who oppose this progress are on the wrong side of history, period.

Similarly, I continue to be alarmed at the erosion of our rights as a free people, including draconian laws related to the war on drugs (e.g. asset seizure without trial), the war on terrorism (e.g. x-raying our ‘nads at the airport in the interests of national security), the war on copyright violators (e.g. that’ll be $25,000 for downloading a song), the war on non-whites (e.g. show me your papers before you can proceed), and all the other various ‘wars’.

As another example, the infuriatingly named Patriot Act should be repealed immediately.  Actual Patriots from the times of the Founding Fathers would have risen up against these types of infringements of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  There is always a balance between freedom and safety, but in my opinion we have swung way too far towards the side of safety, as an instinctive reaction to 9/11, and we need to start rolling those reactionary policies back, immediately.

Technological Leadership
America is losing our mojo when it comes to leading the world in science and technology.  There is plenty of blame to go around, however I think the key factor is inability of America, as a whole, to allow science to be science and allow religion to be religion, and never the twain shall meet.

I make no claims to any knowledge about the deeper meanings of life, but I also know that you don’t know, either.  Given that there is a spiritual/mystic realm within which there is no reasonable hope of universal agreement among peoples of good faith, my take is that we need to accept the fact that we need to live and let live in that area.  And that, to me, means taking any and all religious overtones out of public education, and very specifically out of science education.  Period.  End of story.

That is a necessary prerequisite for returning America to a leading role in the brains department.  We’re still good, but we’re slipping, and we need to stop the decline.  We can continue to build improvement by returning teaching to being a noble and desirable career path, instead of having it continue to morph into resembling minimum security prison guard.

If I had the magic bullets to make that happen, I’d let them fly, but I don’t.  I think part of it is going to be cooperation between teacher’s unions and school administrations, such that both sides reduce the bureaucracy that stifles real improvements in education.  Teaching to state-mandated tests is an experiment that has failed, in my estimation, and we need both sides to work together to allow teachers the flexibility to teach with passion and creativity, while also giving school administrators the ability to manage teachers based on something other than seniority, to use two simplistic examples.

And, frankly, none of the above helps without the engagement, interest, and support of parents.  Improving the school environment will go a long way to engaging parents more fully, but we as the shepherds of our own future need to be sure we focus in a positive and constructive way on the education of our children.

Improved Economy
What else is there to say other than we need a stronger, more vibrant, more resilient economy?  Again, if anybody has the secret to making this happen, they’re not sharing.  Any candidate who says they know how to make it happen is a bald-faced liar.  What they mean is, they know what they would try in an attempt to make things better.  When it comes to the national and global economy, it comes down to whose strategy do you personally have more faith in.

To me, our strategy has to focus on the root cause of our current economic climate, and to my unlearned eye, it appears that the recent troubles were set in motion back when the Glass–Steagall Act had key portions ‘repealed’ by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act in 1999.  This set us up for a meltdown of the financial industry.  If looked at from one perspective, it’s comical to see that back in 1929 we had the unregulated practices of financial institutions result in the Great Depression, and in response we passed Glass-Steagall in part to put some controls around those risky practices.

Then in 1999 we repealed those controls, even though they had served us well for almost 70 years, and then less than a decade after the repeal, we experienced an eerily similar financial meltdown.  You know, when you’re a child and you touch a hot stove, you remember it for forever, and you don’t purposely touch hot stoves again.  I guess our leaders are not as smart as kids around hot stoves, because we did the exact same thing with the exact same results.  Both sides contributed to it (Gramm, Leach, and Bliley were all Republicans, it passed the House in a bipartisan vote, and was signed by Bill Clinton, a Democrat), which magnifies the foolishness and/or unscrupulousness, in retrospect.

Were there other contributing factors?  Absolutely.  For example, from a business perspective, while I think a ‘free market’ is overall a good thing, it can’t be completely free.  Similar to ‘free speech’, there have to be limits.  For example, while I think that companies should be free to move jobs or money offshore, I also believe that they should lose advantages and/or be penalized to some extent when they do that.  Meaning, if you are going to take an economic engine out of the US, you should have to pay a price to do so.

I’m sure there are more areas for improvement, but you have to start somewhere.  Having worked in the business realm for all of my adult life, I understand the chilling effect that over-regulation can have.  But I also understand the catastrophic effects that unregulated commerce can produce, as well.  A corporation is a sociopath with one goal, profits.  By design, it has no ethics or morals other than what is imposed on it, and even then the natural order is to try to skirt or dodge those controls.  So, we as a people have to decide where the limits are, and my take is that putting fail-safe controls back in place over our financial institutions and discouraging the offshoring of jobs and capital is the right first step.

My Vote

How I’m Voting
In my head, when I factor all of the above into the decision, I see Barack Obama and the Democrats as the clear choice when compared with Mitt Romney and the Republicans.  I freely admit that a lot of the above is opinion, but who of us out here among the hoi polloi truly has indisputable facts?  So, we all must assess reality through our own set of filters.

