A week ago Thursday, we arrived in Wasilla, Alaska where we were spending the long weekend with my mother and some other family. At dinner that evening, the politics of the presidential campaign came up, and my stepfather made a casual comment about having heard that governor Sarah Palin had been vetted at some point as a possible VP pick for McCain, but he hadn’t heard anything else about it. It then came out that just about everybody in my family with Alaska connections is absolutely nutso for Governor Palin; I told my mother she calls her “Sarah” with the same tone of voice my female friends who are Clinton supporters use when they say “Hillary”.
You can guess the rest. A week ago yesterday morning we woke up to the phone at Mom’s house ringing off the hook.
As I’ve said before, I don’t do politics here. I have political views to which I will occasionally allude, but I really am loath to get into the mudslinging. Still, sometimes there are interesting things one can observe from the trajectory of the mud, and as much as has flown over the last week since last Friday in Wasilla, I think there’s a lot of data through which a person might sift and draw conclusions.
Rather than do exactly that, however, I’d like to offer a possible explanation as to why there has been so much mud being slung this last week. Here are a couple of statements from opposite ends of the spectrum; one is cut and pasted from a comment left over at Crunchy Cons by one Douglas Cramer; the other is a condensed version of an hourlong conversation my wife and I had with a Wasilla resident (who, for a few reasons, I decline to name, at least here).
What does Palin have to say to a suburban-raised Northeastern man from a divorced family who married outside his race, has great sympathy for pacifists and environmentalists even though he does not count himself among them, has worked in the past with and has great respect for librarians and community organizers, values intellectual curiosity, and is a small business owner teaching his sons the value of collaboration and humility? What does Palin have to say to me?
Anonymous Wasillan, by contrast, told my wife and me about how for a lot of people, the real world doesn’t involve higher education, ideas, ideals, and abstractions; it deals with things that are measurable and concrete, and that for somebody like him/her, it makes no sense for the government to be paying billions of dollars for a higher education system that doesn’t, to his/her way of thinking, produce much that is either measurable or concrete. It may be a social investment, he/she said, but it’s also a luxury, one that for somebody who might be an auto mechanic or a pilot or an electrician or an oil worker or something like that, is increasingly not worth what society pays for it. “That’s the real world,” he/she said. My wife got very upset with this person; he/she apologized upon realizing this, but still said, “Somebody in Kentucky is going to care a lot more about where their next gallon of gas is coming from than whether or not they can learn German.” One can perhaps infer a parallel question to Mr. Cramer’s — what does Obama have to say to somebody like this?
Is it going too far to suggest that parts of the electorate live in vastly different, if not utterly irreconcilable, worlds from each other, and that this hardly lends itself to civil discourse? I’d go so far as to say that from the looks of the last week, it really can only result in talking past each other at best. At worst… well, if you’ve spent any time watching news coverage of the various figures involved in this year’s election, I think you will have started to get the picture. Started.
I hate the kind of pointless bickering and merciless character assassination that our political system brings out of virtually everybody on every side. Both parties, Republican and Democratic, are part of the problem. Both parties are insufferably arrogant and pander shamelessly to their base. Certain individuals within each camp are less arrogant than the majority, but as entities, both Rs and Ds are worthless to somebody like me. The two-party system does not produce the best candidates to lead our country; they produce wheelers and dealers who are able to tell the people writing the big checks what they want to hear — which, let’s be honest, is what American political campaigning is all about — and they are then are given the go-ahead to tell the electorate what they want to hear. Make no mistake, however — the people who paid for the campaign know what they bought, and they expect a return on the investment. (Oh, by the way — in the United States, this is referred to as “free speech.”)
I voted my youthful idealism, my belief in hope and vision, in 1996; the man I voted for then proceeded to lie to me on national television and desecrate the office. I voted my principled anger in 2000; the man I voted for then proceeded to squander our standing as an international power, lie to me on national television, and make a mockery of the dignity of the presidency. 2004 saw me taking a deep breath, realizing that voting my principled anger again would lead me to vote against other principles, and I refrained from pulling a lever for anybody.
