inform | empower | engage
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.
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:
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.
There was a certain election. In it, the incumbent debated the challenger on national television. It wasn’t pretty. Ill-prepared and never at ease, the incumbent was unresponsive to many of the questions, and oblivious to counterpoint opportunities. The incumbent not being my preferred candidate, this was just fine with me.
During an interview following, however, my pleasure was greatly diminished. One of the President’s top advisors, “Pat” for our purposes, opened with enthusiastic praise for the incumbent’s performance, speaking the party line forcefully and with greater effect and accuracy than had the incumbent. In responding to specific questions, Pat spun and bent the incumbent’s words to confer what should have been said but had been fumbled. Twisting in my chair with every spin and bend, I finally rose in frustration, my arms thrust forward at the screen, “How can you possibly say that? What debate were you watching, for heaven’s sake?”
Continue reading Enlightenment…
Moving the needle. That’s newspeak for having an impact. I expect its origin dates to early daytime TV. Here Heartline host Warren Hull listened with his unique blend of compassion and enthusiasm as contestants told of their troubles and woes. At show’s end, he would raise his hand above each so the studio audience could express its sympathy and support by clapping their hands, the intensity of which would register on a sound meter whose needle measured the noise in decibels. Who ever moved the needle most got to take home a Motorola TV, and maybe a Maytag washer/dryer in the bargain.
In politics, for Independents, moving the needle is tougher than for political partisans. We traditionally come late to the show and end up standing in the back where we have to clap extra hard and loud if we expect to have any impact on the needle. That’s how it used to be anyway. Now it’s different. Now the Independent is no further from the nearest web port to sites and blogs whose design and purpose is to facilitate and expedite finding out anything we want to know. As for clapping, we are encouraged to say what we think, to participate. That’s how things work today. It’s how we get to play.
Political activism used to be a largely partisan process. No longer. The emergence of candidate-driven national political campaigns and the rise of interest groups on every conceivable issue as amplified by the explosive growth of the internet, have combined to open the door to all. To have impact, however, their voices and views need venue and structure.
IDn wants to facilitate this process for the Independent. The venue will be our blog, which can expand to meet the needs of all those wishing to speak. For structure will, we’ll start with a list of issues on which to comment. To provide focus, some limit is needed in this and we propose the following to start:
IDn will not take positions on any of these issues. Our role will be to facilitate our readers’ exploration and understanding of them from the Independent’s perspective. Next is the reader’s turning these views into action by participation in appropriate fora, supporting in voice and resources those candidates whose views are closest to their own. The last step, of course, is voting their views in November.
It comes down to this: If you don’t speak up now, don’t expect to have much of a voice later. Time is short. Your choices in November could well be determined within nine weeks from today, maybe sooner.
The Declaration of Independence was a political instrument whose purpose was to split off one part of an empire from the whole. Beyond this, it constituted a hinge point in history, a new and universal measure against which the legitimacy of government everywhere would be tested. A new era was upon the earth. We were about to discover whether the dreams of our dreamers had a place in practical government.
The single, driving concept behind the Declaration was and remains that all men are created equal. This is its soul, its ultimate claimed truth. Absent this, the document is meaningless. And this was radical, perhaps beyond what our every day experiences would incline us to understand and appreciate. Yet this is now the base assumption of our political lives. It is, in fact, the secular foundation of our value system.
Within the Declaration, there are three phrases that specify or imply the basis on which it was written. The first of these is the most obvious: Self-evident. The authors took to themselves, and by extension all humanity, the power and authority of reason and applied it to the world about them. In doing so, they declared that at birth each human being was, by right of birth, the equal of all others. They did not need a state or a religion to tell them this, nor would they let a state or a religion deny it to them, or to their children. Self-evident was self-evident, and the phrase was Franklin’s.
The next is pursuit of Happiness. This may be the most radical thought in the document. For some, it remains radical to this day. It challenged not the authority of the state but the place of religion in an every day life. And what was so radical? This: It is alright to live a life whose aim is fulfillment in the world about us. In effect, it allows that the purpose and measure of a life lived must not necessarily include getting to heaven, that a life lived well and good here on earth could be its own reward. In 1776, this was radical.
The last of the three phrases is the last three words of the document itself. On signing their Declaration, the Founders pledged to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. They saw in their individual lives something of worth, sacred, something good in and of itself. And, by extension, that this good was the basis of the inalienability of the Rights they claimed for all humanity. Make no mistake: humankind as born apart from sin was a radical thought in 1776. And this, too, remains radical for some today.
That we are each born equal remains the enduring force of our national spirit. And for the responsible Independent, it is no longer enough to show up on the first Tuesday of November to choose among the candidate offerings of others. Today, there are few practical barriers to our participation in the political process. With the internet and new media, we have 24/7 access to the political process.
This is not a radical thought. It is a radical fact. Engage now!
The surest way to cast a winning vote in a Presidential election is to cast it aside. An uncast vote, you see, benefits only the winner. Why? The winner did not need it to win, and if enough of those not cast had been cast the other way, the winner would have been the loser.
There may be no better example of this than the 1968 Presidential election, won by Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey. Nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that July, Humphrey was President Lyndon Johnson’s incumbent Vice President and champion of liberal Democrats everywhere. The convention, perhaps the most fractious and violent in the country’s history, had chosen Humphrey over Democratic senators McCarthy and McGovern, who had campaigned strongly against U. S. participation in the War in Vietnam.
To many in the party, the Convention was a sham. For them, the party bosses had handed the nomination to Humphrey on the instruction of LBJ, despite wide-spread opposition among the delegates to the war. Perhaps more importantly, the violence of the anti-war demonstrations had the party faithful – North and South, labor and liberal – questioning its direction and leadership.
Whatever the dynamics of the election, history records a 27% decline in votes cast for the Democratic candidate in the 1964 election won by LBJ as compared with Humphrey in 1968. The absolute numbers are perhaps more telling. The 43.1 million votes cast for the Democrats in 1964 shrank by 11.9 million to 31.3 million in 1968, an election won by Richard Nixon with 31.87 million votes, a margin of barely 500,000 votes.
While the candidacy of former Alabama Governor George Wallace in that year’s election no doubt played a heavy hand in the final numbers, the fact remains that a good many Democrats stayed home that November. Given Nixon’s winning margin of less than one percent of the votes cast, it is more than plausible to suggest that those Democrats who failed to vote that year put him in the White House. Leaving history to judge the ultimate impact of Nixon’s election, responsibility for it must certainly be shared by those who would have cast their vote against him but decided to cast it aside.
This said, there is a voting technique that allows the citizen a voice without having to vote for a particular candidate. Register to vote, go to the polls, and vote for every position except that of the presidency. If enough were to do this, commentators may be moved to note that while this many millions went to the polls that day, more than so many millions of these abstained from voting for either party’s candidate. While no more than a footnote to history, if that, it is a statement nonetheless. The important thing is that no matter what you do with your vote, you do it on purpose, and with purpose.
A vote is a terrible thing to waste.