Do I see Obama as an infallible leader with all the right answers?  Absolutely not.  In fact, four years ago I lamented the selection of Barack Obama as the Democratic Presidential nominee (article here). My primary concern was that he was a blank slate, with no significant record to indicate how effective he would be as president. I also said that if he proved to be a great president, I would come back and post a retraction.  That’s not what this is.

From my perspective, we got just about what I was expecting, which is that Obama was first and foremost a politician, and only secondarily a public servant and statesman. This makes him no different from any serious presidential candidate during my adult lifetime, with the possible exception of Ross Perot, and I’m not sure exactly what he was, in retrospect.

I previously posted my opinions about recent presidents here, stating that all post-WWII presidents have essentially been crazy (in my opinion), because only a crazy person can undergo the metamorphosis from a normal human into a presidential candidate.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), Barack Obama has proven to be no different.

Given my choice of all potential qualified candidates, would I pick Obama? No. But I don’t get to do that, I only get to pick between him and Romney, and in that two-horse race, I pick Obama. Why?

First, he pushed for universal health care, which I think is a no-brainer for an economic powerhouse like the United States. Every single other first world country has some form of universal health care – every single one. Think about that for a moment. I believe that America is great, however I do not believe that it is great for us to have a for-profit medical industry that profits on the misery of others.

Second, Obama inherited an economy that was a plummeting lead ball, and he has managed to keep it from splatting into a second Great Depression, and he did it with the near-universal obstructionism of the opposition. Are things great? No, they aren’t. Are they horrible? For some, yes, for many, no. Could a different strategy have made things better faster? Possibly, but in matters that involve the entire US (and global) economy, anybody who says that they are certain that different actions would have led to better outcomes is a liar and/or an idiot.

Third, it was on his watch that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was decommissioned, and that was representative of his administration’s effectiveness in removing the specter of homophobia and the surrounding hate. Are things perfect? Of course not. Some people passionately believe that homosexuality is wrong. I think that they are wrong, and hope that their form of bigotry is on the wane, and I’m happy to see the government moving in the direction of making things better in this area.

Fourth, it was on his watch that we got Osama bin Laden. Did he go in and fire the fatal bullets? Of course not. However, his administration built on the groundwork that had been laid previously under President Bush, and when it came time to make the go/no-go decision, he said go. Complain all you want, but if you’re going to blame a President when things go wrong (like Carter and the Iranian hostage rescue attempt), you also have to give them credit when it goes right.

There are things about Obama’s administration that I’m ambivalent about, as well. For example, the use of drone strikes on high-value targets. In some cases, these targets are American citizens, not charged or convicted of any crime. Essentially, the administration says, “Go and kill this guy because we think he’s bad.” That’s a disturbing precedent. However, if the choice is between drone strike or invasion, I’ll take the drone strike every time.

Then there’s the ongoing renewal of the Patriot Act, and the fact that Gitmo is still up and running, the seeming increase in crackdown on personal marijuana use, to name a few. He has not been a perfect president, for me. However, it’s unlikely that any president ever perfectly meets the expectations of their supporters, except perhaps for the partisan hacks who think everything the president does is, by definition, correct because he belongs to their party.

Also, there is no way to prepare to be POTUS other than being POTUS.  Obama now has four years of experience.  Think about anything that you’ve done full-time for four years – weren’t you better at it than when you started?  So, my take is that Obama’s existing experience as president is also a compelling factor.

There are those who say that a Republican should be president, because the House will likely have a Republican majority, and it will be easier for the president to get things done.  Another way of saying this is that if the Republicans don’t get their guy elected, they will obstruct progress in the name of being petulant, and will be the the jerk who says, hey, if you guys won’t play by my rules I’m going to take my ball and go home, neener-neener.  Nobody likes that douchebag, and if your argument is we should elect Mitt Romney because otherwise the Republicans will purposely sabotage America, well, then you’re talking crazy.

Do both sides use obstruction as a political weapon?  Yes, but the current Republican hierarchy has turned it into a disturbing performance art – it’s hard to look away, but only because what you see is both revolting and attention-grabbing, like the aftermath of a highway accident.

Mitt Romney
And where to start with Mitt Romney? He’s from a less popular religion, but the truth of the matter is that his beliefs are no stranger than those of religions with more adherents, if looked at from a purely objective perspective. He’s rich, but I don’t hold that against anyone in and of itself. He has civil leadership experience as a Governor. He certainly looks like a President.

And yet, for me the pieces don’t fit together with Romney. For example, if the Mitt Romney that was Governor of Massachusetts was the same Mitt Romney that was running for President, I might consider him seriously. However, he’s basically having to repudiate a lot of what he did in that state that was good (in my opinion) in order to run against Obama.

That says to me that one of two things is true – either he governed Massachusetts according to his principals, but is abandoning those principals for the sake of winning the presidency, or he governed Massachusetts in direct opposition to his principals in order to use it as a stepping stone. In neither case do I see the disconnect between Governor Romney and Presidential Candidate Romney to be resolvable in any way that would lead me to vote for him.