2008 sees me likely to make the same choice. I respect Obama’s idealism and admire his natural statesmanship, dignity, and vision, but I cannot embrace his platform on certain points. I respect and am grateful for McCain’s service to his country, I fully accept his sincerity in wishing to continue to serve his country, but I cannot embrace his platform on certain points. I do not question either man’s character, intelligence, or judgment, nor do I question the character, intelligence, or judgment of those who would support either candidate. There are good, legitimate, sincere reasons why people might vote for either McCain or Obama; I just can’t fully accept the case for either one.
There no good, legitimate, or sincere reasons, however, for the lack of humanity and class displayed towards the opposing side by each camp. I am absolutely sickened at how the dogs have been mercilessly unleashed on Obama by the right; as nauseous as that makes me, I am just as revolted at the treatment of Palin in the last week. People are relentlessly and obsessively hunting down reasons to despise and mock those put forth by their political opponents; this is evidently called “vetting.”
Both Obama and Palin represent something absolutely unacceptable, and worse yet, alien to the opposing side; because of this, as nasty as it has been up to this point, the next sixty days are going to make what’s happened thus far look like a contemplative prayer retreat.
How do I get behind such a process in good conscience? It is not a question of evaluating issues; it is a question of buying into hysteria.
Somebody asked me within the last day or two who I would hand-pick for the presidency. This is an interesting question, and I had to honestly answer, “I don’t know. Let me think about that and get back to you.” This begs the question — does my ideal candidate even exist? I’m not going to be concerned right now with whether or not he/she would even run — first order of business is to find out if somebody who even comes close walks to the earth at the moment.
Anybody have any ideas? To throw out a haphazard, in-no-particular order, list of high-level, broad qualifications I would look for, how about —
- Christian (I’m absolutely fine with being honest about this; I’m even cool with being so honest as to say that an Orthodox Christian would be worth extra points).
- Executive experience (governor? mayor? private sector? I dunno. Show me the rest of what they’ve got).
- Pro-life across the board (it should be clear what I mean by this), and in terms of its more common, politically expedient meaning, I’d rather hear about somebody volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center than protesting at an abortion clinic.
- Economically savvy (but not reflexively, automatically pro-business — big business deserves just as much suspicion as big government, as a wise man once said), and not afraid to sell the idea that investing in infrastructure is a good thing.
- Sympathetic and fair-minded with regard to environmental issues. This does not mean mindlessly buying whole-hog what self-styled environmentalists have to sell, but it does mean taking issues such as sustainability seriously, being wary of sprawl and overdevelopment, and in general thinking long-term with respect to pros and cons. To put it one way, if we’re going to build something, can we build something we actually want our great-grandchildren to be using, rather than something we assume they’re going to tear down and replace with a parking lot? Is it reasonable to expect that doing X will allow the water in the pond next to it to be drinkable by this time next century?
- Socially conservative — but what I mean by this is emphatically not present-day neo-conservatism. I mean, rather, the idea that there is something in our culture worth conserving other than money and power, and that because of this, slow changes are going to be more effective and beneficial to society over the long-term.
- Intelligent with respect to international issues and foreign policy, and a sharp understanding of how the United States functions on the world stage. This can include, but does not exclusively correspond to, strength with respect to national defense. It can also mean somebody who is wise as a serpent and yet innocent as a dove when it comes to diplomacy. Perhaps somebody with experience in foreign service?
- An understanding of the long view of history with a vision for the future. (Yes, that’s somewhat fuzzy and smacking of windbaggery, but I think there’s legitimacy to it nonetheless. Somebody who is arrogant enough to believe the lessons of the past don’t apply has a biiiiiiiiig check mark against them in my book.)
- Character. As in, having it, not being one.
- The smarts to be able to craft a real energy policy beyond “Drill more.” An economy based almost entirely on the premise of cheap oil will burn itself out in my lifetime, more than likely.
- The oratory skill to be a real statesman. Lead, for heavens’ sake. Inspire me and challenge me, and more importantly, this country, to be better than what we presently are. Don’t just figure out how to tell us what will probably keep us comfortable for the next few days.
- Humility and strength enough to be able to admit it when a mistake is made.
- A wide enough view of the country to understand that rushes to judgment will be inherently divisive, and that as such, deliberation is a good thing, not a weakness.
Let’s start there. Any suggestions? Am I insane to think this person could exist in the flesh? How would I even go about researching the possibility?