Palin, McCain, Bailout, AIG, Oil, Dow … Each day presents another stunning event, which then jump starts the process of grappling with these issues. This has laid waste to my productivity, which is only compounded by the asynchronous, anti-melodic orchestra that begins playing in our office at 10am and doesn’t stop until 6pm, when the musicians/my co-workers pack up to go home. Ah, the pleasures of putting 30 people into one room and asking them to share 5 desks.
Bear with me for a rather elaborate explanation for why I haven’t posted in too long (13 days to be exact) and why I need to cut myself off from the ” ‘nets” / news. I didn’t want this blog to be about my feelings / emotions, but I’ve got a “cold” and I can’t shake it.
I’ve created one massive trap door that I cannot avoid by waking up to Real Clear Politics, Andrew Golis‘ company’s phenomenal election coverage, and that bastion of liberal, elite opinion. While Bill Murray learned his lessons in Groundhog Day, I have not. I’m the guy who creates the gapers block. I just can’t pull my eyes away from this massive pile up that has developed over the past two months (at least most acutely). With the arrival of each morning, my short-term memory is wiped clean and I renew yesterday’s process of trying to discern what logic and explanations underpin the simultaneous collapse of our economic and political systems. The collapse of our economic system is easier to comprehend. What is nearly impenetrable to me is the total collapse of our political system – both the abdication of national leadership by our current president and Congress and the failure of the American electorate.
The issue that I am most bothered by is not the economic crisis. Instead, I am struggling to understand how 43-47% of Americans can support McCain/Palin. I’ve been trying to escape from the nightmare that Nov 4 could see their election and focus more on India and getting solar lights into Orissa. To no avail. Sure, Obama is up a few percentage points in the polls, but he should be leading by 15-20%. Of the roughly 200 million Americans that are eligible to vote, 90 million (going with 45% here) would place the keys to 1600 Penn Ave in McCain/Palin’s hands.
My concerns focus on one set of characteristics that both McCain and Palin display, though I cannot support them for numerous other reasons. McCain (“The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should”) /Palin (“You can’t blink”) demonstrate little intellectual curiosity or inquisitiveness about the subjects that will dominate their administration, if voters chain us to a McCain/Palin administration for what will be four interminable years. Even worse, they do not display uncertainty about their positions. I want Palin to blink. That type of certainty terrifies me and that mentality has contributed to grave errors over these past eight years. I want her to question her assumptions and vigorously debate policies, though not just in an attempt to determine which policy will be the most effective wedge issue. These three character deficiencies that they demonstrate are even more concerning because McCain and Palin have shown that they are willing to lie and mislead people on any issue that might help their poll numbers (I recognize that both campaigns have engaged in distortions, though I think McCain’s are worse, more frequent, and more vicious).
McCain has admitted to a lack of knowledge about economics. A point about which he did not seem concerned or abashed. WHAT? That should be unconscionable. You don’t need to be a Nobel Laureate in economics, but I’d hope that flippantly referencing Greenspan’s book makes you embarrassed, particularly if you don’t seem to recognize Greenspan’s complicity in the generation of the housing bubble and fiscal recklessness of the Bush administration. That’s almost as vexing as the notion that someone, who ran a small town of 6,000 people into $20 million of debt, on a $9 million dollar annual budget, is viewed as an acceptable second in command, by 94 million voting Americans, to guide a $2.8 trillion federal budget.
I believe it is irresponsible for someone to support two candidates who have demonstrated such a painful lack of awareness and knowledge of the dense thicket of economic issues through which they will have to guide us over the next four years. You can’t abdicate responsibility to Hank Paulson to figure this out. Moreover, it will take the moral imagination and the intellectual courage to reject the comforts of ideology or political expediency to develop practical solutions to constructing a path out of recession, credit market collapse, and massive indebtedness. I do not believe that McCain or Palin (too easy to prove with this one) have shown any appetite for this. I recognize that some policy choices could clearly represent an honest disagreement over efficacy. I just don’t believe that their disagreement would be honest.
At an emotional level, I am terrified by how uncomfortable many Americans are with those snobby academic elites and policy wonks, and the candidates who have those characteristics. This is exemplified by the “othering” that politicians, voters, and commentators do when they reject those “academic”, “elite” types who aspire to use their knowledge and experience to guide our policies. After all, who cares about economic knowledge and intellectual curiosity, when you have a surly, straight-talking band of gun slinging mavericks ready to levy their six-shooters at those maurading CDOs, depreciated currencies, and federal deficits? When they’re done with putting those exotic “financial words” six feet under, they’ll riddle those damn earmarks so full of lead that no one will dare pander to their electoral base by bringing home the pork.
Put another way, I don’t want my president or vice-president to be like me or my drinking buddies. I want them to be well versed on the hundreds of issues that we will encounter. I want them to feel uncomfortable until they have exposed most sides of an issue and consulted with credible, non-partisan experts. I want them to know what they don’t know and how to change that. Finally, I want our electorate to celebrate these qualities, as opposed to closing themselves off to the people who might not fit in at the local diner or be found at the checkout counter next to them at the Piggly Wiggly (It’s a real grocery chain. Thank you, Wisconsin. Illinois doesn’t appreciate the Piggly enough to play host).
On the positive side, I am glad that reporters have been focused on the terrible judgment McCain displayed in picking Governor Palin and the failure of the House Republicans to support the bailout bill. At least these are more important issues than moose hunting, Ayers, or McCain’s fleet of cars.
Most excitedly, Senator Obama is connecting with voters all over the world. 55 people turned out this Friday night to a debate watching party that the Democrats Abroad – Hyderabad sponsored, while 120 people gathered in Delhi. I met Indians, Brits, and Ugandans, who, along with my fellow ex-pat Americans, hoped to inform their judgments and “see what this is all about,” in the words of Cynthia, a sixty-five year old British woman. There was no notice that went out for a Republicans Abroad – Hyderabad event.
Finally, I understand that voter decision-making is not often driven by the issues I highlight here. I also know that most supporters of Obama/Biden have not made their decision on an explicit calculation of intelligence or intellectual curiosity. I recognize that my strong support of Obama colors my judgment and that I’m very narrowly defining the parameters on which people ought to decide their vote. So, please permit me these acknowledged shortcomings. Finally, I don’t mean to suggest that people who support McCain/Palin are not intelligent, because they aren’t focused on the same issues that I am. I simply wanted to explain what I think is important. Disagreement is welcome.
Thanks for bearing with me. I had intended this to be a couple paragraphs long. That didn’t work! I’ll have a couple of posts up soon about schooling in India and the fascinating areas of Pondicherry/Auroville.
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