And don’t get me started on Bain Capital. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is an acceptable, if evil, necessity for companies to exist that make money by ruthlessly building on the concept of survival of the fittest. But I don’t want the leader of a pack of economic vultures/carnivores to then become the shepherd of my country. It doesn’t fit. A president governs for the greater good of every single citizen. A CEO manages with the very narrow goal of ensuring that his side wins (profits) and if the other side loses, well, that’s just business.  That’s not how to run a great country.

With regards to Romney’s tax returns, I think he should just release them and be done with it. If they show something illegal (which I doubt) then they’re going to come out eventually anyway. My personal SWAG (stupid, wild-ass guess) is that they will show nothing more or less than that Romney effectively exploited all legal avenues to minimize his taxation, and that his low effective tax rate would serve to derail the key Republican campaign theme that the ‘job creators’ are overtaxed.

So, I have been singularly unimpressed with Mitt Romney.  Also, even if he had somehow wow-ed me personally, I would still hesitate to vote for him because he represents the Republican Party, and I am not ready to have that party in its current form regain executive power.  So, Romney, by virtue of being a chameleon who has to run against his own record as Governor, and who holds up his business experience as preparing him to lead the US as President and yet won’t reveal the details of his taxes to confirm he did it on the up-and-up, is out, for me.

For the record, the only Republican candidate that I would have seriously considered is Hunstman, and he was out almost immediately. I hope he runs again in 2016 and gets the backing of his party, because he’s the only recent Republican contender I’ve seen who I wouldn’t classify as a clown or a nut.

Democrats versus Republicans
I have voted for Democrat, Republican, and third party candidates over the years. If you were to ask me my political beliefs, I would not say “Democrat”, because my politics is more nuanced that a party platform can address. I don’t think the Democrats are right about everything or that the Republicans are wrong about everything.

HOWEVER, in today’s American political climate, I think that there are clear and compelling differences between the Democratic and Republican parties, which lead me to lean towards the Democratic side in most cases.

The primary issue, for me, is that the Republican party has allowed itself to be taken over by nutbags and hypocrites – there’s just no other way to put it. The examples are too numerous to delineate here, but I will share the highlights, from my perspective.

First, the Republican party acts in ways that are direct opposition to their stated goals. They say they are the party of smaller government, but what they mean is they want less government interference in business and fewer government programs for the needy, while also wanting expanding military budgets and a whole lot more government interference into our personal lives.

They say they want to reduce fraud in our electoral processes, but they then go about it by purposely attempting to disenfranchise legitimate voters in key swing states. They say they want a stronger America that’s more competitive in the global economy, but then turn around and want to gut our fact-based educational system and replace it with anti-science, theocratic mumbo-jumbo.

They cry out about religious freedom, but only as long is it’s Christian and not Muslim, or, God-forbid, atheism or agnosticism.  Many churches enjoy tax exempt status, but then their leadership politicizes their sermons, and almost always in support of Republican candidates and viewpoints.

And, finally, at each inflection point, the Republican tendency is to side with the haves at the expense of the have-nots.  In fact, from my perspective, the mainstream Republican stance is to blame the have-nots for what they don’t have.  I heard a description of this that has stuck with me, which is that ‘liberals’ want to  prevent bad things from happening to people who don’t deserve it, and ‘conservatives’ want to prevent good things from happening to people who don’t deserve it.  Is that an over-simplification?  Sure, but in a black and white, soundbite world, it sums it up for me.

If any of you have read this far, I doubt that you will have agreed with all of the above, because they are simply my opinions.  They are complex and diverse, and it is doubtful that anybody would share my exact takes on all these issues.  That makes me unique in my views, just like everybody else.

My sincere hope is that most, if not all, of us have grown tired of the divisiveness and lack of bipartisanship on the part of our leaders.  Even though I currently lean Democratic, I don’t demonize all Republicans.  I have fundamental disagreements with the current leadership and platform of the Republican party, and would like to seem them return to fiscal conservatism and actual liberty and freedom, not just freedom for those whom they consider to be ‘right-thinking’.

I would like to see us have a system where the opposing viewpoints are represented in a constructive manner, and where compromise to achieve goals is the name of the game.  Will voting for Obama magically make that happen?  Nope, but given the choice between Obama and Romney, I think that President Obama will move us closer to that ideal, even if it will only be baby steps.

One Response to 'Why I’m Voting the Way I’m Voting'

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  1. Awua said,

    on June 14th, 2014 at 3:49 am

    The other thing that will improve our scientific mojo is to make our science graduate schools so prohibitively expensive that foreigners won’t use them–and then take all their education with them to their home country. Or use it as a platform to get US citizenship. Or an H1B visa, which need to be severely curtailed. We’re giving out too many of them.

    Get the foreigners out, and that will make the remaining scientists more valuable and necessary. Then people will stop talking about getting more people into STEM–they’ll DO SOMETHING about it.

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