The Perfect Election

January 14, 2008 on 3:54 am

It’s hard to say when Election 2008 (E-08) began, certainly before November 2006. Indeed, we may be moving to something of a 24/7 election cycle. For the moment, though, it is enough to understand that E-08 is not your garden variety quadrennial event.

First off, E-08 is being contested amid a hardening of our political arteries that began in the mid-1990s and has progressed to what Ron Brownstein characterizes as hyperpartisanship in his book The Second Civil War. The attacks of 9/11 provided a brief respite of national unity, but the ensuing war in Iraq has only deepened and embittered the differences between the parties as was so dramatically demonstrated in November 2006 when both houses of Congress changed hands. Indeed, the continuing inability of the parties to forge a national agenda points to political arteries that are not so much hardened as they are frozen.

But there’s more, much more.

For perhaps the first time in our nation’s history, both national parties are going through an identity crisis at the same time. Having won over the Religious Right, if not having actually created it, the Republican Party finds itself in the same place the Democrats occupied before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Just as the liberal Democrats of the northeast were unlikely bedfellows with the segregationists of the Solid South, so too do the evangelistic populists of the Religious Right have fundamental incompatibilities with the Main Street/Wall Street of the Republicans’ traditional core. As Sen. Fred Thompson noted in the South Carolina Republican debate on January 10, “This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and its future.”

 The Democrat’s identity crisis, while less dramatic, rises with reminiscent visions of the Great Society, the exact mindset that Bill Clinton had put aside on his way to the White House in 1992. The Democrats had ridden an opportunity and fairness agenda to success from FDR to JFK. It was LBJ’s morphing of this into his entitlement-driven Great Society that, in part, set the stage for the Reagan Revolution of 1980. Clinton’s success was in pulling the party back to a middle of the road approach that reclaimed Democratic moderates and found favor with many in the business community. For many in the party today, though, there is uncertainty as to where it and they are headed, or even belong.

And it continues. For the first time ever, the leading contenders for a national party’s nomination are minority candidates. Well, one of them is, anyway, with the other, Sen. Clinton, from a majority that has only enjoyed the benefits of national minority status. The joint success of senators Clinton and Obama has taken E-08 to new ground. Indeed, who but the Democrats could stare down certain victory over a Republican party shackled to an unpopular war and a struggling economy with two precedent shattering contenders?

For their part, the Republicans have brought religion back into politics, the exact two realms whose separation was a founding tenet of American democracy. Not only does the  Republican incumbent see himself as the Almighty’s righteous servant and agent of change, in E-08 we are treated to sotto voce attacks against the religion of one contender by another contender. It gets better. He who hath cast the stone hath built his place in politics as an ordained minister of another religious community.

Indeed, the Republican Party, so proud a claimant of the mantel of conservatism and exhibitor of the strongest urgings for strict constructionist judges, won the White House in 2000 and 2004 largely with the backing of a religious caucus. More ominously, many of the purported leaders of this caucus claim as their goal and calling the “taking back” of the nation to their own bosom and beliefs. Conservatives, indeed! In their own hearts, they tread but a few steps distant from the reconstitution of the Divine Right of Kings.

And then there’s the internet. It has radically changed how we communicate and organize, maybe even how we think. Certainly it has had a quantum impact on each individual’s access to information. More importantly, the power of the electronic word has changed how politics is being done in this country. Notable here have been The Drudge Report of the late 1990s, Howard Dean’s breakthrough fund raising bonanza in ’04, and more recently the emergence of Daily Kos, a web blog that for many now speaks with the authority of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

And we haven’t even gotten to the issues yet! Of Reagan’s achievements, none was more notable than campaigning on three issues (lower taxes, stronger defense, reducing size of government) and then actually doing something about each in office. By contrast, the issues of E-08 are mind boggling both in number and complexity. Healthcare, alone, appears intractable with the twin challenges of (1) who is to be covered and (2) trillions in unfunded Medicare obligations. National security: Iraq, Iran and the Middle East, world terrorism, and now the rise of mega economies in history’s two most populous countries, India and China. And the economy? Totally unprecedented deficits in government revenue and international trade, job generation and quality, manufacturing, technology. And now immigration: Who stays? Who goes? Who gets to get in? Global Warming: Something’s going on here and it’s not good. And, of course, education: What is it? Who gets it? How do we pay for it? Then there’s abortion, same sex marriages…

And so it goes and goes, on and on, as the candidates tip toe through land mines of fact and belief, and how whatever they say is going to play with whoever hears it. And with it all grows the question: Are there limits to the capacity of the political process to respond? E-08 may mark the year that these limits are approached, perhaps even broached. Indeed, E-08 may well be a Perfect Election, the Perfect Political Storm.

If this be so, there is no safe harbor. It will be on us to get through as we always have – as best we can. We just have to ride it out. And despite all the jabbering of 18 candidates and that number times 10 in talking heads, there is within E-08 a real election going on, perhaps as few before. It portends a once in a generation happening, a genuine democratic undertaking in which everyone who wanted a shot at the prize got one, and was tested as never before in endurance, knowledge, expertise and character.      

And in this process, not one literate citizen will be able to claim ignorance or denial of access. Not one issue will be left unearthed or unparsed. What you as an Independent will get for your next president will be what you deserve as never before. As one of 40 million Independents, you have never had a better chance to voice and vote your preference — from the primaries, through the conventions, and into the election.

There can be no choice but participation and engagement.

Elector

Independent Independents

January 9, 2008 on 12:45 pm

New Hampshire. It’s where Independents are independent.

The exit poles show 44% of the voters in yesterday’s Democratic primary were Independents and 54% Democrats, with Independents breaking 41% for Obama, 31% for Clinton and 18% for Edwards. In the Republican primary, 37% of voters were Independents and they went 40% to McCain, 27% to Romney and 9% to Edwards.

Of the total vote count of nearly 500,000, an estimated 200,000 were Independents, with some 120,000 of these voting in the Democratic primary and 80,000 in the Republican. Early McCain campaign concerns that a larger portion would go to Obama were unfounded and they carried McCain to victory. As important, perhaps, was Clinton’s getting 31% of the Independents voting in the Democratic primary to Obama’s 41%. Had she not significantly increased her portion of the Independents voters over that in Iowa, where Obama was estimated to have bested her by more than 2 to 1, she would have lost in New Hampshire.

While Clinton’s significant gain in female votes in New Hampshire over those won in Iowa was key to her victory, something on the order of 37,000 (i.e. 31% of the 120,000 above) of the 112,251 votes she received in New Hanpshire she got from independents. As for McCain, he’s been living on Independents since he began his presidential quest nearly a decade go. Of his 88,466 total vote talley, an estimated 32,000 were independents.

The pundits can cite “brand new ball game” or “a real horse race” or any other cliché they like. The fact is, we have a political Perfect Storm brewing here and, on this sea, the Independents aren’t the boats, they’re the wind.

Elector

Think November

January 7, 2008 on 12:47 pm

One thing to focus on if you’re an Independent in New Hampshire is maintaining your options. Though you may have heard this a dozen times, it’s important enough to hear it once more: What you want in November is a choice of what you see now as the best candidate from each party.

So here’s what you do. Look at the three viable candidates from each party and decide which one of these you would like to keep the option on voting for in November. Next is evaluating the chances of each of these winning their party’s nomination this summer and then go with the one that you believe most needs your support now, no matter the party. This means relying on the polls, as well as your own instincts as to where each candidate is within his or her own party. But this is just part of being an Independent, and for some the fun part.

There is always the possibility that you see one (or more) of the six viable candidates as simply unfit for the position. If you feel strongly enough about this, vote in that candidate’s primary and for the candidate who appears to have the best chance of winning in New Hampshire.

Remember, a primary is just that; a primary. It’s purpose, certainly from the Independent’s perspective, is to affect who will be running later. Vote tomorrow to give yourself the best choice in November.

Elector

IOWA – Round One

January 4, 2008 on 12:59 pm

Obama and Huckabee. Amazing!

Observation Number One: Obama didn’t get the red line on spell check, Huckabee did. How about that?

Next – As a party, the Democrats looked solid, strong. First, they got a phenomenal turnout that they may rightly be claiming is a repudiation of George Bush in particular and Republicans in general. And this in a red state. Second, the winning candidate is notable for separating himself from the near past of his party, the Clintons and overtones of dynasty, as well as the near-distant past, Edwards and echoes of LBJ’s Great Society. But the enthusiasm of all three campaigns cannot be missed and whoever gets the Democratic nomination seems likely to get the full and complete support of those who don’t.

Not so certainly the Republicans. There’s an old caution in politics: He who rides a tiger to victory could end up inside of it. This may well be where the Republicans are headed. Having ridden the Religious Right to at least two presidential elections, Governor Huckabee’s victory raises the question of how close the Party is to being consumed by it. This would not only challenge the Grand Old Party’s claim to national status, it would challenge the viability of our two party system.

For all its faults and foibles, it is the two party system that allows the Independent the position of choice he or she now enjoys. Whichever Democrat wins in New Hampshire, the effect is likely to be mostly in the temperature of the cauldron as it moves inexorably to Super Tuesday, February 5. However, a Huckabee victory in New Hampshire could well be a springboard to a win in South Carolina. This, in turn, could lead to a national party candidate who sees his calling as from the Almighty, who, by this candidate’s reckoning, strode this earth some six thousand years ago.

Republicans: Beware the tiger.

Independents: Think and go forth.

Elector

Huey Huckabee?

January 2, 2008 on 12:45 pm

Having had his prayers answered by a quantum leap to the top tier of both Iowa and national polls, Mike Huckabee is getting what he deserves, and what we need – a closer look. A December 22, New York Times article credited him with making hard decisions on education and transportation issues. Less welcome were reports of outside income and personal use of campaign funds.

Newsweek’s Holy Huckabee! cover story of December 17 cites these, as well as reports of meetings with purported tobacco lobbyists that Huckabee “doesn’t recall,” challenging his accusers to show him “…pictures of me there…” More than the specifics of these articles, though, is the tone of that denial and others; i.e., a facility at shifting the burden of the content of his character to others. To him, it seems, evidence was more the issue than the truth.

Indeed, when attacked, he reportedly replies with name calling. Not happy with coverage by the Arkansas Times, he stopped talking to its reporters. While he has the beneficial experience of running a state, he was happy to accept speaking fees and other favors while in office to supplement his state income. On leaving office, he registered with retail stores for gifts from supporters and well wishers.

As a Baptist minister, he uses his place and authority in the religious realm to promote his career in the political realm. In this, he exhibits little sense of the Constitutional and practical imperative of the separation of church and state. Indeed, he routinely cites his pubic life as answering a call to service from the Almighty. Perhaps most disturbingly, we hear repeatedly of a man who does not listen to those about him. And, further, we hear of a man with a temper.

There was something about the Newsweek and the NYT articles that put me in mind of Huey Long, the populist and hugely popular Governor and Senator of Louisiana in the 1920s and 1930s who was going to make “everyman a king.” To cite Mike Huckabee as a latter day Huey Long, though, would be unfair to both men. Huckabee certainly has never enjoyed the national profile of Long, nor were his achievements as governor in Arkansas anywhere near those of Long in Louisiana. In his favor, though, there is nothing to even suggest the level of corruption that marked Long’s entire career.

All the same, there is something in Huckabee that I sense in no other candidate, Republican or Democrat. It is an assumption of authority and control, an over confidence, that betrays a disinclination to listen or to answer to others. Whether as a minister he answers to God, I’ll leave to God. As to whether he, or any president, will answer to us, that is up to us. And it is something far better confirmed before the office is handed over than after. For this Independent, this is Governor Huckabee’s biggest challenge.

Elector

Candidate Criteria

January 1, 2008 on 12:20 pm

Choosing among candidates without the benefit of party affiliation is the Independent’s challenge and duty. IDn’s role in this includes helping the Independent to focus on the who and the what of the candidates themselves.

It’s been said that a grand-slam, home run, job interview means that when you leave the room, you’re still in the room. In effect, they’ve gotten to know you as a person, have gotten inside your mind and can sense how it works, how you are likely to react to situations and stimuli. In short, you’ve made it easy for them to see you in the job and to decide how well you’ll fit in.

Well, this is pretty much what should happen in an election, except that the stakes are much higher. A Presidential contest is a mano a mano event where all is fair, which is, of course, to say that nothing is fair. It’s a no holds barred, devil take the hind most, near war where the candidates want to be all things to all voters, while at the same being that one special thing to each voter. Caveat emptor is both watch word and order of the day.

So, what do you do?

Here’s what. You go back to the basics. Consider and decide on which qualities, characteristics and skills a person should have to serve and succeed in the presidency. Next, put them in your order of importance and then evaluate the candidates against them. Do not be timid in this. Though only one voter alone, you are not at all powerless. Indeed, you have at your disposal the exact same powers as those who founded the country – reason, observation and the will to engage them. And in the engagement of these powers and faculties, we suggest that you consider the following:

Articulation

Competence

Courage

Humility

Humor

Integrity

Intelligence

Leadership

Listening

Presence

We’d like to have your views on these, and others. It would be great to have a reader exchange on this and see what develops.

Elector
  
 

 

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